It’s remarkable how much your life can change in just a few short years. In the mad rush of everyday life, it’s easy to forget to stop and take stock, but a recent conversation with a colleague spurred me to do just that.
We were discussing International Friendship Day, which is today, and it got me thinking about my international friendships.
When I moved to the UAE more than three and a half years ago, I didn’t know a soul in the country. Yet today I am surrounded by an incredible circle of people from around the world. It’s hard to believe that such a short time ago, these people were strangers.
While the importance of friendships should be celebrated in all walks of life, for those who have chosen to pack up and leave their home country, as so many in the UAE have done, friendships become a true lifeline.
During my first few months in the country, I wrote about the reality of making friends as an adult, and the discomfort many of us feel ― myself included ― in reaching out to forge new connections.
I remember how I felt back then, and how I wondered if I would ever stop pining for the familiarity of the incredible friends I left behind at home in the UK. Of course, that feeling never goes away, but I wish I had known the power of the connections I would go on to find here, and the impact they would have on my life.
As clichéd as it sounds, my friends here in the UAE have become my surrogate family over the past couple of years, as is the case for so many expatriates. We have supported each other through a global pandemic, and all the uncertainty and anxiousness that came with it when no one was able to fly home to be with their loved ones. Through personal difficulties, when I wished I could hop on a plane and wrap myself in the warm familiarity of home, they have made things infinitely more bearable and made me feel far less alone. And the joy of seeing colleagues again in person after more than 18 months of working from home confirmed that, in many cases, they are much more than just workmates.
Remembering that this support network, in the grand scheme of my 31 years, are all quite new to me, really is a stark and wonderful realisation of the nature of friendships made in a place like the UAE. Of how quickly people can have such an effect on your life, and how willing we all are to step in and support each other through the good times and the bad.
The sad thing about the friends you make when living away from home is that, often, the time comes when they leave to return to their home, or build a new one elsewhere. It is part and parcel of life as an expatriate, and I am sure is something we have all experienced as we waved friends on their way.
But staying in touch with friends across the world has never been easier, thanks to social media, Zoom, and all the other ways we keep connections alive. And having friends spread around the world has only enhanced my life, helped me visit new places and made reunions all the more sweet.
So on International Friendship Day, here is to all the friends, here, at home and all around the world. And to all of those we are yet to meet.