The Gringa Exodus

I guess it comes with the territory when you live as an expat. The likelihood that some people you meet, get to know, like and eventually become friends with, are bound to call it a day in Chile.

One of the first stories one shares when meeting other expats in Chile pertains to how much time one has left in this country. You talk about what brought you here, what you’re doing right now and the approximate time left before you leave again. Sometimes X,Y,Z needs to happen (i.e. we’re waiting for the green card -or- we’re waiting for his graduate school acceptance letter) and sometimes it’s about sticking around while the getting’s good here (i.e. you’ve built a pretty solid life for yourself in Chile – maybe one that is even better than that of friends back home – so why quit now?)

This reality is always a bit of a downer because already there’s a clock ticking to the amount of time you have to spend with this new, awesome person you’ve met and, let’s face it, as we get older, the ability to bond and make friends becomes harder and harder. You desperately NEED quality, physical time together to allow the friendship to take off. You need outings, experiences, laughter and time together, just as you do with a romantic relationship. Personally as an expat, I found it to be quite fortunate that I had this common denominator with female expats – a group that “got” it and a group that would feel my pain on the idiosyncrasies of living in Latin America. Except that somewhere along the line I began to notice that one by one, the women I had met and started to become friends with, were slowly leaving Chile. Suddenly the reality of expat living began to sink in … how feasible is it to build a life here when such an important aspect, such is a social life and the friendships that ensue, is also quite temporary?

In about three weeks, I’ll be celebrating my two-year anniversary of moving to Chile. And in that time, five of the Gringa friends I made here, have left. That’s one friend that leaves every 4.8 months – this is my average thus far. How am I supposed to building long-lasting, stand-the-test-of-time friendships 4.8 months at a time??!! As it is, I’ve never been known as Miss-Social-Butterfly and personally, it’s really difficult for me to make friends. I’m not, by any means, crying you a river here, people. because, hey, that’s not me. But I’m as pragmatic as they come and I know what I know. And what I know about me is this: since starting my new job, I’ve had a hell of a time finding the balance between home life, work life, personal time and social time. It’s like I forgot how to make all those things work and let’s face it, I know it was easier back home because I held on to the same friends year after year. There was none of this new initiation process of friendships that, quite honestly, need time and commitment. Of course, all friendships deserve that, new and old!

Also, I realize that after living here almost two years, I have not gone through the Gringa exodus as others may have gone through it. I may have very little rights to complain about this expat reality when compared to those who have lived here 5, 10, 20+ years. I can’t even imagine the kind of friendships that have come and gone in their lives. Part of my problem (and yes, I DO recognize it) is that after seeing five amazing females leave before I ever really got a chance to throw down roots with them, I’m jaded about Gringa expat friendships now! It’s so unfair because I realize I’m not doing a good job about balancing my social life with work life, yet I find that I keep arm’s distance to everyone because, hey, they’re leaving at some point anyway!

I sound like a little kid, stomping my feet and shouting “I want my friends, I want my friends!”

Maybe the root of my internal issue is this: I see that everyone else has the option to leave, if that’s what they so choose and, in the end, we don’t share that same reality. In marrying a wonderful man who also happens to have an amazing job and equally amazing kids, I decided, forever, that my future didn’t hold the possibility of returning home. No wonder Chile seems to be a life sentence as opposed to a fabulous, wild adventure I’m living with my new husband. And I guess I wish I could also meet Gringas who are planning to base their life here as well. It would help me accept that life here can carry on quite normally and, dare I ever find out, quite exceptionally.

So in the end, the Gringa Exodus means this (to me):
1.) Friendships and people I’ve met thus far, aren’t long-term. At least not long-term while living in the same hemisphere (yes long term because they marked a period in my life and will never be forgotten -heyyyy!).

2.) This has directly caused me to hesitate in venturing out and (attempt to) build friendships or even acquaintances.

3.) Number 2 combined with the fact that I am learning to find balance between the new job and a normal life here has led to quite the stagnant social life since late 2010.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make here? Nothing, really. Just that it’s quite daunting to sit and think about the fact that I’ve met some cool people here … but a lot of them have already left Chile. I wonder, if we hadn’t been “thrown” together in this narrow land, would we have had a silver lining threading us all together? I do believe that in some cases yes, and in some cases no. But that’s what makes it all the sadder to realize they’ve left and have moved on to the next phase of their lives and that the phase of their lives that intertwined with mine is now over. It’s like I’m on this same path and different paths have weaved in and out of mine.

I see them in the horizon and remember them fondly (as well as the great times we once had here), but the eventual Gringa Exodus makes me sad, regardless of any pragmatic approach I take.

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11 thoughts on “The Gringa Exodus

  1. I can relate to EVERYTHING you wrote here. In the 2.5 years I’ve lived here, 4 very close friends have left, plus a couple of acquaintances, and my best best best talk to her every day friend is leaving in October. I honestly don’t know if I can live here without her. But I also can’t honestly say that I’m one of those people who is going to live here forever. The only thing that would really make me stay here is if I met the one and we got married. But now that I’m iffy about whether I’m staying or not, I’m actually not looking to meet anyone because that would just make things complicated. Sigh.

