The Trials and Tribulations of Making Friends as an Expat
The sun has well and truly set on the Summer… although someone needs to tell the weather Gods, it’s still roasting hot here in the glitter pit!
The kids are back to school and some level of routine and “normality” has returned.
It’s been just under two years since I started my expat journey, but seeing the influx of new expats at the school gates (some more nervous than others) reminded me of how isolating expat life can feel, and how overwhelming it can be to arrive somewhere where you know no one!
At home I was always surrounded by familiar faces, safe in my group with the confidence of belonging. You are automatically included or assume you are included in events, you know people have your back and are looking out for you, and if anything goes wrong your support group swoops in and helps pick up the pieces. It’s the benefit of long-standing friendships.
When you move to a new Country as an adult it’s incredibly daunting to make new friends. If you’re lucky you already know a handful of people but if like me you know no-one it’s terrifying.
Up until arriving in
That first day of school, after I’d dropped off the kids, I headed towards the “new parents coffee morning” and the fear kicked in…what if no one speaks to me, what if no one likes me, what if I don’t like anyone??? As nervous as I was (God think how the kids must be feeling going to their classrooms) I needed to feel the fear and do it anyway!
So here are my top tips for making friends as an expat:
Make The First Move:
Take a deep breath, wipe the sweat from your hands and introduce yourself to other people. Friendships are developed over time and take effort, the only way to find out if you have anything in common is to talk, and to do that you need to introduce yourself!
Suggest Getting Together:
Invite someone out for a coffee/drink but DO NOT DO LUNCH in the early days, it’s a bad idea! Just like dating you will not click with everyone you meet. Why endure a hideously awkward lunch if you know you are not going to get on? With a
Shamelessly Use Your Children:
Children seem to make friends far easier, I guess its circumstance; they are in the same class at school or on the same sports team. They are veritable social magnets so use them! Get to know other parents on the school run, at birthday parties or during playdates. I positively encourage my children to pick friends based on which parents I think would drink wine with me during those playdates!
Join The School PTA:
This can be a great way to meet new people and get involved in school life if you are that way inclined. If you are not then don’t feel bad about joining, making friends then getting out! Do not get sucked in, it doesn’t take long to get trapped in the PTA and once you’re in deep there is no going back. When I did this in the UK I ended up as Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. NEVER AGAIN!
Joining expat groups in your area is not only a fantastic source of information for any questions/issues you may have it’s also great for potentially making new friends. Most of the groups have regular get-together’s and socials at a range of venues to suit everyone. Not only can you make friends for life but more often than not its great entertainment. Some of the online arguments in these groups can be epic…get your popcorn, sit down and enjoy the drama!
Say Yes To Everything:
…OK not everything (there are many things that saying yes to here in the UAE will get you deported or banged up, and as we discussed above saying yes to the PTA could open a whole world of trouble) but you know what I mean. If you’re invited for coffee or to a talk on the benefits of Botox or for a few drinks then go, who knows where it will lead!
Sport and exercise can be a great way to meet new friends. Join your local gym and sign up to some classes, if you’re into football/netball/rugby (whatever) find a local team, not only will you stay fit your social life could well flourish and the shared interest means you’re already halfway there!
Get a hobby.
Since moving to the UAE I have taken up many new hobbies (some more successfully than others) including Arabic, and more recently, sewing. It’s a great way to learn something new or do something you already love and also takes the pressure off just sitting, talking and the dreaded conversational lull.
However you decide to go about making new friends remember it takes time to build friendships, you will not “click” with everyone (and that’s OK), always try to be true to yourself, look for quality not quantity and most of all have fun!
Nothing beats great friendship and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found the most amazing group of crazies out here…boy does it make life a lot more fun!
To Friends that become family.
Being an expat is a special experience, but not a unique one. There are many expat women living in far-flung places around the world who, in Alicia’s words, are “riding the wave” of life abroad just like you. If you are feeling bluesy, talk to someone about it. Start with your spouse, who may be dealing with different expat-related challenges at work. What can you learn from each other? Reach out to a friend within your support network. Check in with the human resources department at your spouse’s employer to find out how they can assist. Perhaps they could put you in touch with other expat wives or recommend a therapist or counselor. Ever heard of an intercultural coach? They are a cross between a life coach and a cultural coach. Dominika Miernik, a career and intercultural coach, told me that coaches can help expat wives can gain better insight about themselves, establish personal goals, and figure out how to overcome challenges abroad. In other words, coaches can help you not only survive, but thrive abroad.