Finding friendships as expats can be challenging. But friendships abroad are essential to make our expat experience more joyful and fulfilling!
By Gabriela Encina
Finding friendships as expats can be challenging. We struggle in search of people we can feel attached to and connected with. Sometimes we find “prospects” and then have second thoughts (or the other way around). But friendship abroad is essential to make our expat experience more joyful and fulfilling.
The dilemma: Finding “new friends”
Meeting new people and establishing deep attachments—it's not always easy. It can happen like magic, an instant hookup. But often, it needs time, energy, patience, and assertiveness.
A strong and deep relationship needs time to develop: time and regularity, especially at the beginning. Most likely we have little of both to spare, as family and work demand a lot of our energy and time.
And when we finally have some time for ourselves, we want quality—ergo, no time to lose on “waiting” for friends.
What I mean by waiting is having patience. We need opportunities to show vulnerability, open ourselves, build trust, and get to know the person.
Why are expat friendships important?
Having our own friends can give us a sense of independence. It can help create our own space and social life, necessary for our self-esteem and confidence.
When we become expats, we often don't have a strong support network, except maybe our partner and/or our company (colleagues). No wonder loneliness is one of the top-three concerns of expats. It's challenging to find and maintain deep connections in a new country.
Feeling lonely doesn't mean being alone. It has to do less with being surrounded by people and more with how willing we are to show ourselves as vulnerable and flawed.
When you let yourself be vulnerable with someone, you develop skills like empathy and compassion and discover inner resources to cope with the challenges of life abroad.
How to find meaningful expat friendships & maintain them
So here are some tips on finding and maintaining expat friendships—proven by my clients and me!
1. Spend time in the places YOU want to hang out
Clubs, cafés, parks, gym...whatever YOU love doing. If you meet someone there, it will probably be a great conversation starter, and you already have something in common.
2. Give a second and even a third chance before “saying no” to someone
Bear in mind that the people you are meeting have probably similar dilemmas as you. Maybe they are nervous. Some people are “not so good” at first impressions. Give them (and yourself) the chance to feel more comfortable after meeting up two or three times.
3. Allow yourself (in fact, I encourage you) to be vulnerable
Deep connection can only develop if you show yourself and your nuances, the lights and the shadows. Have the privilege to know people and give them the chance to know the real vulnerable you!
4. Take the initiative (and be persistent)
You have an interest in finding friends and acquaintances abroad. If you meet and say, “let's do this again sometime,” then be intentional about contacting the person. Suggest things that you've wanted to do where you're currently living.
5. Don' t focus on how long you are going to stay in this country
You will surely miss the opportunity of meeting new people if you worry about that. Create and cultivate deep bonds and interactions, it doesn't matter for how long. Besides, you never know when you may meet again!
6. Accept that sometimes it just doesn't work
We can't click and connect with everyone, even when we try real hard. Maybe that person was not the best one for you at this moment in time. There will be other people willing to share their time and friendship with you. I know it!
What about your friends back home?
Despite trying to keep in touch, we sometimes have the feeling that we are “losing” the people we left in our home country when we live abroad. If you are dealing with this fear of losing your friends, you can:
1. Be honest with them about your fear of growing apart
Ask them what they think about it.
2. Share what you are going through, the lights and shadows of your expat life
They appreciate your honesty, and even if they worry, they prefer you to be sincere.
3. Be intentional about keeping in touch
Organize virtual (and regular) dates via video conferences. Take time for it, at least one hour every time. Remind them a couple of days before. It might seem a little “unfair” always to take the initiative, but you know it brings you joy!
Please, never forget to stay true to yourself and what YOU want for your life. I know there are loads of tips about finding friends. They usually recommend going to meetings, meet locals, be open-minded, go outside, etc. But if you are an introvert, perhaps those tips are not ideal for you.
Be aware of what you are feeling, what your needs are, and what YOU want for your life abroad.
By your side,
Gabriela, psychologist and expat coach, is originally from Chile, became an Austrian citizen because of love, and currently lives in Spain. She provides online counseling and coaching since 2019 and has more than 7 years of experience working with expats and their partners so they feel at home, wherever they are!
A version of this article first appeared on Gabriela’s blog.