Moving to a new country means a you need to meet new people. One of the most well used pieces of advice for the expat is that you need to find your tribe, fast. It does not need to be a massive group, start small and put the effort in to building relationships. It also doesn’t mean you need to compromise on your values, and what is important to you in a friendship.
To meet people you have to put yourself out there. If you are an introvert this may challenge you. If you are an extrovert you may need to tone it down slightly so you don’t scare people (I have learnt a bit about how my sense of humour does not really translate in some circles). Say ‘yes’ to everything but at the same time when you are out and about just play it cool. Sit back and observe for a bit until you get the hang of how it all works. Be friendly, be kind, smile and know that out of the two hundred people you meet, perhaps three will become the most amazing friends you will ever meet.
The social playground of an expat community has complications. Some people may never experience it, may never see it. Others will. The community is made up of a broad range of personalities, histories and peculiarities. That is what makes it so unique and amazing. So, my advice to you if you come across some more interesting behaviour, is to not take it personally. Remember that everybody has their ‘stuff’ going on, you do not know the challenges that person has and it is not fair to judge.
Did you know that expat life has a high percentage of marriage break ups and infidelity is also higher? You need to understand that an expat community is made up from a very diverse group of people, from all corners. Aside from a lot of introverts who are terrified of meeting people and spending so much time talking and being social, you have probably a majority of trailing spouses who are desperately unhappy, having not wanted to uproot their safe community back home with family and friends and established routines. They may have been told this was their only option to keep the family together and they are buying time until they can leave. Not to mention those who put careers on hold for their partners. That can be very hard to work through.
There is fear, racism and exasperation that prevents people trying to find happiness in their new world. This kind of sadness is so hard. Mental illness is a huge concern in these communities. It takes time to establish trust in relationships, to find your way and finding someone to talk to can be difficult. People feel displaced and it is easy to lose your sense of self. Recently after an inappropriate rant on a group Facebook page, one woman wrote a comment that this group (of over 2000 members) was her ‘best friend’. Sad. So very very sad that she felt a group of strangers on Facebook was that meaningful to her. A lot of expats joke about the drinking culture. When you don’t have to worry about driving, you have someone else looking after the children and you end up spending the good part of a day at someone’s house it is what tends to happen. Drinking to excess is not a joke and it is not okay to normalise it by saying it is the ‘way we do things here’. I am lucky and don’t have too much of this, but I also have rules about when I will drink and how much as I am the primary carer for my children.
The Expat Community is very social so there is never a shortage of events to go to. Join a few expat associations. There are monthly meetups and annual events. You will hear about various activities and you can sign up to volunteer. There are book clubs, dinner clubs, coffee clubs and exercise groups to name a few. You will find people with your interests. It just takes a little bit of time. You can start your own!
I just met a lady recently who was an expat thirty years ago. She is still in touch with her friends and they still all live across the globe. Inspiring considering back then we did not have Internet, Facebook and Smart Phones. How cool is that!
Remember too, and I cannot emphasise this enough. It is all about attitude. You need to choose which lens you are looking through. Sure there are tough days, but there are also incredible days too. If you are negative and just whinge, whine, bitch and be miserable you will struggle to meet people. If you vent in a balanced way, stay positive, curious, eager to learn and laugh about your new crazy life then you will meet remarkable people who will be happy to share this journey with you.