See You Soon, Not Goodbye:: The Beauty of an Expat Friendship

Friendship Across Borders:: Saying Goodbye to a Fellow Expat

I met her on my kids’ first day of international school in a foreign country. My husband had already left back to Houston for a conference, and I, a new expat, was still getting my bearings on how to even drive and park in Montpellier.

I had huge bags full of the school supplies – all requested in French, a language I did not yet understand. It took every ounce of energy in my body to haul them up a big hill to the school, after I had illegally parked on a sidewalk because there was absolutely no parking available.

After saying goodbye to my youngest for the day, I was drearily walking out of the school building when I heard someone speaking English. I looked up and there she was, asking me if I was the new “American mommy,” and weren’t our girls in the same class together?

I immediately felt a sense of relief, knowing there was another expat here that spoke English as their first language, and who had already been through everything I was currently going through. Then, she started commiserating about having to “schlep” all the supplies and bags up a big hill alone. Her casual use of Yiddish idioms scored major brownie points with me. 

And then she said what I really needed to hear:: “I promise you it gets easier.” It’s kind of like that other saying, “Everything will be OK,” except better, because her phrase was deeply routed in personal recognition of the situation, and therefore, complete empathy. She didn’t know it, but she brought me so much comfort that morning. And I will never forget it.

Fast-forward almost two years later, and it is her time to leave Montpellier. It happened more suddenly then she expected, but we knew this was her last year here. In those two years, our girls have formed the most beautiful friendship. They love each other like sisters, and play together like there is no tomorrow. I’m not quite sure they grasp the fact that they likely won’t ever live in the same city {or country for that matter} again, but they know things are coming to an end. 

Friendship Across Borders:: Saying Goodbye to a Fellow Expat

I’m sad for them, but also glad they are still young enough not to internalize it too deeply. I’m also so very grateful they found one another during what could have been a very challenging and lonely time. Their friendship was a gift, and we will do our very best to keep them in touch.

And then, there is our friendship. Thanks to COVID, and several social restrictions for more than a year now, we did not get as many chances to physically get together as we would have liked. Still, the times we did, they were so meaningful and memorable. We even managed to take a trip to the French Alps together this past winter, and despite not getting to ski, we really lived our best vacation life. 

She ended up becoming a true confident – something I never expected to find here in my temporary chapter of living abroad as an expat. Most importantly, though, she taught me a few things. She has this amazing ability of staying calm and cool in every situation. She chooses to not get caught up in any of the drama. And she always takes a step back and finds the positives of each circumstance.

For example, one day we were on a hike together, and I had been complaining about how much I miss my family back home, and how I felt stuck here in France {the borders have been closed for months, with no end in sight}. I said something along the lines of, “What can I do? I have zero control.” She came right back with, “But actually, what can you do?” implying that there are, and always will be things that I can find to enrich our lives, and add to our expat experience here in France. Even if it’s not what we originally envisioned, there are still opportunities to take advantage of things here that we can’t see or do back in Houston.

It’s wisdom like that I am going to really miss. Not that we won’t stay in touch. I know we will be rooting for each other from afar, and if I needed her, I know she’s just a phone call away. There is still something though, that tugs at my heart. It’s not easy to find an expat community, let alone a personal tribe. She was a big part of my tribe, and her absence will definitely leave a hole. 

Of course, this is when she would tell me that this is just “à bientôt,” see you soon, and not make a big, dramatic “to-do” about it, as I am so good at doing. I do believe her perspective on life will change me for the better, and hopefully her words will be in my ear, steering me in directions that I wouldn’t have naturally gone before. What a gift she has been to me – a true friend in every way.

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Emily Feinstein
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Emily moved to Sugar Land, Texas as a young girl. She studied journalism and psychology at UT Austin, and has experience in newspaper reporting, technical writing, and freelance writing. When she can, she works on writing her first-ever book. Somehow, Emily randomly ends up living abroad for short stints of time. In 2007, while attempting to heal a broken heart, she moved to Bilbao, Spain, and completed a six-month work-study program. Despite swearing off serious relationships, her husband, Oren, swooped in shortly after her return. They struggled with infertility, but were ultimately rewarded with their two precious children, Mayer {June 2013} and Juliet {April 2015}. In 2019, Emily’s family relocated to Montpellier, France, for Oren’s job. They managed to learn the language, forever spoiled their taste buds, and saw some really beautiful things. Now back in Houston, they are eating all the Tex-Mex and enjoying family.


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