As an Expat, Friends Are a Necessity

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

Each installment of “The Friendship Files” features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.

This week she talks with three friends who met in Mandarin class when they were expats living in Beijing. They discuss the importance of having friends when you live abroad, their hunger for adventure, and why sometimes they’re actually lonelier in their home countries.

The Friends:

the latest tech news, global tech news daily, tech news today, startups, usa tech, asia tech, china tech, eu tech, global tech, in-depth electronics reviews, 24h tech news, 24h tech news, top mobile apps, tech news daily, gaming hardware, big tech news, useful technology tips, expert interviews, reporting on the business of technology, venture capital funding, programing language

Nandita Baxi Sheth, 56, a teacher and Ph.D. student who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio

Charlotte Bovin, 49, a salesperson who lives in Stockholm, Sweden

Global Tech News Daily

Joanna Engelman, 66, a retired teacher who lives in Essen, the Netherlands

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Global Tech News Daily

Julie Beck: What brought you each to China in the first place, and how did you meet?

Joanna Engelman: My husband worked for Nestlé, and he was transferred to China. We lived there for six years. We were based in Beijing, but he had an apartment in the north of China for work and only came back to Beijing for meetings. So I was an expat wife.

Charlotte Bovin: I also came to China when my now ex-husband got a job for a software company. We were in Beijing for three years. During that time we adopted our first child from Taiwan.

As an Expat, Friends Are a Necessity
© Provided by The Atlantic Left to right: Charlotte, Nandita, and Joanna in Beijing (Courtesy of Joanna Engeleman)

Nandita Baxi Sheth: We also went to Beijing for my husband’s job. He traveled a lot, and I was a stay-at-home mom. We were there for five years. I decided I needed to learn Mandarin, and I met Joanna and Charlotte in the class.

Beck: What was your experience meeting people while you were living in China? Did you find it hard to talk to people; was it ever lonely?

Joanna: I never felt lonely. Otherwise I should’ve gone home. As long as you have a child in school, it’s very easy to meet people. You meet parents; you meet teachers. We lived for 36 years abroad—in Tanzania, Kenya, Poland, Switzerland, China, Pakistan.

Nandita: I’m, in a way, more lonely back in the suburbs. In China, Joanna and I lived in these expatriate compounds, so we had an international community.  

[Read: My Thanksgiving at a KFC in China]

Charlotte: I came to China without kids and was hanging out with a younger crowd, living downtown in the city center. But it was fun for me to be part of the life that you had with your schools and your kids. I really love that about our friendship—I got access to other worlds that I didn’t have with my kind of lifestyle. And then when I had my child, he was so young, so he never went to school in China.

Beck: You all met in Mandarin class, but how did you become friends and get close?

Joanna: There were five women in the class, and we were all drawn to each other. We started to hang out. We had lovely foot massages; we had dinners together. We were all in the same situation. We understood each other.

Charlotte: Also, when you’re in language class, you practice things and you tell stories about your personal life, with simple sentences: What did you do yesterday? And what are you planning to do today? We had classes three times per week, and we really got to know each other. We all opened up, and we had so much fun. We were laughing so hard.

It got quite intense, since we were meeting so often. We started meeting earlier and earlier, to have coffee before class so we had time to talk. We really couldn’t get enough of each other.

Nandita: In one class, we had to talk about our weddings in Mandarin. So we learned each other’s histories very quickly.  

Sometimes the best friendships are ones that are unexpected. I don’t think I went to the class thinking I’ll make friends. We had a community through my husband’s job. I think Charlotte, Joanna, and I were drawn to each other because we wanted to learn the language, which not every expat wanted to do. We wanted to practice it, and we were willing to have adventures in Beijing. Joanna and Charlotte taught me a lot about being open and being kind and generous.

[Read: They met in an elevator; now they travel the world together]

Charlotte: It’s true what you said, Nandita, that not all expats are that open to really get to know the local food, the local culture, local language, and the local people, but our group was really interested in that.

Beck: How long were you three all in Beijing together?

Charlotte: Three years.

Beck: Are there milestones or memorable moments that you went through together?

Joanna: My 50th birthday.

I invited 50 people, and Charlotte had just had Sebastian. So he came out for the first time.

Beck: Oh, his first party! Tell me about adopting your son while you were in Beijing—was it interesting to have other parents as friends while you were going through that process?

Charlotte: Yeah, it was really, really important. I was so far away from home. When you’re in that process, you don’t really know what the timeline is. So it’s not like you can plan for your family to come over. And I couldn’t bring him home to Sweden either before all the papers were in order. The one picking us up at the airport and bringing lots of gifts from all the friends, that was Joanna.

I think it’s fantastic being a mom abroad. It can be quite narrow-minded if you’re in a mom group with everyone of the same cultural background, same upbringing. If you get advice from moms of five different nationalities, it’s really nice.

