Sally Flint

Work Chums!

Having fun with friends when I turned 50!

Is Making Friends with Colleagues a Recipe for Disaster

Living overseas and being thousands of miles from family and friends back at home, most of my friendships have been made at work. My chums and friends are often my colleagues and co-workers. 

I have found that the expat friends I have made are extremely important to me. Friends made whilst living living abroad know first hand what it is like to be away from home living in an alien environment with a foreign language to navigate (or not). They understand the issues surrounding your children being third culture kids; they empathise with your homesickness, not just for family but for seasons, and sports fixtures; supermarkets and being called ‘love’ in the  high street shops. The friends you make share worry and concern about family back home and laugh with you at the frustrations that come with living in particular cities (why can’t Thai people do roundabouts?). They share your lust for adventure and new experiences. Expat friends are transient not stationary. They come and go and understand the stresses of relocating somewhere new; the reliance on social media to keep in touch is a given.

Expat friendships are a big deal. Trust is essential as communities are tight knit and gossip can be rife. I think that I’d go as far as to say that these special friendships can almost take on the status of being equivalent to  a ‘second’ family. This isn’t necessarily positive – haha –  friends really do get to know each other inside out – ‘warts ‘n’ all’!

Gif courtesy of

So that’s all well and good, but what is problematic is that these deep and meaningful all giving and consuming expat friendships, are probably made at work, in my case, at school and this definitely has cons as well as pros.

Image courtesy of

Pros and Cons of having Friends at Work

Cons of being Friends with a Colleague

  • You can’t get away with exaggerating the truth about a situation or person! Your friend will see right through you if you try.
  • It is easy sometimes to get into a loop of negativity about work where friends at work feed off one another. This is not helpful nor productive.
  • It is hard to say ‘no’ to a favour asked by a colleague who is also a friend.
  • It’s hard to ask a favour of a friend without feeling like liberties are being taken.
  • It is not always easy to retain a professional detachment and polite demeanour with a close friend at work when you disagree over a work issue. Tempers can flare!
  • It can be harder to be rational about work issues when discussing them with friends (or husbands – or even friends and husbands together!)
  • It is difficult to leave work differences at work.
  • It is tempting to chat (gossip) with your work chums about other colleagues you wouldn’t count as friends, but you both know. That’s not a kind thing to do.
  • If a friend rightly keeps all confidences about work issues and doesn’t share stuff, it can feel like a snub to then not to be confided in.
  • If a friend ends up teaching your kids (or vice versa) it can be nearly as problematic as teaching your own kids! It isn’t done to be called Aunty Sal in the classroom!
  • If a friend doesn’t cut you some slack at work, when they know you are having a hard time, then it causes a lot more resentment than it would with a colleague with whom you were not pals.
  • If a friend upsets you out of work it is difficult to not bring these niggles to the day job.
  • It matters that much more who you trust. You can’t risk confiding in anyone who might turn into a ‘fairweather’ friend.
  • If a friend turns out to be loyal, kind and super supportive it is tempting to spend too much time seeking them out and chatting in the staffroom when both they and you need to get on. Sorry Rach!
It is ironic that most of my friends started at work when I'm warning against this type of friendship. I don't even have a job anymore!

That is a long list of negatives which seems ironic when all my close expat friends did actually start out as colleagues. (It was a treat for me when I became a cross-campus member of staff as I then went on to make some lovely new Primary teacher friends too.) I do know some teachers who avoid making friendships with colleagues from school because of the potential problems as listed above. Not so me! I think with a bit of humour and the occasional eating of humble pie, colleagues can become the best friends you are likely to find. Lets face it a friend who is a colleague, especially one who is a teacher, is someone with whom you are likely to share a lot in common. If you are passionate about teaching and learning then there is always something to talk about. 

My friends at work have hel[ped my kids form great friendships too. Thomas, Jamie, Billy, Rosie, Sophie, Annie and Betsy along the bottom. I can't remember where we were, but on holiday somewhere!

I feel certain that the friends I’ve made at Patana (some of whom, like me, have now left school) will be friends for life! They know too much about me to not be! ) My own kids often refer to the Houghton gang ‘Billy, Rosie, Jamie; and later Sophie and Tom with whom they’ve grown up in Bangkok as like having extra cousins. Over the years they’ve not only met grannies, grandpas, uncles and aunties but have been on holidays with them and spent key celebrations together. Friendship really has merged into family time. In that respect I am definitely in favour of workplace friendships.  During the years we’ve not been with our own folks, friends have been happy to lend their family out and Christmas days have been spent with a variety of grandparents, aunts and uncles all mucking in and enjoying time together. I think this is a pretty special status to reach, so despite the potential cons I declare that good expat friends are about the best friends a person can have.. Friends at work become true chums.

Scroll to Top