Distance can pose serious challenges to Third Culture Kids, especially when it comes to keeping in touch.
One of the biggest hurdles of a Third Culture Kid is maintaining the friendships they formed while living outside their passport country as an expatriate or as a military child, where they spent a significant portion of their lives residing in a foreign country.
When distance creates a lag between friends through relocation, usually as a result of the termination of their status as expatriates, or leaving for schooling abroad, the instant gratification, or the routine, of seeing their friends at school every day quickly transforms into planned phone calls, adjusting with time zones, and an investment in time and money to see them again.
For Aramcons, our expatriate fairytales in Saud Arabia come to an end when our families leave the cookie cutter, surreal, sun-kissed towns of Dhahran, Abqaiq, Ras Tanura, or Udhailiyah.
What existed once as a meeting point between you and your friends and family soon forms into a memory, and you lock away those precious moments in the attic of your mind. But those ancient pictures and memories mysteriously sneak up on you, especially when you’re miles and miles away and you see something that reminds you of someone and your heart skips a beat, a smile forms on your face, and you feel nostalgia hit you with all its force, unable to fight it back.
Some friends you are able to see often, others not so often, and that’s when it becomes vital to make the effort to keep in touch. Commitments to our own goals gain more importance, our life trajectories change, and unfortunately interests change, causing some friendships to experience inevitable fallouts.
I had the chance to reach out to a few Aramcons and get their valuable insight into this issue.
Kalani Sliskovich, a former Resident in Udhailiyah from ’80-’85, and a former teacher at Saudi Aramco Schools, and a current resident in Dhahran, describes her experience growing up between worlds. As a kid, she had lived in Australia, Guam, Greece, and Udhailiyah, and growing up in an era without the speed of technology that exists today, posed certain challenges.
“Being homesick was not about the place so much as the people I knew and loved. And, being it was the “old days,” before the internet and instantaneous social media, it could be awhile before a letter made it to and from your previous or other life. It is now so much easier to keep in touch and keep the closeness with friends in the age of the internet! People can share every detail of their lives with you in a nanosecond,” she said.
6th Street, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
The trees behind the running track near Third Street, Dhahran.
Tandoori House, a popular Indo-Chinese restaurant in Dhahran.
Mireille Najjar, who grew up in Dhahran and now resides in California, says the real challenges arise after high school, when friends venture off to the US, Canada, or other parts of the Middle East. “This crucial time was definitely when I felt that my closest friendships were starting to change. What I have learned throughout the years is that It takes effort and commitment on both ends to stay in touch and maintain solid friendships.”
A shared commitment to keeping the friendship alive, as well as the expansion of technology, has facilitated the ways and means to stay in touch with close ones. Of course, challenges still exist, but the combination of effort from both ends has a potential for a fruitful outcome.
Yasmin Arouri, who grew up in Dhahran and now lives in Australia, described her thoughts on the challenges, “A friendship with someone who lives on the other side of the world may be one of the most difficult relationships to maintain. You want to talk to them about your everyday life, you wish you could, but the time difference and other obligations get in the way. However, memories of the past will always be a link, it’s important to never forget this. That link, even though, has the risk of being lost, can always be recovered and reinstated by simply starting a conversation with the friend. Showing interest by saying “hey, how are you?” can be the gateway to maintaining a long-term friendship."
A nice backyard view near Sixth Street, Dhahran.
The entrance to the Dining Hall in Dhahran. The food greetings are represented in many different languages, which is intended to represent the diverse population in the expatriate city of Dhahran.
When we part, we part with all the shared memories we have acquired over the years. Whether that’s cruising to that one song down Rolling Hills Blvd., going to the Commissary to get snacks before a movie night, parties in our backyards with festive lights surrounding the walls that enclosed our houses, or waking up and going to the dining hall for their waffles and shakshuka, our memories have nested a home within our souls that we will always revisit and relive.
We hold on to those memories, and use it as a tool to remind us of the good ole' days. That platform begins to be our refuge, our safeguard, the tool we use to expand our creativity, the lenses through which we perceive this world, the ground that holds us together. Those memories provide us shelter during the tough times, they wrap us closely and its warmth is felt all around you, and after all, how would we know how precious those memories are if it weren’t for the temporary state of our residence as global nomads?
It is easy to formulate excuses for not keeping in touch, the biggest one being distance. But in a digital age, we should not be hindered by distance. We should make the effort to keep in touch, however that may be. My link to a friend may be our shared appreciation for an artist and the link for another friend may be discussing our love for sports and fitness. Reignite the link, and you can find the gateway to relive that friendship, on another, perhaps, deeper medium.
Some days, maybe you’re far, far away from the reality you reside in. Maybe you are sitting around a large group of people, with commotion and noise all around you, but you are deserted in the island of your thoughts, lost in a maze of wishful thinking, wanting back what’s gone. Those days, I hope you remember the value of what you had. That pain for nostalgia is a blessing in disguise to remind you how lucky you are to have felt and experienced such blissful moments with people you’d never otherwise meet. Yes, distance separates friends by proximity, but it is simply not strong enough to end ties with someone. If it does, it’s not the distance, it’s the bond that suffered. I truly believe that if someone matters to you, you’ll make the effort to stay in their lives, one way or another.
Palm trees looking as photogenic as ever, in Dhahran.
Reading 1984 and enjoying my apple juice on a calm and breezy day in Dhahran.
Aramco is an escape, a sheltered reality we grow up in, and leave behind. The artifacts we collect while we are there are what we take back to the real world. The friendships, the laughter, the excitement, the joy, those are your real artifacts, and they aren’t just things that just sit there on a desk that you glance back to every once in a while, they are organically within you, and they’re your magic, use it to make your life more fulfilling.
No matter what paths our own lives take us, we’ll always use that magic formed from those memories to ignite those friendships that made us so happy to come back home to during winter break. Remember the excitement of coming back home during those breaks? Even after the treacherous long flights and miles of distance, we were happy to travel back to the place that gave us so much joy. Those sentiments are magic, and that excitement, that excitement is what we should strive to live for, use it to help us connect to the distant, but omnipresent past.
A typical Aramco house near Third Street, Dhahran.