[Read: ‘Expat’ and the fraught language of migration]

Beck: How did your friendship evolve when you didn’t live in the same place anymore?

Nandita: We kept up with phone calls and FaceTime and such.

Charlotte: We send texts sometimes, and it can be really serious topics—I went through divorce, for example. And sometimes we plan for no reason, just to have a chat and catch up.

Nandita: If it was just texting, then it would be a certain kind of friendship. But it’s so varied; we have the day-to-day sharing of fun things, we have calls, and we’ve had meetings in person, which cement that this friendship is important.

As an Expat, Friends Are a Necessity
© Provided by The Atlantic The friends on their trip to Copenhagen (Courtesy of Nandita Baxi Sheth)

I met Joanna in New York once when she was there, and Joanna came to Cincinnati. We both went to Copenhagen and met Charlotte.

Charlotte: We rented an Airbnb. We spent the day doing touristy stuff and then in the evenings, we were just chatting away—the conversation was never-ending.

Beck: What was it like to be together in person again, after being long-distance for a while?

Nandita: It just felt perfect. Like no time had passed. We all have different roles in life—we are mothers, we’re daughters—and when we’re together, we’re just friends, and we can be our authentic selves.  

Beck: Do you feel like making friends as an expat was different from when you made friends in your daily life, in your home countries?

Joanna: You need your friends abroad. You really need them; you don’t have family.

Charlotte: It’s much harder to make friends back home. Everyone has their own childhood friends or neighbors. Coming back to Sweden was really tough. The friendships that you create abroad are really strong because, like you say, Joanna, you really need each other. And everyone is really open-minded, because you’re like, I’m in for this adventure. Back home, everyone is just doing their own thing, and they don’t really reflect on How could I change this pattern and make new friends?

If you or someone you know should be featured on “The Friendship Files,” get in touch at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

New York Rangers get another comeback win to force Game 7 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH — How many times can the New York Rangers dig themselves into a hole and climb back out? At least one more, as of Friday night. The Blueshirts came ... Read more »

Wilson, balanced Aces cruise to 96-73 victory over Dream

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) — A’ja Wilson scored 15 points, Kelsey Plum had 14 points and 11 assists and the Las Vegas Aces rolled to a 96-73 victory over the ... Read more »

EXPLAINER: Why frustration lingers in Okinawa 50 years later

The Associated PressFILE – U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mike Anglen of Turner, Ore., center, stands atop a cliff as Sgt. Bryan Wallace of Pikin, Ill., waits for his turn before ... Read more »

Astros beat Nationals 6-1 for 11th straight victory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jose Altuve homered on the first pitch of the game, Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel also went deep and the Houston Astros extended their winning streak to ... Read more »

Kreider scores late, Rangers edge Pens 5-3 to force Game 7

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Chris Kreider’s long slap shot bounced over Louis Domingue and into the net with 1:28 left and the New York Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 on ... Read more »

Astros push winning streak to 11, roll past Nationals 6-1

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jose Altuve homered on the first pitch of the game, and Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel also went deep to help the Houston Astros extend their winning ... Read more »

Moustakas, Drury power Reds to 8-2 victory over Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Moustakas homered twice and Brandon Drury drove in four runs to break out of a slump and lead the resurgent Cincinnati Reds to an 8-2 victory ... Read more »

Peterson's bases-loaded walk lifts Brewers over Marlins 2-1

MIAMI (AP) — Jace Peterson walked against Anthony Bender with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Miami Marlins 2-1 Friday night. After starters ... Read more »

Padres: No cancer found during manager Bob Melvin's prostate surgery

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres say no cancer was found when manager Bob Melvin had prostate surgery on Wednesday. Melvin, 60, was recovering at home Friday after ... Read more »

Ogunbowale, Gray help Wings rally past Mystics, 94-86

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arike Ogunbowale scored 27 points, Allisha Gray had 21 and the Dallas Wings overcame a 15-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Washington Mystics 94-86 on Friday night. ... Read more »

Resigning North Dakota senator led lawmakers in travel costs

The Associated PressFILE – North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg listens during a joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Jan. 7, 2009. Holmberg, ... Read more »

Residents in picturesque California county hit with gas prices topping $7 a gallon

A California county known for its spectacular mountains and proximity to Yosemite National Park has been paying the nation’s highest gas prices. Read more »

Boudreau to return as coach of Canucks next season

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Bruce Boudreau will return as coach of the Vancouver Canucks next season after helping to turn the struggling NHL club around as a midyear replacement. ... Read more »

New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern tests positive for COVID

On Location: May 13, 2022 Catch up on the developing stories making headlines.The Associated Press WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tested positive for COVID-19 ... Read more »

Today in History for May 14th

Highlights of this day in history: Colonists go ashore in Virginia to set up Jamestown; Lewis and Clark begin to explore Louisiana Territory; Israel founded; Skylab launched; Movie producer George ... Read more »

