I’ve been living in Moscow for more than a year now as a New York City expat—and I don’t see any end in sight. Here’s how that happened: When my now-husband and I were first dating back stateside, he told me he might be Russia-bound for a work opportunity. My first thought upon hearing this? Yeah, that’s never happening—at least not for me. But the dates continued going well, and the months passed, and the job opportunity did come up. And well, here we are.
Life here has challenged me to adjust to so many new normals: the language, the weather, the food, and—perhaps the most difficult to take in stride—the community. It’s not that I ever felt unwelcome here, but leaving behind my entire world of friends and family to start over socially was exactly as tough as I thought it would be. Which is, to be clear, very tough. But, it wasn’t impossible to keep in touch with the world I knew. What I didn’t realize when I first moved is that being away from everyone and everything I know (except, notably, my husband), doesn’t require giving up everything and everyone.
I’ve made friends, am building a beautiful and fulfilling life, and I’m happy—and a lot of that has come from the comfort of knowing my relationships back home are alive and well. Along my mental journey to this healthy headspace, I’ve learned how to keep in touch in creative ways to maintain authentic long-distance relationships. The best part is that the intel can be applied to any distance amount in question—whether it’s a town, state, or 20-hour plane ride away.
Keep in touch with your community from anywhere in the world using the following 5 tips.
1. WhatsApp—and like you mean it
WhatsApp is essentially my lifeline to my around-the-world network. My friends have told me that receiving a quick message from me, letting them know I’m thinking about them, not only makes them smile but also makes them feel closer to me. Plus, being able to call from anywhere without worrying about international phone bills makes it easier than ever to keep in touch. These calls don’t even need to happen in real time (time zones can be quite the struggle, but more on that later). WhatsApp allows users to send voice notes and videos in addition to bare-bones text messages. Hearing someone’s voice facilitates a feeling of heightened connection, and from a more practical standpoint, speaking your message tends to be much simpler than typing out an especially long one.
Without the calendar reminder, you’re likely to get wrapped up in life, and that’s when days turn into weeks and then months. At that point, picking things back up where you left off isn’t so simple.
Though technology makes connection easier, to use it still requires intention, time, and work. To stay optimally connected, I schedule a five-minute window every week—or even every day—for sending a message to a few friends. Without the calendar reminder, I’ve found that I’m more likely to get wrapped up in life, and that’s when days quickly turn into weeks and then months. At that point, picking things back up where they left off isn’t so simple.
2. Always have a trip scheduled home, no matter how far in advance
Before even leaving for Moscow, I committed myself to this rule. Sometimes it’s meant scheduling a trip to coincide with the wedding of a close friend, and other times, it’s just meant making sure there was something on the calendar to look forward to that would put me and the people I love in the same place for any reason. This way, whenever I feel homesick, I can count down the exact amount of time until I can enjoy reunite with my people. Even if that amount skews long, this counting-down ritual is still comforting in practice.
And if possible, plan an outline of your trip ahead of time so you’re able to see everyone you want and do everything you want to do. Actively scheduling in quality time with those closest to you also reinforces to them that they never stopped being a priority to you. Ideally, you’ll return back to your new home feeling rejuvenated from making the most of your trip, and those good vibes will last you until your next one.
3. Plan fun trips to meet each other abroad
One my favorite parts of living in Russia is its proximity to other countries I’ve never visited—and how easy it is to make quick trips to change that. My husband and I took a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Italy for the weekend for our anniversary, and it cost a whole lot less than a flight would have from the states.
This travel reality is also a great way to keep in touch with friends who share my sense of wanderlust. When one of my closest friends got a new job and had some time before her start date, she told me she was spending part of it in Israel. My reaction? “I’ll see you there!” I’ve made quasi-casual international plans like this twice now, and being able to see loved ones in a vacation-like atmosphere provides for a magical opportunity to make memories while nourishing an already-strong connection.
4. Schedule phone dates in advance
In case it’s not already abundantly clear, to keep in touch successfully, a lot of planning is required. Phone dates are a big part of that. Between busy jobs, full social calendars, and—in my case—a hearty time difference (Moscow is seven hours apart from eastern time), best-laid intentions can crumble into never-ending games of phone tag if a time for talking isn’t agreed upon in advance.
Best-laid intentions can crumble into never-ending games of phone tag if a time for talking isn’t agreed upon in advance.
By the time most people get off work during the week, it’s past midnight my time, so one of my friends and I made a standing date for Sundays at 5 p.m. my time (10 a.m. hers) to talk. Another friend (who lives in Los Angeles, where the time difference is a whopping 10 hours) calls me when she’s on her way to the gym at 5:30 a.m. Whether it’s a short, on-the-go catch-up or an hour-long schmooze sesh, just maintaining some sort of regularity with talking on the phone can make all the difference in feeling close to the people you love.
5. Stop thinking about what you’re missing
It’s an unavoidable truth that even if you really, truly love the life you have, if you’re separated from so many you love, the FOMO can set in hard. One action that helped me temper my sadness (which, if I’m being honest, bordered on jealousy), was deleting Instagram from my phone so I wouldn’t scroll mindlessly whenever I had an idle moment. Now, when I use the platform, it’s with active intention, and because there is something I want to see.
It’s super easy to only think about things you feel like you’re lacking. But by reframing that mind-set into being grateful for what you already have—because you do have things worthy of your gratitude—you’ll end up much happier. Of course, this applies to all people who live in all places, but while living in Moscow, it’s been one of the hardest aspects of living mindfully for me to embrace. But I’m working on it.
Instead of sulking about what I left, I choose to dedicate extra energy to appreciating what I have. In my husband, I have family; in my location, I have endless travel opportunities to visit places that are new to me; I have a whole slate of exciting restaurants to try, people to meet, experiences to live. And though the plan isn’t to be in Moscow forever, these lessons I’ve learned will stay with me always—keeping my global relationships strong no matter where in the world I end up next.
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