Turning an email into a loneliness antidote
One of my closest friends is leaving for a long trip abroad tomorrow. I was on my way to meet her today to say goodbye, and my bus was late. I stood for 20 minutes in the rain, wearing inappropriate shoes and wondering whether I should finally buy a car—and crying until my bus finally came.
I have adventurous friends and they are amazing. But I hate it when they leave. It’s hard to watch friends go, and it’s easy to forget that grand adventures abroad often include stretches of loneliness and self-doubt. The more I go abroad, the more I realize the importance of staying connected to friends back home.
So what can we do to support our adventurous friends? Care packages are helpful, but we’re really lucky because the internet lets us send instant emotional care packages as well—they’re called emails. Here are three thing you can pack in an email to help your adventurous friends feel loved.
Personal Current Events
I like to read the news, and luckily the internet has a lot of it. What the internet doesn’t have (particularly if you have limited Facebook access) is a live news feed of personal current events. When people write emails to friends abroad, they tend to share big news: new jobs, new relationships, personal successes and crises. These are important, but little news, the things that you would know if you were in regular face-to-face contact with a friend, are just as vital: new haircuts, strange encounters on the bus, great new coffee shop discoveries. Don’t assume that because your friend is off living in a yurt that the everyday occurrences of home are boring. Not so—the everyday is often the best antidote to homesickness and loneliness.
Spending important holidays away from home can be tough. I never considered myself a Christmas person until my first year in China when a group of us skipped class on Christmas day and went to Pizza Hut to celebrate. It’s not just the big holidays though. Last time I was in China I found myself inexplicably sad on Halloween, and it’s been years since I dressed up or handed out candy. Try making it a habit to email on every holiday Monday—who wouldn’t want to get a Happy Family Day! message in the middle of a long, dry, brittle northeastern Chinese winter? I certainly would. Sometimes people worry that pointing out holidays that people abroad are missing will make them sadder. In the short term, maybe. But in the end being remembered always feels good.
Ask questions. Ask for detail. Demonstrate interest in where your friend is living and what they are doing. I find that my emails home always start off really detailed and enthusiastic and then taper off as things get more routine for me. Sometimes, I wonder whether anyone really cares what new dish I tried or what kind of vests the cashiers at the supermarket down the street wear. But every once in a while a friend will write me an email asking me to describe something like the local supermarket and I get really excited and write down every detail of the store I can possibly thing of. Do this for your friends. Demand information. For people like me who don’t journal, emails home act as records of my travels, and being encouraged to write helps me make sense of my new everyday.
So send coffee and stomach remedies and warm socks and local magazines and handmade cards. The physical is important. But send those emotional care packages too—if you cried at a bus stop thinking of your friend, tell her.