Those left behind: How does an expat cope with friends moving away? By Susan de Vriend


It’s late on a Sunday evening. My Spotify playlist selects, “Somebody I used to know” by Gotye. Ironically, I feel like this song really hits a nerve with the subject of this post. It’s also my biggest worry; will my friends who are moving away become “Someone I used to know”?

It was also a Sunday when I got the news. The news that one dear friend was moving, in just a week and half! Another scheduled to leave several weeks beyond her. The maelstrom of emotions came hurdling at me while riding in a car home with a few friends after a Women’s weekend away. We shared this pain and well, this shock as it was one member of the car pool who was the subject of the fast move. I couldn’t help but think, “Where was I for all this conversation about departing during the weekend?” All the women in the car were talking while my head was rounding in circles asking:

What am I going to do that last day when she leaves?

How can I prepare for this?

Why is this happening so fast?

Will we keep in touch?

Will the friendship fade?

Can I go through this twice?

I have to chuckle at myself because even as I grow older I see how we do not ever really GROW up from childhood.

Friends are always an important part of our lives.

I would dare to add friendship is more cherished as an adult, even more so, when it’s coupled with being an expatriate.

In that car drive home, I listened carefully to what my dear departing friend was saying about all of the arrangements and plans for her move. I listened also to what the others in the car were saying. I wanted to hear their feelings and take careful notes on how they seem to be taking it in. I’ve been expat for 7 years now. In that time, I haven’t had a close “inner” circle friend move and now, I will see two leave. After we dropped our friend off, we talked about a few of our feelings but not too much. We were all on the verge of breaking down. The emotion was palpable. We got to my house and well, the hugs started and the tears flowed. We were all beside ourselves. It was a healing moment but awful at the same time because we knew there would be more of this for sure. There was a comical round of, “Do you have plans to leave?” We reassured each other that none of us did. We parted to our homes, assumingly to tell our husbands and partners of the awful fact that we’d be down a few great friends. This is when I realized something that I never thought a lot about: There are two groups within the Expat Community:

  1. The ones who move here indefinitely to settle down and watch kids grow through school.

  2. The ones who always had plans to either return home or move onto another country.

I’ve known about these two groups but never really gave it a lot of thought. Let’s face it 7 years without a single expat friend moving gets you comfortable with the way things are. And why examine things that don’t relate to you, anyway. Pfft! But there it is. When we were asking each other, “are you going to move?” it came from this feeling of loss and desperation. We needed to feel secure again though, it won’t help with what we were really running away from: grief. No matter what I would have answered to that question, eventually, we know that it’s each person that makes up a whole. Neither of these ladies can nor will be replaced in our hearts and minds. When one leaves we have to deal with that vacancy in our community. No, they are not dying but they are gone. Our children won’t have playdates anymore? The social events will be down a woman or two. Events you all regularly attended will be missing them and your mind will note it every, single, time. It’s devastating!

As an American who lives so very far away from her own family and home, I’ve come to realize that my friends have become my family. We can laugh together about the differences that living abroad brings, look at how our kids are coping beyond us in so many ways (and thank god for that), and every now and then check in with what is “normal” in raising our children among foreigners! These people know all my struggles and have shouldered me through some huge life changing moments: becoming a wife, a mother, a house owner, retaining my driving license (again), becoming a business owner, etc… These are often bittersweet events and moments that when you go through them without your family around can be hard but these women, friends, they more than fill that gap. This is what makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye.

I’m still working through all the emotions and questions that this life event is bringing. I recognize that this should have been, by now, a big part of living my life as an expat. It’s extremely special that seven years have gone by and I haven’t seen another go. I can only reflect back on many years ago when I decided to leave Washington D.C. and move back to my home state of Michigan. But even this pales in comparison because I was making the decision to leave and now I’m the one being left behind. What can I take from that? As I write this exposé over my feelings, I realize a lot more has to be going on for the ones that leave. They made the decision, got the job, and now have to move their families to another country or back home, which by now can almost feel like another country. I remember when I moved it was time. I was sad but ready. The busyness of moving helped me keep a lot at bay, emotionally. I wonder how it is for them and if they feel the same, will we become to them: Somebody they used to know from a place they used to live?

What are your thoughts on friends moving away? Please share your thoughts here in the comments.



Susan de Vriend is the Life Coach for Expats. She supports expatriates with private coaching sessions focusing on their ever-changing lives in the Netherlands. She empowers expat women to confidently create a life on their own terms while living by their values and core beliefs.

Susan’s contact information:

email: or at

She writes on her blog, The Life Coach for Expats:

Facebook page:

Twitter account: @GreatLoveExpat


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  1. Pingback: “Yesterday brought the beginning, tomorrow brings the end, though somewhere in the middle we became the best of friends.”-unknown | drsharongalor

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