Making Friends & Saying Goodbye

By Melanie Ham


Spring. That dreaded time of year in Shanghai when we tally up all the friends who have just told us they will be leaving as soon as school lets out. Every year it seems like a bigger number than the year before. This year will likely be the biggest year of all.

How to take the news when we can’t be sure that we’ll be able to meet our bestie for one last hug or photo before they leave for Pudong Airport? No easy answers or quick solutions beyond acknowledging that the grief of their loss is real and valid.

Friendships here are often much more intense than even our long-lasting friendships back home, because these are the people we share our daily lives when family and childhood friends are an ocean away. They understand the ups and downs of life as an international parent, and the intensity of the connection burns bright with Shanghai Besties. When the daily connection ends, the loss feels much worse than it should for the length of time you’ve known the person.

This year feels especially painful because of the unexpected and uncertain departure of many. There are also those who have left for the summer, but aren’t sure when they will be able to return. It can feel like you are the only person remaining in Shanghai, but rest assured you are in good company.

There are others who are feeling like you and there will be other international families to connect with and build new friendships over the coming years.
So, how does a person survive with all the transition?

Take some time to privately mourn the loss of the daily connection

It can help to think through the specific aspects of that individual that you will miss the most and what made that friendship unique. What did you learn from that person and how have they helped you grow?

Write out your feelings

A goodbye & thank you card to your friend can be a good way to crystallize your feelings and share what the person means to you. Even if you aren’t able to put it in their hands before their departure, eventually mail will open and you can send them this heartfelt card.

Keep in touch

While the friendship may have bloomed on WeChat, it may have to flourish over the years on other social platforms. When someone departs China, it can be difficult to keep their account active if they aren’t frequently logging in and updating ID documents. Get their email, contact details on other platforms and phone/mailing address in their destination country to keep in touch.

Shanghai parent social circles are very cyclical, and it feels like a re-shuffling happens every fall. This coming fall, the friend pool will undoubtably be smaller, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the connection will suffer…perhaps it will be even stronger knowing that you found others who stayed solid during Shanghai’s toughest times.

If you aren’t sure how to meet new friends, a couple of strategies have worked for others over the years:

  • Attend a ShMamas coffee morning or get together (yes, they will resume once we get the green light!). Many mamas have met their Shanghai soul mate at a ShMamas coffee morning meeting. Have a nice conversation with someone? Don’t feel shy to ask for their WeChat.

  • Maybe you want to spread your social circle beyond the parent scene? Try a new hobby or take a class in a long-forgotten passion. I met a wonderful circle of amazing friends when I tried watercolor classes. I don’t think our paths would have crossed otherwise, but I am so thankful for this unexpected intro to these new artsy friends. The Shanghai Expat Association and Brits Abroad also organize social events that can stretch your network.
  • Finding you have some extra time now? Volunteer with some of the organization that need help. Many of their current volunteers are leaving, so there will be a huge demand for your time, talents, and energy. It can be extremely fulfilling to give back to the community and a fantastic way to meet others with similar interest.(See our latest Shanghai Charitable Organizations Round Up)

Finally, if you feel the loss of the friend is something that you are really struggling to get through, there are places that can help. The team at Lifeline is there to listen and support, and Community Center Shanghai offers counseling and coaching to get you through this difficult time.

(Due to Convid restriction, phone line currently not in operation until further notice.)


CCS counseling WeChat


Have you experienced the loss of a friend due to repatriation or relocation recently? What did you do to make the goodbye easier?

Share your experience >>


Orignally written by Liz Anderson, an American wife and mother living abroad for the first time. Between juggling two kids, volunteering, and coffee with friends, she can be found blogging at

Updated for 2022 by Melanie Ham, an American mother of two who has lived in Shanghai for 19 years and said farewell to many best friends over the years.