Summer in Shanghai is repatriation time. As the school year ends, families say goodbye to their time abroad, often returning to the same place (and life) they had before. Sometimes people begin new lives in another foreign country, but either way there’s an adjustment for the friends who leave and the friends who stay behind. The feeling of abandonment is much stronger than you’d ever suspect for a friendship that may not have been more than a year or two long.
During our first summer here, I said goodbye to a few friends and it took a little while to get used to the new dynamics. But this year our closest friends in Shanghai repatriated, and it was a sad experience for all involved. We did all the things you’re supposed to do—last dinners, last family play dates, reminiscing, discussing the future—and yet when it was time to say the last goodbye I was left in tears. I felt so lost here without the friend that I counted on for emotional support and an understanding ear. And even though we made plans to meet up in the US over the summer, I was left wondering, “Can a friendship really survive post repatriation?”
As I settle in to year three here in Shanghai, we hope to connect with other families beyond the kiddo parties and school drop off chats. It’s likely our last year here in our expat assignment, and I want to make the most of whatever time we have left.
Expat friendships can be brief but intense, and I think the bottom line is that these people you meet in your time away from home are put into your life for a reason. This season of your life may be brief, but the bond can be as strong as any you make during college or a first job out of school. Will I stay connected with close friends who have returned home? Yes, I think we will. Friendships change and grow as we all get older, but I am confident that we’ll meet again and have even more stories to share from our time apart.