Expat Life: On Making Friends and the Struggle for Something of My Own

It’s always a lot harder to do this when you’re older, no? But let me back track a little.

When I first moved to KL with my husband, I would have to admit that while I was looking forward to our new adventure, I found myself feeling sad during the first few months. This is probably the first time I am ever talking about this. But I guess, it’s time.

I was in a different country with no friends, no job to keep me occupied, and nothing to do for the first few months except scour the internet for interior design inspirations and trying to nail down a ‘look’ for our new home. A job that I was even sharing with my husband who also has a passion for interior design and homeware. (A post on this later, I promise)

I won’t say I was homesick as I have always been very capable of adapting to a new place. I didn’t get the urge to hop on a plane back to Manila and I was hell bent on making it through whatever it was that I was feeling.

It’s the first few weeks or months where you have nothing to keep you busy that are the hardest. I was on my phone a lot – a lot more than usual – bugging my closest friends from home and egging them on to tell me about what’s been happening back home. I was in the mall a lot during office hours, window shopping by myself and thinking to myself – for the first time ever – that it would be nice to have a friend around.

I felt pathetic. I was always so proud of being able to operate on my own but before I left Manila, I found myself being so attached to my friends. As attached as I was to the job that I’ve dreamed of and loved since I was a child. And I was leaving them both. I shed a tear or two at one of the airport’s toilets before boarding the plane knowing that I was having what millennials call FOMO or Fear of Missing Out.

I was going to miss my job. I was going to miss being busy. My family? I’ve always been used to us being far away from each other as people keep leaving then coming back. I know they are also compelled to talk to me or visit me way too often that I would start complaining so I didn’t worry much about them. But my friends? I was sad to know that I will be missing  the milestones. I won’t be there for the birthday parties, some weddings, and weekly brunches or dinners.

But they can always call me, right?

When the husband's away for work, the girls come out to play. 😉 Had a great time with you three! 💖💋 #twitter #gno

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When we arrived in KL, of course I got instant friends from the embassy. The wife of one of my husband’s colleagues, the officers and staff members who are always so nice when I visit. Even the Ambassador takes his people out every now and then to blow off some steam. I’ve known him back in Manila and he is always so kind to include me and even give me a bit of work to do for the embassy  to help out because he knows reporters hate being bored. I’ve joked around about getting my own desk eventually.

Attended the #ASEAN Ladies' Circle Executive Committee meeting yesterday as alternate patron. Ended up getting the post of Secretary for this year. Thank you, ladies. It is such an honor (and a huge responsibility! Eeep!). I'll do my very best. ❤️ on a side note: it felt weird to attend an actual meeting at the foreign ministry by myself. It's the husband who goes here all the time. I was so nervous! But seeing these smart, beautiful, and passionate women there reminded me that though most of us are considered 'trailing spouses', we don't have to live in our husbands' shadows all the time. We're our own, great selves. we can do significant things and we can follow our own dreams by keeping our passions alive. #yeswomen #latergram ❤️😉

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There were also the friends I made in the ASEAN Ladies’ Circle and in the diplomatic corps. You’d think that diplomat’s wives are stuck up and boring due to stereotypes and all but some of us know how to let loose, I tell you. 😉

I was starting to have fun but I know that there’s another thing missing. All of those things were there because of my husband.

No, I don’t resent the whole diplomat’s wife situation. I love being able to help my husband at work and attending events with him. It is an honour and a privilege to be serving and representing my country this way. However, I wanted something of my own and I guess that’s how the blog became a regular thing and quite a serious endeavour.

I have always been so used to being my own person. My greatest fear back when I was younger was to just to be ‘the wife of’ anyone. This is Carol, the wife of *insert long diplomatic titles here* Alvin. Like there’s nothing else about me anymore. How about, “This is Carol, the wife of *insert long diplomatic titles here* Alvin. She was a TV and online reporter and she continues to write while at post.”

Sounds better, right? Right?

Even though I’m married, I never identified myself as an accessory… an appendage and Alvin knows and respects that. I worked so hard on my career and in my writing as well as the relationships I cultivated (and continue to) with people. They are a huge part of me who I am and if I let them just fade into oblivion, I know I can never forgive myself.

True, I’m a happy wife and I love being there and helping Alvin out but he knows I also need something to call my own. I personally think great marriages are composed of two individuals whose worlds don’t revolve around each other 24/7. I always loved coming home to tell Alvin about my day and me, hearing about his. We’d exchange stories and laugh on all the funny things that happened.

Always a great time with this girl. @hellotammylim 😘 Congrats on the new store #narsmalaysia! ❤️ #narsklcc #twitter #narsissist

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Even though I’m not allowed to work in Malaysia, we’re now back to that. Back when I wasn’t going out much and I had no one outside the diplomatic corps to talk to, I had nothing new to say except what I saw online. I felt bummed out. So I made efforts to change that situation.

I started attending events on my own and met people that aren’t from the diplomatic circle. It is refreshing getting to live in two worlds and knowing when the blogging world is starting to feel like a routine, I have the diplomatic world to run to and vice versa. I guess I always need that escape portal to different worlds as my attention span has always been likened to that of a goldfish.

So what’s the point of this entry?