Twitter CEO expects Elon Musk acquisition to close, addresses spending cuts

Musk is awaiting details supporting calculations that spam, fake accounts represent less than 5% of Twitter's users Read more »

Padres: No cancer found during Bob Melvin's prostate surgery

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres say no cancer was found when manager Bob Melvin had prostate surgery on Wednesday. Melvin, 60, was recovering at home Friday after ... Read more »

Renovated NYC museum shows indigenous perspectives

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City recently finished a major renovation of its exhibition on the native peoples of the northwest coast of North America. Curators ... Read more »

Police release 911 calls in Gilgo Beach case

A woman who disappeared in a beach community on New York’s Long Island more than a decade ago, sparking an investigation into a possible serial killer, said “there’s somebody after ... Read more »

Academy Awards set 2023 Oscars for March 12

The Associated PressFILE – Oscar statue on the red carpet at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Next year’s Academy Awards will ... Read more »

Actor Fred Ward, of 'Tremors,' 'The Right Stuff' fame, dies

The Associated PressFILE – Fred Ward, a cast member in “30 Minutes or Less,” poses at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 2011. Ward, a ... Read more »

Judge refuses to drop elections suit against Trump, media

NEW YORK — A Colorado judge on Friday denied motions to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by an election systems worker against former President Donald Trump’s campaign, two of its ... Read more »

Q&A: Becky G unveils every side of herself in latest album

The Associated PressFILE – Becky G appears at the Oscars in Los Angeles on March 27, 2022. Beck G’s latest album is “Esquemas.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NEW YORK ... Read more »

North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19 outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19 outbreak. Read more »

North Korea confirms 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says 21 people died and 174,440 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Friday alone as the country scrambles to slow the spread ... Read more »

White Sox place Giolito on COVID list, activate Vaughn

The Chicago White Sox placed ace Lucas Giolito on the COVID-19 injured list and activated outfielder Andrew Vaughn following a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte on Friday. Giolito began experiencing ... Read more »

Traded back and forth, Ford learns to live out of suitcase

NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Ford has learned to travel light — and quickly. Since the start of the season, the 29-year-old first baseman has played for Tacoma, San Francisco ... Read more »

Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink satellites

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 53 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit from California on Friday. (May 13) Read more »

Celtics' Robert Williams remains out for Game 6 vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Boston forward/center Robert Williams missed his third straight game with an injured left knee as the Celtics tried to keep their season alive Friday night in Game ... Read more »

Padres sign Robinson Canó, plan to use him off the bench

ATLANTA (AP) — The San Diego Padres have signed veteran second baseman Robinson Canó to a major league contract and plan to use him as a left-handed bat off the ... Read more »

WNBA star's Russia detention extended by 1 month

The lawyer for WNBA star Brittney Griner says her pre-trial detention in Russia has been extended by one month. Alexander Boykov told The Associated Press the relatively short extension indicated ... Read more »

Louisiana justices toss COVID-related charges against pastor

Hundreds of thousands of Americans fighting long-haul symptoms from COVID-19 Dr. David Putrino from Mount Sinai Health System and COVID long-hauler Joel Fram discuss the long-term effects of the disease.The ... Read more »

Sandy Hook lawsuits against Alex Jones on track to resume

The Associated PressFILE – This Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, photo shows radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones at Capitol Hill in Washington. The Sandy Hook families’ lawsuits against ... Read more »

Rockies' Bryant closer to return after cortisone shot

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Rockies outfielder Kris Bryant took swings in the cage Friday for the first time since he was sidelined with a sore back nearly three weeks ago ... Read more »

Mariners demote Jarred Kelenic to minors after poor start

NEW YORK (AP) — Rather than make his Citi Field debut against the team that traded him, Jarred Kelenic was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma by the Seattle Mariners on Friday ... Read more »

Biden: ASEAN partnership 'critical' in this moment

Looking to strengthen ties, President Joe Biden welcomes leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to Washington for the first time. “We’re launching a new era in U.S.-ASEAN relations,” ... Read more »

Phil Mickelson will not defend his title at next week's PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson caught lightning in a bottle last year at Kiawah Island, winning a major championship at 50 years of age. The fairways flooded, and the golf world stood and ... Read more »

Tennessee Titans' Malik Willis on Ryan Tannehill's mentorship comments: 'Everything is cool'

The Tennessee Titans didn’t take issue with Ryan Tannehill’s comments about mentoring third-round rookie Malik Willis. Willis and coach Mike Vrabel were asked about Tannehill’s scrutinized remarks following the first ... Read more »

Lawyers plan suit against Lufthansa over Jewish passengers

Lawyers for 26 passengers said Friday they told Lufthansa that they will sue the German airline for refusing to let members of a large group of Orthodox Jewish passengers board ... Read more »

Wild face offseason after yet another early ouster

While the Minnesota Wild were stacking up franchise records and securing the extra home game for the first round, general manager Bill Guerin carefully acknowledged a “great year” for the ... Read more »