>> Monday, 18 April 2011
It turns out that one of the biggest advantages of being an expat - the opportunity to make deep and meaningful friendships in a much shorter time frame than you would ever do in your home environment - is also one of the biggest disadvantages.
It's all very well being thrown together with a group of amusing, warm, outgoing, outward-looking individuals, many of whom are similarly at sea in this world of serial expat-ness and likewise wondering if they will ever manage to make it back into the work-place of their home town when they eventually get there, but it's another thing entirely when they start to up and leave in large numbers.
It happens every year of course, in Expat-ville's the world over. Do the maths; most serial expats (of which I am not one) do postings lasting 2 or 3 years. Occasionally these postings are extended to 5 years, but more often than not, just around the time a family is getting used to their surroundings and starting to feel like locals, it's time to repack the containers and be on their way. As a result, Boy #1's grade last year lost around 30% of it's pupils, and is set to lose somewhere around that number again this June.
This is one of those hardships that are ignored by people who speak dismissively of 'expat brats'. Sure, these children are often ridiculously privileged. Some of them have never seen their own parents drive a car in their country of residence, they are overly-sophisticated in many ways, and the thought of spending a school break just kicking around in their (temporary) home country instead of jetting off to their country of origin never even occurs to them. But look back at your own childhood, and whilst you may have made one or two new friends from time to time throughout your primary school life, I suspect that the same faces appeared year after year every September, often in the same class. Here, however, and as I understand it in many expat schools, even when children stay put classes are deliberately mixed up at the beginning of every school year. As a result, this school year Boy #1 was in the same class as only 2 of his friends from the previous one, and if we stay for another year (as is increasingly likely), that pattern will probably repeat.
On the plus side (and as the school rationalises), this does mean that children become very good at making new friendships. Which is lucky, given that most of them need to do this every 3 years or so in any case. On the downside, it also means an uneasy settling in period each September and that as a mum there's no comfort to be had in knowing which are the kids to invite back for tea and which to avoid at all costs because they will wreck your home and never say please or thank you (amazingly, not a skill that is universally taught).
It also means, from a purely selfish and metaphorical point of view, that good friends are leaving and that my 'class' is being mixed up too. And that makes me a little sad.