    1. Oh no! I can totally understand how you feel about your friend leaving. It’s a double edged sword and again, the little girl in my wants to shout “not fair!” But it’s all part of this experience as an expat, right? In the end it’s not really about how long someone is here to stay but rather, how well you get along with that person and if they’re here 2 weeks or 2 decades, in the end if you click, you click.

  2. I totally hear what you are saying and it CAN be very difficult.

    A number of our friends are/have been diplomats and are posted here in Chile 3-4 years before returning home. We know they won’t be here forever and every time someone new comes Ange and I think that we will try not to get so attached this time… but unfortunately (or fortunately) it is not like that and you still become good friends. But when departure time comes… it’s tough.

    Just this weekend we have a VERY good friend that is supposed to be returning back to NZ (though flights has been put off due to the volcanic ash). It’s very sad but then we think, at least we had good experiences while she was here.

    1. It’s one of the things that I first heard about when I moved here and of course, everyone’s gone through it. You’re right though. It’s much better to look at it as time well spent, experiences happy to be had. Of course my adjustment here is something that continues to be a work in progress and part of this is adopting an outlook that’s more positive on the expat friendship part. After all, they are seriously some of the only people who make the difficult days worthwhile!

  3. I totally sew where you’re coming from and I completely understand how hard it is. Except my experiences with all my friends eventually leaving come from my time living in LA and SF, before moving to Chile (so far, I’ve only been here for 3 months – but already said goodbye to 3 friends!). I’ve noticed in my experience, at least living in big cities, that the friends I’ve made (well, most of them) leave eventually. What surprised me about it is that a couple of them actually came back eventually! It takes a while, but a couple will return. However, generally, I think the phenomenon is just a symptom of living in a big city. Not necessarily living in a foreign country, thought I suppose the desire for more familiar rings even louder when outside of the US.

    For me, seeing this happen again and again over the past 10 years of my independent adult life, I’ve accepted it as part of what happens. Lesson I take home: cherish the friendships while they are here. Live in the moment and enjoy. And look forward to the new friends that will come your way in the future if dear old friends leave.

    With your good friends that moved away – you will always have those friendships. It’s also nice to know I have friends all over the world. Especially if I get an itch to travel 😉

    1. Valid point Angie. Now that I think about it, four close friends ended up leaving SF (most for NY and one in LA) but I guess I never thought about it since we have been friends for so long and it was just a given that we’d forever be in touch and in each other’s lives. Also, moving from one state to another really doesn’t inhibit communication because long-distance calls aren’t a factor, really (though I guess with Skype and Gchat, nowadays even internationally living doesn’t have that as a factor.) I guess for me it has to do with watching people leave who also shared that underlying bond with me about living in and navigating life in a foreign country. Good thing I live in Chile though – there are always newbies to befriend!

  4. I don’t feel like the permanence (or lack thereof) of someone’s stay in Chile makes much of a difference in terms of whether or not I’ll make an effort to befriend them. Obviously if someone’s here for a couple months then I’m not going to imagine we’ll be best friends for the rest of our lives, but I’m happy to let any friendship take its course, whether that course is just a casual meet up or two over a few months or whether it becomes more than that over time.

    For me the real difference now that I’ve lived here for a while isn’t so much that I’ve seen people leave but that I’ve established my own life and don’t feel like I HAVE to make new friends. Meeting someone new is great, but I’m not doing it with the same frequency that I was when I first arrived.

  5. I’m still here Pookie Muffin! I wish we saw each other more.

    It is hard, definitely. I meet and get attached to a lot of people that leave. But I always give people a chance even if they tell me they’re only here for a year. Because we all know Chile is a country that somehow seems to enchant gringas into staying more time 🙂 So a lot of times I meet awesome people and they are supposed to be here a definite time, and they end up staying more time. Win!

  6. The first time I lived here, in the almost 4 years, almost everyone I knew left… and then I did… and now I am back. I am still pretty close friends with a few that I met here. This time around, I haven’t had the chance to meet as many gringas. I don’t work with any and work and family take up a lot of time. I miss those connections, even though it is sometimes bittersweet when they pack up.

  7. We definitely talk about moving back to Chile. Maybe not in the next year or two…but maybe 3? maybe 5? and who knows, R doesn’t know what he’s doing post-grad yet so if his old job calls and wants him to run a desk or if someone makes him an offer he can’t refuse, who knows? i mean that was definitely part of my thought process in taking this job. um hello the bank has an office in the same building i worked in last time i was living in chile so flexible fo sho. I agree w/the other comments though – never know who’s going to leave or stay – best to just enjoy moments for what they are and try not to overthink. i thought the world was going to end when my BF left NYC for SF and, honestly, we have made SO many efforts to take trips that we’ve ended up seeing each other probably every 2-3 months since i’ve been back in the states.. obviously living in Chile makes it harder but you’ve been to NYC almost 3 times now… me and Melissa and some other gringas will certainly make recurring trips there throughout our lives. R & i plan to be in Chile for 2 weeks over the holidays and i may ask for more time if i can swing working in the office down there. besos

  8. I get what you are saying. But as someone who has moved away and is moving back— I am always on the look out for people who are planning to stay long term. But, I am also open to the short term, moving on friendships.

    PS found your blog through La Tercera. You were the only one I didn’t know. Hello!

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