LIFE ABROAD – Published on the 02/02/2021
When you’re in your cocoon, socializing is a given. But making friends is not to be taken for granted when you are abroad. Apprehensions, fear of rejection, not knowing the cultural codes, doubts… Meeting new people takes time and requires real, committed investment.
So, how do you put yourselves out there? How do you maintain your relationships? Here are a few tips.
Before even starting to try, a little background check is in order.
Ask yourself: is making friends simple or hard for you? Are you easily at ease in new situations? Why do you seek to socialize?
The question may seem silly, but not everyone is looking for the same thing! A solid friendship will require a greater investment than simply getting to know other people, for example. You may want to form long-term bonds, or you may want to jump from social circle to social circle. What are you ? What are they? Employed? Students? Retired? Digital nomad? Rather introverted or rather extroverted? These already say a lot about people’s profiles and about how to begin an interaction.
This cannot be said enough. Learning the language of your new environment is perceived as your willingness to adapt, to learn and your openness to others. Show your open-mindedness and investment in your new culture through learning the language.
Do not rely on English when you live abroad - especially if you are in a non-English speaking country. Even if English is commonly spoken in most countries, learn the national language and surprise everyone you speak with. You will become that much more interesting amongst the locals.
What is the history of your new country? The political, economic and cultural system? Gender relations? Not things you would discuss at a party, you might say. But you would be wrong: people you want to socialize with live in a society with their own norms and customs. Understanding the codes of your new environment is essential for a better integration.
Children learn by mimicry, observing, learning and imitating. And so should you. Be patient and open-minded, lose the mental barriers. Accept to lose your bearings and let yourself be guided. Change your habits in contact with your new environment, taste the novelty, try new things and shape up your routine.
As much as possible, do your research into the local culture, know your stuff. Be impressive!
Maybe you’re not a big fan of social networking. But, it is for a good cause. Get up to speed on the latest trends but also try and learn about the popular apps for expats of your host country.
Here again, think local (you would have understood, this is the common thread): for example, go to where the locals go. You can also join expat groups and meet expats who have been in the country for a while. People adhere to groups for a reason: they are looking to network or make friends, just like you!
Joining a group that speaks the same language as you gives you a certain comfort. Do treat yourself to this. Take advantage of their network to meet some locals.
Our advice: get out of your comfort zone and find the group or groups that will allow you to integrate smoothly!
Are you a fan of combat sports, dance, hockey, piano, singing?
Why not follow your passion and make friends? If you can, carry on with activities you used to do before your expatriation. Group activities are a great place to socialize.
Participating in a team or group activity has a double advantage: everyone is doing something they enjoy and it is easier to start a conversation. It is another way to give yourself a certain amount of comfort, you are on familiar grounds. And you can find a plethora of groups to join on social networks.
New colleagues, fellow students, roommates, neighbors… they may be your friends. Do not take them for granted and learn to get to know them. It is important to be open-minded, attentive, willing and easy-going.
A lot of conversations can be stuck in the “me me” mode. We hardly even notice how much we talk about ourselves. There is no real exchange but rather monologues thrown at each other. Speak about yourself but be careful. Locals want to hear your stories but they also want to be listened to.
Abroad, you have the chance to be even more curious about the other. But be careful, that does not mean taking locals for encyclopedias or dictionaries. The best person to talk to is the one who listens. Understanding the other will tell you about them, of course, but it also says a lot about you.
Just like you have friends in your home country, people in your host country have friends of their own. Socializing can be a long and difficult process. You will most likely be joining a friendship group that already exists and that means, most of the effort will have to come from you. New employees, students, WHV holders, and foreigners are just like you. Even locals can share your anxiety. They too sometimes wonder how to do it. Accept that sometimes, there is no match and be patient. It is better to have a few quality connections than a lot of friends you do not really get along with.
You will likely be called the “new guy” or the “new girl”. Maybe people will make you feel that you might be only coming towards them because you are lonely. And this could be the case, especially when you’ve moved abroad on your own.
But is it selfish to seek friendship and connections? Well, if so, the whole world would be selfish. Stay positive. The other person needs you as much as you need them. Making friends abroad, can be arduous.
« The other person needs you as much as you need them »
Living abroad does not have to mean being uprooted. Don’t forget to check in with your family and friends from back home or from the other expat adventures you might have had before. Expats can feel lonely while their friends back home might be thinking they are enjoying a new and exciting new life. Check in with them, tell them about the good and the bad and ask them to visit you!
Socializing is not a sprint, it is more of a long-distance run. Take the time and don’t forget to take a break and enjoy your own company from time to time. The anxiety from long periods of solitude is difficult but do not feel guilty if you cannot make friends. You are not alone, others also feel like you.
There are a thousand ways to socialize. Take your time and find yours. Set your pace and be ok with it. The restaurant will be some’s favorite place, while others will prefer the basketball court, the group, Facebook or the coffee shop, it is okay. Furthermore, new connections with new people can give rise to new dreams, new passions and new skills. Let it be! And finally, we cannot say this enough: be yourself. It is more than the catch phrase it is used as, it is a state of mind.