I am realising/remembering tht one of the most difficult aspects of living in a new country is the isolation that occurs in the first period, while you rebuild the networks that seemed so effortless and normal in your home country. I know this eventually gets better, and it’s part of the process.
I can distinctly remember learning the Thai word for lonely early on in my year of exchange, and a sympathetic ‘aunt’  who spent one afternoon telling me, and everyone else on my family’s compound that I was ngaow- (lonely).
It’s becoming apparent, now that things are settling down here, exactly how isolated and lonely I have been, which is difficult for a social creature such as myself.
This morning on the train I sat next to two men who were chatting with each other. This is unusual enough on an English commuter train. What was more unusual is that they let me join in. It helps that they were talking about living in Sydney, so it made sense to make a soft contribution and see what happened. Success! We had a lovely, genial chat about living in Australia versus living in England. I got off the train feeling lighter than I normally do after that journey, and realising that I miss randomly meeting people I know on trains and chatting about life.
I got to work and that feeling of lightness has left again. My team at work is incredibly isolating. I’m not the first to remark upon it. It could be the open plan office, combined with an overworked team, which means that no-one really talks to anyone else. Also, my work style and ethic seems to be quite different to everyone else on my team. There is very little collaboration, or discussion of the influences of a decision, or how we could improve something, or provide better serivce to the people we support. Everything is urgent, piecemeal and seems to be driven by an underlying “we must improve” without any reference to what that means, and on whose terms we should be improving.
It’s compounded by the fact that I am a contractor and, for some reason, I’m not invited to team meetings, and feel incredibly left out. There was one this morning, that I expected to be invited to. I wasn’t.
In the last week I have found 2 people that approach their work in a similar fashion to myself, which has helped immensely. I’ve been given the responsibility to to case manage a list of projects we are proposing for funding, which has meant that all my favourite skills have been employed. I’ve felt valued and engaged and alive and that I have a contribution to make. Right now, not so much, because of being overlooked for a team meeting and feeling very much like I don’t belong here. Again
Being left over and ovelooked is a specific touch-point for me, thanks to situations during my school years. I was the quiet kid in the corner that was really good at her school work and sought validation through this. Certainly not one of the cool kids.
I can remember vividly in first grade being the only girl in my class to not be invited to a birthday party. In this instance the birthday girl read out the names of the people invited, so I had an excruciating wait and then a massive let-down. I was always one of the last chosen for teams at sports. My primary school friends during the period when gossip was the means of weilding social power used to drag each other into corners away from me to tell each other “secrets” and deliberately dimiss me when I asked what was going on. My high school ‘friends’ had this lovely habit of not inviting me to gatherings and in some cases specifically walking out when I entered the room.
Going to Thailand when I was 16, in which I was a minor celebrity in my community, and then to University where I made some very special friendships and became one of the cool kids really helped with this.
I was no longer a scared shrinking violet expecting to be the last person anyone would want to hang out with, instead I learned that I’m interesting and desirable and would be sought out for activities and relationships. Confidence went from 2 to 10 (on a scale of 1-10, for those of you with silly scale ranges in your head. I’m looking at any of my former Trash or Treasure listeners who may be reading).
But, I never developed a way to deal with exclusion when it occurs. Somehow all I do is to shut down at the disappointment of not being included, being forgotten/overlooked. To this day I never assume someone remembers me or wants to spend time with me and am still often surprised when they do.
It always cuts very deep when I am left out, whether deliberately for good reason, or inadvertently. This is especially true in a situation in which I am feeling very unsure of my place, i.e. moving to a new country.
It’s why I am really good at mixing with an established group. I can quickly work out the norms of the group, and if there’s a fit, find a place in the group and be assured of a social outlet. I generally always have a few individual friends that I feel comfortable calling up at a moment’s notice when I’m in need of company. It’s one reason I loved Newtown, there was a decent chance I’d run into someone I knew, and feel connected, if only for a brief period of time. Also, for the past 5 years work has been a place filled with like-minded colleagues, meaning that it was somewhere I enjoyed being.
Moving has made all of this much more difficult. I don’t yet have a social group to attach to, and the few individual friends I do have are scattered all over the country/London and it’s more difficult than I was anticipating to catch up with them. I’m also not good at asking for help in these cases, I was rebuffed too many times in school, so it takes an awareness of the problem, and then a lot of energy and courage to do so. Instead I am placing a lot of strain on Jed to provide most of this connection and support, on top of all the other strains we are putting on each other, and that life is putting on us individually.
This is temporary, I know. It will change as I meet more people and become more confident in my place here. Just it’s a challenge I thought I’d dealt with and didn’t count on it being so big an issue at this time.
 Thai culture is based on relatinships. Even if you are not directly related you will refer to someone who is part of your life by their relative age as if they were part of your kinship group. You will also do this for elderly people whenever you come across them. I quite liked this aspect of Thai culture.