Izzy Ashton | an expat in Western Asia
“When I lived overseas, I could only write letters to my family.”
“Back in the day, we could only make phone calls once a month, and they were expensive!”
“What I wouldn’t give to have been able to have my parents see my children on a screen growing up. We only had visits once every four years.”
I often heard memories like these when I moved to the other side of the world. So, I embraced the 12-hour time difference and 24-hour travel from friends and family. Before email and video calls, a move overseas meant disconnection from community, leaving behind loved ones and one’s culture.
In many ways, this is not my reality; it’s not the reality of the world that the internet brought us. Through digital photos and videos sent by their parents, I get to watch my niece and nephew grow and learn. I get to process my new expat life with long-time friends - through social media and video calls, even showing off parts of my world in real time. I even get to stay up to date on pop culture from my home country as well as globally, as so much of these trends and movements overlap.
The stories of cross-cultural pioneers who relied on handwritten, paper communication provides a clear reminder of how much technology has changed our daily lives.
We don’t completely say goodbye when we board the plane. Some might say that this presents a problem in the way we adjust and make our new home in a different culture. And there is a temptation to rely too much on the ease of communicating with people in our home country, making it hard to really settle in. There is also a significant benefit in being able to stay in touch with those we love.
Balancing a new cross-cultural life and a global community is a marathon. During a pandemic, it can feel like a triathlon when you trained for a 5k. Steady your cadence and make technology your best pair of running shoes. Here are 4 encouragements to balance friendships and steward technology well.
1. We can’t make social media an unhealthy escape.
This is one of my biggest struggles and temptations. I notice myself reach for my phone when I’m feeling uncomfortable in a situation or overwhelmed with new information. I scroll through Instagram on my ride home from a language lesson, rather than letting the new words settle into my mind. I read pop-culture articles when I should be studying for the next day’s class. This does me no favors!
There are some days when an old friend sends a message, email, or voice chat, with comforting words, strong enough to dig in where I am. In these times, I am grateful to not be a letter or expensive phone call away!
2. We need to remember the weight of relationships, no matter their location.
Relationships are draining and not just for introverts; they require an investment of time and emotion. We have a limited capacity. When I first moved cross-culturally, I planned on keeping in touch with everyone regularly. I made numerous promises of emails and regular video calls. After one month, I lacked follow through. I rehearsed to myself, I care for them and I want to stay in touch but my capacity is limited. Yes, I cut back on communication with people I love, and it allowed me to be intentional about which relationships to pour into.
3. We must take the time to develop deep, in-person relationships.
When I first moved cross-culturally, loneliness wasn’t my companion because of my many long-distance friendships. If I want to share snippets of my everyday life, within seconds video calls connect me to a familiar face. Through emails and social media, I could distribute images freely and quickly.
Over time especially during a shelter-in-place season, I realize I needed and craved that in-person connection. Screen relationships, while valuable, aren’t enough.
An in-person connection takes more time and vulnerability both in speech and physical safety. As COVID-19 restrictions lift in your country, with proper precautions, make it a priority to pursue deeper, authentic relationships. Stepping into new relationships opens our hearts for the possibility of more goodbyes, but our souls need to meet for coffee or a meal, and reach out to someone when we have a need.
4. Finally, we choose gratitude for the technology we have available.
While I know I can easily get sucked into the world of the internet and social media, allowing me to stay connected to those far away that I miss, I am thankful for the chance to stay connected to them. During our visits home, we felt less “far away” because of the opportunities to pick up more where we left off through the quick messages and emails we exchange throughout the year. Because of these things, our relationships feel less fragmented and we can include our family and close friends in our daily lives here.
Here are my favorite apps to stay connected:
Stewarding technology well is a gift to yourself and those around you. Choose the right shoes for your cross-cultural life. Your future self will thank you for the deeper friendships. ●
Izzy Ashton holds a masters’ degree in counseling, is rarely seen without a book or pen in her hand and enjoys learning how to help people thrive. She and her husband Michael are experienced entrepreneurs who develop businesses cross-culturally that will make a positive impact on their communities. From her home along the Mediterranean, she is striving to learn the balance of well-being and self-care in a rigorous business world. Talk to Izzy.