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Expats: What can happen if you don’t keep in touch

There were nephews and nieces that I didn’t really know and I couldn’t help thinking that I had played almost no part in their lives.

By Steve Mansfield.

This article appeared in the New Zealand Times on 21 May, 2015 5:01 am in Featured, Living in the UK.

I was an expat Kiwi for almost fourteen years. I left for distant shores (Australia!) 18 months after I graduated from Otago University as a dentist.

After I graduated I got a job in my home city of Wanganui. You know the story with small towns – it’s tough to go back because no one you know actually lives there anymore.

So at the age of 24 I set off. I was the first of my family to do the OE; strange really as I’m the youngest of five.

When I left, my siblings were all starting out in family life – all married with young families and still to have more children. Looking back it was a critical time and my family was just about to enter the core time of its history – you know, all the cousins around the Christmas tree and Easters with the grandparents.

I was in Australia for three years and then went to the Middle East for ten more. During this time I travelled extensively and met incredibly interesting people. It was quite the lifestyle; I would fly from Saudi Arabia to Amsterdam or Cyprus or Greece just to meet up with my English girlfriend (who became my wife) for a few days – just because these places were half way!

Meanwhile, my siblings back home were getting on with their lives; doing the school run, talking about the weather and following the Super 12 as it was called back then. There were first days at school and first rugby or netball games, braces and School Certificate and a thousand other things as well.

All this time I would come home every second Christmas. It was lovely to see everybody but I would somehow feel that I was an outsider, a fringe dweller of this beautiful family. Of course it was always fun and I enjoyed myself, but then it would end and I would fly away only to see them all two years later.

Of course I kept in touch with Mum. Every week we would exchange a fax and my news would be disseminated out to the family and vice versa. This was no substitute for real communication of course

When my wife and I came home to New Zealand in 2001, it was really hard to get back in step with my family. There were nephews and nieces who had left home that I didn’t really know and I couldn’t help thinking that I had played almost no part in their lives. I also felt that I had to get to know my siblings all over again.

In retrospect, I don’t think that I have ever really caught up in these past thirteen years. My siblings just got too used to me not being around. Yes, I have gotten to know my nephews and nieces a lot more but I can’t say that I’m particularly close to them.

My message to you is to communicate in every conceivable way with your families. Don’t rely on Mum to pass on your news. Talk to everyone in your family directly. Phone when your niece starts school and wish her well. Remember all their birthdays. Send a gift if you can – it gives them something tangible to remind them of you.

It’s so much easier nowadays so there are no excuses. There is Skype and cheap international phone rates. With the click of a button you can send a gift wrapped present right to their door in under a day.

Just keep in touch by all means!

(Disclaimer: This article is in no way intended to be scientific and my experience may not be the typical expat experience)