All the Time It Takes — Building Friendships as an Expat
To most expats, this may sound familiar: You move to a new country, go through the growing pains of finding an apartment in a well-rated suburb with low crime rates and many social amenities, furnish your new digs with everything IKEA, learn where the closest grocery store is, and finally cook your first meal in your new apartment.
It’s a great feeling, one of accomplishment and gratification. Until the running around stops, the jetlag wears off, and you find yourself sitting in front of the TV flipping through unfamiliar channels. You start missing your friends and family back in your home country. Being the free-spirited social butterfly that you are, you decide that as part of making your new country home, you are going to get out and make friends. It seems easy, after all, you are outgoing, adventurous, and gregarious.
You look up networking events in your new city and pick a few that seem interesting. Surely, there must be other people looking for friendships, people like yourself, new to the city hoping to make indelible impressions that will translate into long-lasting friendships. Friendships that will evolve into late evenings trying out new restaurants together and meeting for brunch on Saturday mornings.
The First Social Mixer
The first social mixer looks promising. People are about your age, most of them are fairly new to the city and you even find some who have the same hobbies as you. Numbers are exchanged with the promise to meet over a cup of coffee so as to get to know one another better; and so starts the process of trying to create a social circle in a new country.
For a single person, the process might be a bit simpler. Couples however find themselves in a more convoluted place. They have to find other couples that match both their personalities. Add kids to the mix and it’s an even bigger headache. Does your new friend's partner get along with your partner? Are the kids the same age? Do they play well together? If one of these variables does not match up, the relationships are quickly abandoned and the search continues.
For the friendships that go beyond that first meeting, some people are lucky enough to form lasting bonds. Given that most expats are almost always in transit, friendships may only last a short while. Some stay on through social media while others fizzle out, having served their purpose.
In It to Win It
Undeterred souls are brave enough to try it again with another friend or couple. They are in it to win it. They believe that somewhere out there is the friend or group of friends that will be just the match they are looking for. They will go on long weekend trips together and sit around a bonfire while their children play together, they will take vacations to exotic islands together and take turns watching the kids so each couple can have a date night or go snorkelling. Yes, that is the goal after all, to create a new family.
In the end, it does happen, but like everything else, it may take a while. So to all the expats out there sitting at home waiting for that Skype call, shorten the conversation on Skype and get out. Don't be discouraged if your first evening at a social event does not yield a Saturday spent at the beach with your newly found friends. Attend the next meeting, and the next one. Eventually, bonds will form, and you will have your long weekend with friends and your day on the beach. Long-lasting friendships take time to build!
Maggie Hari was born and raised in Kenya. She spent a few years in the US and currently lives in Sydney, Australia.
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