How To Successfully Maintain Your International Friendships

international friends talking on phone

International friendships are the best. Being friends with someone from a completely different environment really hammers home that your experiences are very different from everyone else’s.

It’s not all fun and games though, as there are some definite struggles that come along with having long-distance friends (the time difference for one thing — no one wants to get up at 2 a.m. for a quick catch up!).

It can be really hard to maintain a strong friendship across continents, but there is hope! A little effort goes a long way, and with commitment on both sides, these long-distance friends can be friends for life.

I am lucky enough to have two really great international friendships that have been a big part of my life. I consider these people to be two of my closest friends.

The first I met when I lived in England during my childhood. We met when we were 3 years old and were close until I moved away four years later. Despite our young ages, and the fact that we didn’t have cell phones or social media until around six years later, we are still close to this day.

My other friend was my first-year college roommate who was also from England. Going into my freshman year expecting another nervous American freshman and finding an English girl who was closer to my older brother’s age than mine was not what I was expecting. Despite our age gap and cultural differences, we were fast friends.

When she left at the end of the year, I was worried about how our friendship would survive busy adult life when an ocean and a five-hour time difference separated us. With some effort and a pact to stay in touch, we are still incredibly close: she even asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding.

Based on my experiences, here are some benefits, struggles, and tips to maintain international friendships!

Benefits of international friendships

Maintaining a friendship with someone in another country has lots of pros.

A new perspective on everything.

It’s awesome to trade ideas and discuss things with someone who comes from a completely different background. International friends provide some of the most interesting conversations. You never run out of things to talk about!

A chance to show your world and see theirs.

We all take our homes for granted (I know I do!). It can be hard to notice all the cool things about the place you’re from.

With an international friendship, you get a chance to see things through their eyes and experience your home from the perspective of a stranger (and vice versa). I loved giving tours of my hometown to my international friends and enjoyed seeing theirs as well.

A place to stay when traveling abroad.

I have to be honest: friendship and all that it’s worth aside, it is incredibly nice having a foothold in another country. Somewhere you can know you can stay if you ever get that vacation time or decide to take that backpacking trip.

Having a friend in another country is the perfect excuse to go traveling, and it can save a bit of money if you have a free place to stay!

A way to meet other cool international people.

Another great thing about international friends is the fact that they know other cool and interesting international people. Through your friendship, you can meet a ton of other people that you never could have met otherwise. Your circle will broaden with each new person until you have a network of new international friends.

An awesome accent.

Last but certainly not least is the fact that most of the time, your international friend has a really cool accent. A little shallow, but still true. It makes ordinary phrases like, “can you try to be quieter when you shut the door,” sound exciting.

Struggles of international friendships

There are a few things that make long-distance friendships much more difficult than a local friendship.

Time differences.

This is the big one and it can be a real struggle to manage, depending on exactly how big a time difference we’re talking about.

Considering it could be anywhere from three to 12 hours between you, it can be more difficult from situation to situation. It can be ridiculously hard to pin down a good time for a catch up when you go to sleep the second they wake up. One of you always ends up sleep-deprived and struggling through your talks.

Only talking about big things.

Another main issue with international friends is the fact that you simply can’t talk as much as local friends (due to timing and, you know, geography). Smaller updates have to be sacrificed. Whenever you do get a free minute to talk, it is usually a summary of the big life changes like new jobs, pets, partners, etc.

These are all very important to talk about (obviously) but it’s the little things that you really miss out on. There isn’t time to talk about a fun movie you saw or what happened at work that day; if it’s not critical, it generally gets cut out. It can be hard to feel like you know someone when you don’t know the little things going on with them.

Growing separately.

This is similar to the struggle above because it has to do with changing as a person and growing away from each other. Every day, week, month, or year you do not see each other adds up until eventually, the person is a different version of the one you knew.

Even though you’re still friends, it can be hard to miss these slow changes and may seem jarring depending on how long you go between seeing each other.

Meeting up is hard!

Another obvious doozy with international friendships is the fact that meeting up can be so difficult to plan! You both have completely different lives, schedules, time zones, etc.

If you can manage to get a week away to see each other, there is still the other big issue of cost. Traveling can be really expensive and it’s not so easy to pop across an ocean for a coffee meetup.

Different words.

Finally, an oldie but a goodie: different words. Depending on where your international friend is from, you can both have words the other doesn’t know exists, different words for the same things, the same words for different things, and a whole lot more confusion.

I’ll never forget the day my roommate asked me for a plaster, and it took a good few minutes trying to figure out what she actually wanted (a Band-Aid, FYI).

Sure, the accents can cause issues, but it’s the words that take a minute to wrap your head around.

How to maintain international friendships

Despite the additional hardships that come with having a long-distance friend, there are ways to maintain your international friendships so they last as long as you put in the effort.

Send letters and cards.

My childhood friend and I used to write letters to each other before we had cellphones, and we have continued this tradition even now that we both have phones. I consider this to be the reason we stayed friends throughout our formative years.

There is something so special about receiving mail and opening a handwritten letter from a friend far away. Sure, texting and calling are more convenient and there’s nothing easier than picking up the phone, but there’s also something to be said for seeing someone’s handwriting and knowing they put in the effort.

Schedule calls and video chats.

With the busy world we live in and adult life constantly knocking on the door, it can be hard to set aside time to check in with friends, especially international ones. Having a set day each week, month, or every few months to call or Facetime is very helpful to stay in touch. If it’s on the calendar, it feels more official and will soon become a habit.

You won’t have to worry about time getting away from you and next thing you know it’s been five months without a call.

Random check-ins.

Planned calls and chats are great but random check-ins are just as important. If you are missing your friend, text them and tell them! If you think of something that reminds you of them, message them! Never lose that casual correspondence. Keep up with them whenever you are able.

Comment on social media posts.

This one is more subtle, but it does a world of good for maintaining a friendship. I know I notice everyone who comments on my social media posts and I am always really touched whenever someone says something nice, especially my international friends.

Commenting and liking social media posts not only updates you on their life but also helps you keep in touch in real-time and feel like you’re part of the conversation. It is just another way to be an active member of each other’s lives.

Share memories on social media.

Finally, sharing memories (such as Facebook and Snapchat memories) gives you something to send to each other every year and opens a conversation about the fun things you have done. It is a nostalgic way to be reminded of your friendship and the good times you have when you are together. It can help tide you over until you see each other again and get you excited about making new memories.

International friendships are some of the best friendships you can have, and though they come with some issues, the benefits outweigh the struggles by far.

As long as you both make an active effort to be close and be sure to keep in touch, nothing will break you.

Originally written by Erin Watson on YourTango

Photo by RDNE Stock project on Pexels


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