South Africans Abroad: Here’s Five Things You May Experience if You Left Family Behind in South Africa



When I think back to the day I said goodbye to my family and friends in South Africa I realise that I had no idea how hard it would actually be leaving them behind. Believe it or not, it has only gotten harder as time has gone by.

There are positives but sometimes they get clouded by the negatives. Although I have to navigate a phone system with a million codes just to reach my grandmother, I feel that the positives of having family abroad have outweighed the negatives.

Here are five things you might experience if you too have left your family in South Africa.

1. Trying to find a good time to talk is hard

This one was particularly challenging for me when I was in college as my classes would start early and I had recreational activity at nights. However, when someone is important to you, you don’t find time to talk to them instead you make time to talk to them.

What works for me now is calling my family before work around 8am. Get to know your family member’s schedule and call around their schedule if you can.

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P.S: I use Raza, a calling card service, which makes the call less expensive. One of my biggest life achievements has been memorising the code you have to put in before you dial the number.

2. You have to work extra hard to make special occasions memorable

My grandmother was with us for her birthday last year and that was magical. We took her for a spa treatment, for dinner to a steakhouse and treated her with various other things. All in all, it was a precious day.

Unfortunately when she returned to South Africa she fell ill and I tried to send her flowers. I went through the process and, just when it looked as though the flowers were going to be delivered, the order was cancelled because they could not find a local florist to deliver. It was then that I realised how far away she is and I felt somewhat helpless. Fortunately, she is well again.

Tip: You can order groceries and other items from Woolworths online for delivery in South Africa and we all know how fantastic good old Woolies is.

3. When you go back to South Africa, or your family come to visit, it won’t be a vacation

No matter how great of a time you may be having, there is always a heavy reality that your time together will eventually come to an end. I think only people who have family living abroad will understand the heartache of airport goodbyes.

There is that harsh reality that one ever knows when you will see each other next. I do find that the notion of how fleeting time is increases your understanding of the importance of making each moment last.

Tip: The ride to the airport when dropping off a loved one is always the worst part of the goodbye process. We made it really fun last time by taking a limousine to the airport instead of driving ourselves. The whole way there instead of whimpering and cursing in traffic, we were laughing and hugging.

4. Not having enough room in the suitcase for clothing

When I go back to South Africa, which has been too long since I last visited, I allocate most of my suitcase space for gifts for family. When my grandmother comes to visit us she brings chocolates, trinkets, biltong and the absolute best-South African medications such as Corenza C.

Bottom line is that when you have not seen your family in a while, you will want to spoil them with things they cannot get where they live. And that often takes priority over other essentials.

5. Technology will (somewhat) bridge the distance

When you live far away from your family being able to show them what you are doing versus tell them makes a massive difference. Applications like WhatsApp, Facetime and Skype make the distance seem less as live video chat allows you to literally be in the moment with them.

Whenever I start to feel like I’m far away from my family I pick up the phone or send them a WhatsApp. I realise that, although we are continents apart and not in the same time zone, technology makes it possible for us to be close and bridges the distance.

Again, when it comes to loved ones, you do not find time for them, you make time for them. Distance means little when you love someone so much.

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