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friendship in the Foreign Service

One of the most challenging aspects of adapting to the Foreign Service lifestyle is the difficulty of sustaining friendships. It’s not just the friends one leaves behind. With relatively short tours and a constantly rotating cast of neighbors and coworkers, it is tough to develop meaningful relationships that stand the test of time and distance. Given the size and diversity of Nairobi’s expat community, we have found ourselves trying to make friends with new arrivals at the same time that we attempt to integrate into an existing social fabric comprised of people who have spent half a decade or longer in Kenya.

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D’s approach has been to focus on finding like-minded individuals who enjoy the same pastimes as he does. As soon as he found people with whom he could play poker, soccer, and Ultimate frisbee, he declared himself content. Working long hours at the start of our tour, he sought a social outlet rather than new bosom buddies. S, on the other hand, craved deeper camaraderie and has made a commitment to herself to be more proactive about building and maintaining friendships during our second year in Nairobi.

With D away on his language immersion program, S endeavored to use the weekend as an opportunity to hang out with people whom we see socially and would like to get to know better. Friday afternoon, she took a Barre class, played some disc, and grabbed sushi with a friend whom we rarely see outside of group get-togethers. With Euro Cup excitement gripping Nairobi, she also joined a large group of our friends to watch a quarterfinal match at a bar that had stadium seating and a big screen. Saturday’s plans were coordinated by another friend with whom we never hang out solo. After a visit to the elephant orphanage and giraffe center, S spent all afternoon baking at her house before driving across town to have dinner with a friend from grad school, her Kenyan fiancé, and his sister. Sunday, she spent most of the day wandering around a craft bazaar in the Karura forest with another friend and her one-year-old.

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Given that we frequently spend the weekends that we don’t travel lazing around the house, S appreciated the opportunity to push herself to make plans and spend more time one-on-one with friends. Although a bit exhausting, it was great fun and a good start to her resolution.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. It is so very true… friendships in the FS are definitely hard to find (the true, honest, ones! and when you find them, it’s probably time to get ready for your next assignment… sigh…) :o Don’t get me wrong, we’ve met several great people along the way, and it’s pretty hard to leave them behind… but hey, that’s life, right? :o Thanks for sharing this… very close to home1
    Greetings from another traveling family!

    July 13, 2012
  2. Your social experience as a family moving around is reminiscent of that of so many expatriates around the world. It’s almost like you leave a piece of your heart wherever you stay. Somehow I feel like I have tons of friends in different four different cities, very few of which I am very close to. I remember reading a study about the families of ambassadors being unable to find contentment anywhere; as just as a city started to feel like home, they moved again and longed for the previous place again.

    July 14, 2012
    • Thanks, it’s good to know we’re not the only ones.

      July 20, 2012
  3. rj7bidfdareta1985 #

    Reblogged this on Susan Martinez Posts.

    October 13, 2012

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