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What Happens To Your Friendships When You Move Abroad?

Did you assume things wouldn’t change much? Oops, they really do. You change with them too. And there are 5 types of friendships to discover.

Do you believe relationships are the most important things in life? I do. I have cried over heartbreaks and lost friendships; I have relived a thousand lives during a single afternoon with a friend.

I have been blessed with people who have known me for close to two decades — people I wasn’t born with. Let me not even start with those I’ve met on a random afternoon who have become siblings, and whose children feel like my own.

Moving to the US changed things. I watched in real-time the birth and death of new relationships. As I navigated the heartwrenching times of being a recent immigrant, it was these relationships that kept me afloat.

I was 28 when I left and even now, writing this, I am trying to downplay how aching it was to not be able to take a cab and go hang out with my buddy Daniel and his daughters. Or drink books and talk wine with Mac and Howard. Or just stroll to Tsi’s house and play FIFA.

Immigration exposes the relationships that matter and those that don’t.

If you’ve had to move to a new country, you’ll get this really well. If you haven’t, think of the first time you went to school. Or moved to a new city or got a new job: the excitement of the early days when you were the new gal, the strange things you wish you could tell a friend who wasn’t working with you.

Think of going home, with a new experience, only to realize that the only person who would really, really get it, is a phone call away.

Now, replace the phone call with 7 hours ahead. Replace a new job with a new culture. Replace school with the American College system.

That was, and remains, my world.

As I trudged these waters, I came to recognize 5 distinct groups of friendships. Even if you haven't moved across countries, you will probably recognize these.

1. The Surprised Friend

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Photo by Andre Guerra on Unsplash

The guy who found out on Facebook.The one who sends messages about how you disappeared and never told him. You will chuckle at the comic nature of it all: we weren’t talking when I was in Cameroon, why would we talk now? But you’re polite, no?. You try to keep the conversation casual, explain that things happened fast and the conversation moves to the generic:

How is snow? How is food? How are people? How is racism? How is America?

You will indulge all your surprised friends. One by one, you’ll either get tired of the fake conversations and nip it from the beginning with one long message, or they’ll get bored of your basic responses as it doesn’t meet their expectations.

I don’t even think you should consider this a friend. I just had to put in here because it was funny to me how people’s attitudes change once you move out of the country. If only they knew the trouble that comes with it all…

2. The Political Friend

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Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

She knows more about Trump than you ever will and has deadlines for your Work Permit. The best you can do is listen — even though you have loud voices in your head wondering how she knows so much about a country you live in.

The political friend cannot be argued with.

If the political friend has strains of surprise, be prepared to revise some amendments, share your State, County and maybe your Zip Code. She’ll tell you where to visit and where to avoid. The only way your conversations go, are with you not arguing.

You’re smarter than that, no?

The motto for the political friend: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (For Your Own Sake)

The political friend feels your pain deeply when you peel the personal layers bothering you in your new home.

3. The “Failure To Restart” Friend

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Photo by Alexis Mora Angulo on Unsplash

This is a surprised friend who actually cares about you, or rather you hope they care about you as much as you do about them.

You’ll try to stay in touch, struggle with the time difference, fight and make-up and eventually after every restart, you will both come to the conclusion that this isn’t working.

Of course, you won’t have a conversation about it. You’re adults! You’ll just stay Twitter friends, send emojis once a month, be connected on Facebook to catch each other’s birthday.

You’ll go stretches at a time without thinking about them, but something will happen that will make you send a little prayer for them.

You still care about them. But some things aren’t meant to happen. Or maybe like me, you’re already spread too thin and just can’t handle the effort required to maintain the relationship. Ouch.

4. The Tech Friend

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Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash

She gets it. She really does. She’s happy for you and can truly appreciate the advantages you get over new technology. She appreciates your Razer 15 and the NVIDIA upgrade. She recommends even more gear, she tells you what to look for and how to do your research.

The Tech friend is extremely close to the real G ( see below), the difference is that the tech friend is specialized in both expertise and interest, which makes conversations fun no matter what.

Like the Real G, the tech friend picks right where you left, whether it was a week or a month ago — no guilt-tripping.

Although the tech friend knows she can’t afford the gear/food/shoe/book, she knows the difference between genuine excitement from your part and rubbing it one’s face.

5. The Brother/Sister From Another Mother a.k.a Blood a.k.a The Real G

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Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash

This friend reminds you of everything you left; in an inspiring way and with a nostalgic longing for the things you once had. They can act surprised, just to bust your chops. They bring up politics because they’re genuinely worried. They will restart if you can’t and you’ll restart if they can’t.

They stay up to talk to you, they let you reply during your work breaks. They leave 30-minute voice notes and have calls where you connect with the kids. They ask for your schedule to have video calls. They switch from Computer RAM comparison to possible business ideas and an inspiring rant where they tell you to keep going, all in the same conversation.

The Real Gs are few are far in-between, as they should be. As you spend more time, they become invaluable. Your time is even more cherished.

They make you work harder so you can afford the financial freedom to go back to visit, and one day afford to have them visit.

With the Real Gs, it’s like you never left. Miles away, but close to heart, they always are.

Without our relationships, we’re nothing.

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Photo by Mitul Grover on Unsplash

When you’ve spent your whole life in a place and move, many of those relationships suffer. It’s hard to adapt to a new school system and still have time to chat with friends about the day’s activities. It becomes even harder when you need to paint every setup before providing the punchline. It’s like explaining a joke. It’s funny early on but gets exhausting and annoying for everyone.

Friendships change — even without moving to a new country. As you live, your interests change. The people you allow into your circle vary and others find their own way out. But the ones that stay, the ones that evolve with you, make all the pain totally worth it.

There are different types of friends that evolve from the move. As you may notice, there’s often a mix.

A political tech friend, a failure to restart surprised one and the Real G.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where the friend falls — what matters is what you do with your new status to maintain the relationships that matter.

If reading this made you think of a friend, pause right here and call them.


Good. Now, let’s do some research on immigration policies, I have a call with a friend in a bit.

Guess which one? :)

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Written by

Cameroonian writer and video creator. Featured in LEVEL and P.S. I Love You. I write about building relationships and personal transformation.

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