I guess, it’s to put it out there that making friends as an adult is always a lot harder compared to when you were a child. But you can do it! You don’t think it’s important at first but it is – it really is. They are the ones (aside from your spouse, of course) who will help you settle into your new space. I wasn’t always friendly when I was young and I only learned to be when puberty and my goth phase ended.

Merry #Christmas! 🎅🏻👌🏻🎄 #twitter

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Making friends as an adult takes time. And it’s a lot more awkward. During my ‘rut’, there was even a time at a diplomatic reception that my husband and a European diplomat were talking and he went as far as asking if his wife was busy and maybe they can introduce the two of us and we can hang out.

I wanted the Earth to swallow me in whole as I scream “Stop it, Dad!

My husband will be a great father someday. He will be so awesome in humiliating our future kid as a teenager. On a more serious note, I love how Alvin was so concerned about me that he was actually making a move to help me find friends. It was actually adorable. But yes, not like that please.

That diplomat’s wife has three small kids so we never got the time to meet.  That’s another thing. If I had a baby when we moved here, maybe it would have been easier. I would bring the kiddo to a playdate and I will meet other parents! But I’m not a mom and I don’t see myself having one just for the sake of having one. I have also been warned to stay away from playgroups as they can be just pressure cookers for competing moms and their kids. So… moving on.

Now, I can say that I’m past all of that and I can just twirl with glee. I have a handful of awesome ladies here in Malaysia that I can send a message to about the most mundane thing I witnessed that day or what I read on the local news.

When I log on to Facebook, I always see the updates of my friends back home and also that of my best friend who’s studying in Melbourne. Thank goodness I’m from the millennial generation where everyone feels the need to share everything. I know baby boomers will frown upon this but for people like me who are away all the time and are missing people living far from them, it’s kind of a good thing since I’m updated with what’s happening.

It used to make me sad seeing things like how one of my godchildren started walking already. Normally, I would be the first person his mother will call. Nowadays, I get updated with the rest – online. And I realised that’s all okay.

It’s not like they forgot me. Whenever I go home, I see them and it’s like not a day has passed. When my friends visit me in KL, we still talk for hours and laugh at the same jokes. I get updated on some of the things that didn’t make it online over a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

#GandangDFA – The Reunion! Haha! Missed you guys! 💕 #twitter

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I don’t have FOMO anymore and I have my new hobbies and friends here to thank for that. We go out, we talk about our lives and what we love to do. We go to restaurants, we rant, we tell jokes, and we share food, beauty, and home inspiration.

Expats often say that homesickness is your worst enemy and that some people never really do get over it. The solution is always to be accepting of where you are. Don’t just dip your toes into the water. Dive in.

Back when I didn’t have friends, I got an invitation to a party hosted by an expat magazine here in KL. I dragged my husband there even though he was tired from work. He knew I was out to make friends and he has always been supportive of my needs as an individual so as not to smother me with the pressures that come with diplomatic life.

One of the best surprises I've had ever! Nabigla talaga ako! Welcome to KL @armimillare! Slumber partyyy!

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I met one of my closest friends there who worked for that magazine. Eventually, he and another friend of ours opened doors for me and I started contributing to one of their titles. It was an unexpected surprise.

In blogging, I meet a ton of people on an event basis but just a few would really stand out. I met one who I’ve traveled to the Philippines twice with and has become one of my best friends here, there’s another one who I can geek out with, and there are three expat wives like myself who I know I will have a hard time leaving once posting ends. We talk to each other even late at night! We’re kinda like a mafia gang. Without the crime. Or maybe.

Friends are indeed the family we choose and I’m glad I found a handful both here and in Manila to keep for a lifetime. You just know which ones will stick with you even if you’re countries apart. Even when you’re not talking everyday but a beep from your phone will wake you up at night telling you about something awesome that happened to them and they wish you were there with them to celebrate. You may miss milestones but technology brings you just a wee bit closer. It is a lot easier to be an expat, or a ‘diplospouse’ (as they call it) these days compared to those times when everything was sent via snail mail.

Last night's emergency party with the lovely people of KL PE. ❤🎉 #twitter

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For the past several months I’ve been out of the house a lot and when I’m home, I’m also busy with writing either for the blog or for some other medium.

** Shameless plug**

Btw, please check out Esquire Malaysia’s February issue! You will find a piece from me there! 🙂

** End of shameless plug**

My husband even jokes that I’m as busy as him during the ASEAN Summit. And sometimes, I actually am. I am my own person after all and I have my own social engagements. He has access to my calendar though, so no worries. He can make appointments. 😉 Just kidding, Alvin. You know you’re my number one priority. 😉 😉

Settling down in a new place can take time and I’m glad the adjustment period for me is long over. Being split between Manila and KL is not so bad. I can honestly say that now – I got this.

More later.

Love,

Carol

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6 thoughts on “Expat Life: On Making Friends and the Struggle for Something of My Own

  1. OMG, This is such a good write! I told you before right babe, I love love your writing but lately, I didn’t get to come here as often. Sorry TT

    “My husband will be a great father someday. He will be so awesome in humiliating our future kid as a teenager. ”

    And yeah, somehow I can imagine that. Hahaha *laugh/cries*
    I’m glad you feeling better now! And I hope you will feel happier as the time pass 🙂

    xoxo

    Like

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