Friday, July 27, 2018

Making Friends Abroad

Making friends abroad is hard. One of the most difficult things about being a diplomat in general is being far away from home - including friends and family. It's not easy to try and start over again in a new place with new people every few years. Now that we're halfway through our first tour in the Foreign Service, I'd say we've learned a few things.

I think of three main categories of friends that a U.S. diplomat has here:

  • Other U.S. Embassy folks: There are hundreds of colleagues here to befriend, whether you work with them directly or not. This is even easier if you live in a large housing compound with a lot of U.S. Embassy neighbors or if you have kids going to an American school.
  • Other expats: The form I've usually seen these friendships take are social connections across the Western diplomatic corps or private sector American expats.
  • Locals: Of course, there are white Kenyans and Indian Kenyans, but I primarily think of this group as black Kenyans (as they are the overwhelming majority of the Kenyan population).

Just as there are different types of friends, there are different friend philosophies. Some of the U.S. diplomats we know only ever socialize with Americans. Others boast that all their friends are other expats and that they aren't "stuck in the American bubble". Still others spend most of their free time with Kenyan friends, which many feel is the best way to learn about Kenya's country, culture, history, and more.

So where do we fall? To be honest, our friends in Kenya span all three of the categories I mentioned. From the beginning, we made a lot of local Kenyan friends from church, which includes expats but has a vast majority of Kenyans. It took us a while (about six months), but we also eventually found our groove with Embassy friends as well. As for other expats, we've made a few "random" friends and bonded over shared interests (such as food).

One year in, we feel much more comfortable socially than we did when we arrived. In the beginning, to be honest, we struggled. We weren't sure if we would ever have a friend we could just call to hang out with here or that anybody would ever invite us to do something on the weekend. Thank goodness, that phase is over! Now, our bigger concern is all the people we have to say goodbye to as they leave this year and the rest that we'll have to bid farewell to when we leave next year.

A lot of these things won't change from post to post, but other things will. For example, I think we have it a bit easier in the sense that there's no language barrier for most of the people we've met here, since English is widely spoken in Kenya and especially Nairobi. I also think the longer you stay somewhere the easier it is to put down roots and become more socially integrated. We're completing a two-year tour now, so a one-year tour would be harder in that respect but a three-year tour would be easier.

At the end of the day, despite the challenges, these experiences have really helped us grow and learn. Now we can look forward to having the friends we've made here becoming people we look forward to reuniting with and visiting again, no matter where they are in the world!


  1. Good to have you and Marwan as our friend - D. Mukasa and family

    1. Thank you! We don't know what we'd do without you.