My parents are great sources of wisdom about living abroad, as they ventured overseas with children even younger than mine and then repeated the stunt with two adolescents (which, I think, was the greater challenge). Both have also studied and worked abroad, as well as hosted more international students than I can count in Cambridge.
My father always says: “when you’re living abroad, never turn down an invitation.” In fact, Dad says, expatriate life is socially freeing. Since you don’t fit in anywhere, you can go anywhere, with anyone. I remember living by this maxim when I studied abroad in college. One night I was drinking port with linguistics PhD students, the next on a road trip with the Oxford Women’s Ice Hockey Team, the next refueling my American identity with exchange students from Williams. It felt schizophrenic and liberating and the most socially active I had ever been before or since.
Back home, in my real life, I have a small and incredibly close group of friends, going all the way back to kindergarten. These friendships are deep, rewarding and coherent. I am an introvert, so social initiatives can be hard for me. I’m satisfied with occasional coffees and long talks with my closest friends.
But in a year off (or on), all the rules change. We are only here for this year. We may never see these people again — while it would be nice to make lifelong friendships, I don’t have that expectation hanging over me. We’ll interact with all kinds of people, some of whom we may have major differences with, and that’s part of the adventure. I find myself much more socially courageous in Jerusalem than in Delaware. I’m starting to network, looking up friends-of-friends-of-friends.It feels doable and necessary….that is, if I want to talk to any adults besides Terence and Anne this year.
We have also been on the receiving end of others’ generosity twice this week. On Monday we had dinner with another American family here on sabbatical (though they have lived in Israel many times before and have family and roots here). In our networking, two different people told us about this family, and it was great to meet them and their amazing children (two potential babysitters, and one already a friend for Hannah). Then today we had a playdate with a JAIS family (Israeli/American) whose children are classmates and friends of Hannah and Margaret’s. The kids played — the adults talked — and it felt at once like a major accomplishment and the most ordinary thing in the world.