“I can’t make any friends here”!
I think this is the most frequent complaint that I hear from my TCK clients. It doesn’t matter their age, I heard it from several of the teen TCKs last summer who presented for therapy in my office. I heard it from a couple of young, adult TCKs fresh out of college as they were trying to negotiate their new world. And most recently, I heard it from my middle age, TCK client.
No matter their age, their complaints are the same.
- People are so superficial in this town.
- I just can’t do chit chat or small talk.
- My peers are obsessed about things (shows on television, sports teams, or the latest gossip in their world or in the world of the rich and famous) that I don’t care about at all.
- The friends that I do have do not care to hear about my world(s).
- I feel all alone even though I am surrounded by people.
The solutions my TCK clients have to offer are all about the same.
- I just need to move.
- I survive by interacting online with my friends in other parts of the world.
- I spend most of my time working, reading, or talking on the phone with my friends elsewhere.
It is a real problem that cannot be avoided. We TCKs, come from different worlds and at times it is a challenge to blend into our newly, adopted culture which could, in reality, be our “home culture”. Yet, our soul still wants to believe that we (or they) will soon be moving on to a new place and we fear putting down roots. Can we take that risk of getting hurt again due to someone moving? Can we maintain a deep friendship, face to face, over the course of many years? For me, that would mean longer than four years, which was the typical time frame before we would move again.
The hurt is so real. The loneliness is stifling. The pain of saying goodbye again reaches down to our toes and comes out our heart in long strands of ugly pain. We don’t want to get out of bed. We dread going to work and trying to put on a cheerful mask. Those we think might understand go on and on about a friend from high school who moved to a nearby state and how that friendship has taken a hit because they see them only yearly now. We try to show empathy, only wishing deep down inside that our close friends lived in the state next door. Or even in the same country.
My response is, “Yes, it hurts VERY deeply. I know that pain all too well. And I don’t have any quick answers to fix that pain. I can only say, it hurts.”
But we must not stay there. We have to move forward in spite of the pain. We have to figure out how to make “chit chat”, talk about a number of topics that we don’t really care about, and learn how to slowly reconnect with others. If we don’t, we will create our own lonely, nightmare. We ask “them” to care about our worlds which they don’t know anything about or may not really care to know anything about. Yet so often we don’t show any interest in their world.
We have to learn how to “chit chat”, or take a mental recess with idle chat. Maybe this is the process they go through before they can learn to trust us? It could be proper etiquette, in their cultural upbringing, to break the ice in conversation. Or would the listener find us too intrusive if we skipped the small talk and went for the deep conversation right out the gate? Many other cultures engage in small talk before they get to the purpose of their visit. We know how to play that “game” in our host culture. But we strongly resent it when our culture does this with us. We don’t seem to know, or act as if we don’t care, where the social boundaries are located in our own culture. If others can’t trust us with something small, how will they trust us with the big stuff?
Who says our way is the only way? Could it be that we are too intense too much of the time and we need to loosen up? Or we are moving too quickly in cementing the friendship? Maybe we aren’t asking the right questions in the right order to have a deeper, meaningful conversation.
I recently heard a TED talk on how to make “Big Talk”, that I found most interesting. http://www.makebigtalk.com/ As I listened, I wondered whether the young college student was a Cross Cultural Kid, but I was unable to find out anything about her background. She made the following statement in her presentation after visiting Ecuador, “There is something different when I am approaching life when I am traveling. The way I am more open to people and it invites these kind of magical experiences”. Kalina Silver in TEDx Westminster College.
We have to figure out when to keep quiet. It is so easy to be the expert on all discussions, especially when it is about world events. And the answers our new found friends are arriving at are just plain wrong. Or as Tina Quick states in her book The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, “When sharing stories about your life, try to leave out where they took place. In other words, instead of saying, ‘On the beach in Bali….’ just say, ‘One time on the beach my friends and I….’” It is so tempting to add all of the details to make the story richer, but it may just alienate your listener.
We must keep trying. It is so easy to just shut down and stop trying to make close friends. It is much easier to hang on to those distant friends and criticize the locals. If you decide to go that route, look at the costs of not trying to connect with someone in your community. Is it worth it? Yes, there can be some great failures along the journey of forming friendships. There are times when you breathe a sigh of relief as you feel you have finally conquered that hurdle, only to discover it was not the level of a friendship that you thought it was. You were seeing something that you hoped was there, but it was not a reality. But the best advice I can give to you is what I tell my clients, “Let’s get back up and try again. We will eventually get it right with just the right person – another global soul like yours.”
My dream is to retire in a location, where I am within driving distance of a cup of coffee with friends who like to have deep conversations about all of our collective experiences around the world and the deep meaning of life. And no one moves away, except for short trips to distant lands which only fuels further discussions about cultures. Until our kids come along and put us into a nursing home and no one thinks we are in the world of reality when we ramble on and on about some airport story in La Paz, Bolivia.