Expat Love Is in the Air
Looking for Friendship and Finding Love
Settling into expat life in a foreign country can be challenging, especially when you’re leaving close friends and family behind. Meeting other expats who have shared similar experiences and feelings as you can really help to ease the settling in process and make you feel less alone. Our official events and activities provide opportunities to connect with others and build a network abroad. We spoke to two of our InterNations members, Beatrix and Dora, who were both looking for new friends at our events when they met their partners.
Dora, originally from Brazil, decided to take the plunge into expat life in March 2018 and go on a sabbatical for a year to learn German. Landing in Augsburg, Dora joined her local InterNations Community. “I thought this would be the best way to meet new people,” explains Dora. It all began at an InterNations event on 20 April for Dora and her partner. Stefan had previously lived in Vienna and it was his first event in Augsburg. After discovering shared interests, meeting again at another event of the Augsburg Community in May, and running into each other at the city center square during the World Cup, romance blossomed between them. Moving in together in November, Dora decided to extend her stay for more than a year and returned to Brazil only to visit her parents and introduce them to Stefan.
Another German InterNations member, Beatrix, met her partner Sulaiman for the very first time at an InterNations Halloween party in Aachen in October 2018. Sulaiman was born in Burkina Faso but studied in Ghana and Nigeria and moved to Malaysia for his career. They hit it off straightaway, and in November they decided to move in together. Beatrix explains, “the chemistry was so strong with us and so positive.” Sulaiman lived across the border in the Netherlands so they joined events and activities in both Maastricht and Aachen. The pair ended up splitting their time between the Netherlands and Malaysia, as Sulaiman’s work required him to travel there from time to time. The two believe that they are soulmates and Beatrix explains that “we’re really convinced that there’s a real purpose that we met in life”.
Benefits of Being in an Intercultural Relationship
Although it’s not always easy, there are definitely benefits of being in an intercultural relationship and these normally outweigh any challenges faced along the way. Many people across the globe, especially expats, lead a variety of intercultural relationships which might include differences in age, ethnicity, religion, race, or nationality and the rewards are surprising. In many ways building a new life abroad with a partner has the potential to be really special.
The major advantage of being in an intercultural relationship is often the opportunity for personal growth. For Dora, a major upside of her relationship with Stefan is the exchange of different experiences with each other. Discovering each other’s cultures and the contrasts in the different countries that they grew up in is a constant learning curve. A relationship with someone from another culture opens the door to new languages, traditions, and foods which encourages you to broaden your knowledge. This might mean that you start to learn a language that you would never have previously learned, like Dora’s partner, Stefan, who is trying to get a grasp of Portuguese so he can communicate more easily with her family in Brazil.
Exposing yourself to another culture also helps you to keep an open mind. Beatrix believes that her relationship with Sulaiman has given them both a chance to grow and learn from each other. Beatrix explains, “we both feel that what we have in common is much more than the differences in our personalities or cultures.” Learning how much they really share, while still coming from different cultures and backgrounds, helps to strengthen their relationship.
Being in a relationship with someone from another culture normally involves being exposed to new traditions which provide the perfect excuse to celebrate life and organize gatherings with friends and family. Whether it’s New Year, Diwali, Halloween, or carnival season — the celebrations keep coming!
Not only is it exciting for the international couple themselves, it also provides the opportunity for friends and family to become educated on diverse cultures, too, simply by spending time together. It encourages them to broaden their horizons and perhaps even helps them adjust their opinions on other cultures. Having families from different nationalities also provides a great excuse to travel and explore more places.
The Challenges of Being in an Intercultural Relationship
Entering into a relationship with someone from a different cultural background is an exciting prospect but it has its own challenges. For Dora, this means becoming more flexible in her thinking, as misunderstandings can happen because of language barriers. “We speak 50% German and 50% English — it is difficult for me to speak 100% German,” she says. Things get lost in translation, and miscommunication happens. Although Stefan is learning Portuguese, being able to speak another language fluently is not something which happens overnight, and it can be demanding, requiring both time and perseverance.
Beatrix has also found that on some days, it can be more difficult to speak a foreign language than on others. She explains that “especially when you get tired, communication can be tricky sometimes, and even more so when it’s about expressing feelings and emotions.” When cultures clash, which is sometimes inevitable, talking about your feelings can be even more challenging. However, Beatrix sees their cultural differences as an opportunity for their relationship: “We both take the differences in our personalities as a chance to grow and learn from each other.”
It was difficult for her when she had to live apart from Sulaiman while he was working in Malaysia. They missed each other a lot. “We had many challenging situations because we couldn’t stay together all the time,” she explains, “but we succeeded in staying positive and building our future together.” Even though they managed to keep a long-distance relationship going, Beatrix admits that it requires a lot of effort to make it work. “Of course, it is always difficult,” she adds.
In some cases, being in an intercultural relationship means having to live far away from close friends and family. This is the case for Dora: “I am far from my parents and they will be 90 and 85 years old soon.”
Being in an intercultural relationship might not mean you’re in for the easiest ride but it sure means that it will be interesting, open your eyes to more of the world, and make your life a lot more diverse. “Leaving your comfort zone is always a challenge,” Dora says, “but it will also increase your knowledge about people, culture, and places.” In order to make the most out of your relationship and expat experience, you have to live in the moment and make the most of it. “If you are comparing everything all the time or just thinking about what you don’t have now, your life will not be good and you will not enjoy your time.” Beatrix also thinks it is important to make the effort to attend events and activities in your local community. “InterNations is so diverse, it brings together all the expats and it’s also very international,” she says.
Dora and Beatrix have found happiness with their partners and believe that their relationships are rewarding and worthwhile. We’re glad to see that, while looking for new friends to help them settle into their expat lives, they also found love!