Expatriation and friendship: exchange with an existential psychologist

Lepetitjournal.com met Fae Fredericks, an American psychologist living in Vietnam, who has a keen interest in the importance of human relationships. Because, long before the social distancing imposed by the Covid, loneliness was recognized as a public health issue.

Saved by friendship in the midst of an existential crisis

It is during a lonely trip to India that Fae, psychologically and inexplicably unable to leave her bedroom, is saved by reading Kayleen Schaefer's novel on female friendship (Text me when you get home). Fae then realizes that she hasn't given friendship enough importance in her life.

A few years later, Fae seeks to develop his friendly network in Saigon and tours networking events. None are satisfactory, but she tries one last in a small hidden bar in District 3. She bumps into Linh and I, who are organizing an aperitif between female solo-entrepreneurs in order to let go of the ballast and support each other.

The current goes quickly with this tall blonde full of energy and empathy. We meet again, over a glass of wine or brainstorming, and we start talking about friendship. Because I go through, when I meet her, an existential crisis on this subject. She first tells me that Vivek Murthy, former administrator of Public Health in the United States, has already sounded the alarm bell since 2017 by naming loneliness as a major health epidemic.

Existential psychotherapy according to Fae

" I feel stuck. No one knows me. No one really understands me. I'm just not happy ". You have surely heard some relatives say these words or have you perhaps said them.

While practicing in HCMC, Fae regularly hears her patients talk about loneliness and lack of happiness. She then resumed her research in existential psychology, in order to create a dedicated program called Deepen and develop your connections. Because she seems to know a lot about this epidemic of loneliness, especially in an expatriation situation, and offers solutions to remedy it. Her first name is pronounced like the "fairy" and that seems perfectly appropriate to me!

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In short, existential psychology – rooted in the days of the Greek philosophers – puts the freedom of the individual at the center of social determinism. This theory is in line with Fae's optimistic view: each individual can make their own choices in order to give meaning to their life. For her, we must make friendship a priority, cherish it and make it grow. For me, it’s for sure, I have to write an article on Fae in order to share his theories with my expatriate counterparts.

The exchange with Fae – which ironically happened on Zoom – still resonates with me. " Who are my real friends? Who will support me if I have a problem in Vietnam? Why did I leave the lasting friendships I had in France? Are questions I asked myself after six months of expatriation. These questions come back in force when the Covid forces us to remain alone with ourselves and to review our priorities. They come back in force when the Covid prevents us from returning to see our relatives in France and causes an unprecedented wave of departures.

So where does this feeling of loneliness in expatriation come from?

Fae has such a simple and logical answer that makes you cry! Our open-mindedness, a small group of potential friends and the time factor come into play. The first two push us to make friendships that we would never have considered in France. Don't get me wrong… It is a blessing to learn about other people and different cultures, but we need to put more effort into building these friendships.

The time factor is limiting because we subconsciously know that each new friendship will probably end with yet another party. So we are condensing the stages of building friendship. In a few weeks, we meet, we add friends on Facebook and we organize dinners and parties together. Temporality more than unlikely in our country of origin!

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The culture of the expatriate country can also reinforce this feeling of loneliness. In Vietnam, the language barrier still limits the number of potential friendships. In addition, the importance of social networks in Asia brings a hyper-connected lifestyle and therefore immediacy. So we multiply friends Facebook never encountered, the cafes or breakfasts never renewed, the last minute delay and cancellation – I plead guilty!

But why do we feel free to act in such a way, when we would consider it unthinkable with our old friends? How do you allow yourself a behavior that would be considered disrespectful in France? According to Fae, this could be explained by the fact that sometimes the relationship with this person is not deep enough and therefore this attitude will not have any significant friendly repercussions.

Loneliness cannot be fought with the number of friends

Being surrounded does not mean that loneliness is unknown to us. "Quality takes precedence over quantity" then takes on its full meaning and it is clear that some relationships are far from satisfactory. Friendship takes time and is about being heard by someone who understands us and knows our history. Our loved ones are the only ones who understand the nuances of our feelings and the entirety of our experiences. And therefore, to understand our reactions and behaviors in a given situation.

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Added to this is our growing social laziness, which restricts the interactions necessary for our happiness. Because social networks and written messages are not a sufficient friendly connection. Especially when you know that only 30% of what we express is done through words – the rest being conveyed through tone of voice, facial expression and body language. However, it has been proven that the lack of social interactions has significant consequences on our health and our longevity.

Fae ended our exchange with the story of the professor and the jar – the jar being filled only by adding stones, gravel and sand, in that exact order. It's a well-known metaphor for managing priorities, and Fae reminds me that one of the stones is friendship.

As soon as the interview with Fae ended, I immediately put his advice into practice with a two-hour video call to France and a last minute outing – braving the storm – offered by a friendly relationship that I want to cultivate on Saigon. And guess what? I felt immense satisfaction!

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