Making a New Life: Friends, Groups and Communities When Living as an Expat
The move is done! Now to begin living. Settling into a new culture and community often feels like a daunting experience. But remember, the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step outside of your front door.
Start by looking out of your window at the houses near you. Do you know the names of your neighbours? Have you met them before? In some countries, neighbourliness is very important, especially if your home is in a remote area. Knocking on a couple of doors, perhaps a gift of jam, or asking them round for a cup of tea are all often the start of getting to know the people you will be seeing every morning.
Each country has its own culture and local events. Some regions will have festivals unique to certain foods, calendar dates, or religious days. Make an effort to go along to a few of the local events happening near you and get a flavour for the culture you now live in.
There are a wealth of online communities of people going through similar experiences to you. Thousands of expats move abroad and keep blogs of their experiences; reading about other people’s experiences can help you feel less isolated.
Depending on your religion there might be a local mosque, church or temple in your local area where you can meet like-minded people. Even if you aren’t religious, most faith groups are involved in their community, putting on events or talks that are open to everyone. So you don’t have to be spiritual to get involved with your community and meet new people.
Do you have a hobby or interest? Checking public buildings like libraries or shops for posters advertising arts groups or book clubs are great for taking you out of your comfort zone but also helping you establish a weekly routine. Clubs and groups can be made up of a variety of people, not all of them local; it’s a good way to reach out and make new friends and bond over common interests. If you can’t find a club that caters for your hobby, why not create your own?
Eat out occasionally
From time to time, have a night out and eat at a local restaurant or a cafe that’s well recommended. You can experience the local cuisine how it was meant to be tasted, and maybe find a place to have your morning coffee. Restaurants and cafes are a hotspot for local characters; if you become a regular at one you’ll eventually become acquaintances and friends of the people who work in them.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Invite a group of locals you’ve met recently to dinner. They needn’t all be your neighbours, in fact, the more diverse the merrier, as some of them might not yet have met each other either. Most cultures put great esteem in sitting down to dinner together, and it’s usually easier to talk to people over a bottle of wine, fine food, and a more relaxed environment than, say, meeting in the street.
We all need the essentials like bread and milk. Whether you go to a supermarket or a local boulangerie, chances are you will start the see the same faces after a while. Building a rapport with your local butcher, baker (and the occasional candlestick maker), is just the same as it would be in your home country. It can be a first step to feeling more at home in your new country.
Explore the region
You never know who you might meet if you take yourself out of your local town. Exploring your local region and beyond in your chosen country will familiarise you with the overall culture and history of the place, as well as improving your language skills. Look out for programmes where you can exchange holiday homes for a different taste of your country, and it’s a great way of making connections with people further afield.
Remember why you’re here to start with; there’s a wealth of food, events, and culture out there, and the people you meet are what will bring colour to those experiences. Give it time and keep reaching out and soon you’ll have as many friends there as you do in your home country.