© 2010 Steven Wong

Friends, friends and even more friends

When you’re a career nomad like I am, you tend to up sticks and move around with some sort of regular frequency. While this might be good for your own life experiences, it tends to be a bit of a downer for your career (assuming you’re not in the relocations business) and it definitely wreaks havoc on your personal relationships.

Of course there will be a few friends you meet along the way who you keep for life, and obviously your family is your family, regardless of where you are in the world. But by and large, the people career nomads regularly hang out with at any given point in time aren’t going to be the same people they hang out with the year or two after.

Now, I generally don’t have problems making friends (witness the 1366 friends on Facebook), so it’s not something that’s really weighed on my mind before. I understand this is what happens when you decide to move away from the people who you spend most of your time with. It’s not usually something you want to happen, but it just does.

You move to a new place, make some new friends, then you move on to the next place, while hanging on to a few of those friends who really mean something to you. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s the nature of the beast.

But this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve made it more and more difficult for myself to have really good, close friends. I know this comes with the territory, but I think I’ve compounded the problem with two main factors – the time between moves and the places I’ve chosen to live in.

The first one is easy to figure out – I’m spending less time in each new place I move to, and thus not able to keep the same friends and develop those friendships over a longer period of time. The solution is equally obvious – stay longer in each place! Sometimes that’s not under your control (work contract length, work visa validity, etc.), but it’s something you can work on.

The second is a bit tougher… because you don’t know what a place is like until you get there. You don’t know how the people are, or what they’re like, or even who you’ll meet.

Aachen, Germany? Really nice, quaint little town, full of families and university students. Great place to live and to settle down. The friends I made there tended to be 50/50 Germans and expatriates, and many of them still live and work there, or at least not too far away in Eindhoven, Cologne or Düsseldorf.

London? Fantastic city that attracts visitors and expats from all around the world… especially Australians, who seem to make living in London a rite of passage. The friends I made there were mostly expats with a few Brits sprinkled in, but I hardly met anyone who was a real Londoner. Still, a lot of people there like it so much, they do end up staying for a while.

Beijing? Well, maybe it’s what I do and where I go, but the friends I have here are almost 100% international people. And worse yet, none are here for the long-term. Everyone seems to be coming here for really short periods of time, just to learn Mandarin. 3 months, 6 months, maybe even a year. But I can count on one hand the number of friends I’ve had here for more than a year. Doesn’t make birthdays or holidays any easier.

And that’s the bottom line really. Maybe I’ve just put myself in a situation where I’m constantly having to make new friends. But I can’t see a solution to this except one that caused it in the first place – another move!