It is a group less commonly discussed, and one to which I belong: the single, female expat. Though at times being a single, female expat seems very glamorous (and at times it indeed is!) the new found freedom of living and working in a foreign country is not without its own trials and tribulations, especially when you are single.
After the initial excitement of arriving and settling in wears off, the hardest obstacle - the overwhelming feeling of being “alone” - often starts to set in hard. Suddenly you start to realize that neither are your family and friends just a few streets, towns, or a local phone call away, nor is there a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife to turn to for comfort. The good thing is that this world is filled with over 7 billion people. Therefore it’s only a matter of time and effort to remedy this situation of feeling alone.
My first time living in a foreign land was over 5 years ago as a participant in an intensive foreign language program. During this experience I was surrounded by many other fellow exchange students, who all had several things in common: we were young, university-aged foreigners, with lots of free time dedicated to having fun, and everyone was anxious to meet one another and forge friendships easily and quickly.
Fast-forward half a decade and the concept of making friends becomes more challenging. The reality is that during post-university life it can be difficult to make friends. People now have less time, a developing career, steady partners, children, or possibly already a set friend base. How does a single, female expat, make friends in a new town? Though this can seem like an overwhelming task, never fear; I have tried and tested suggestions which can help aid in overcoming these hurdles.
As I have said time and time again, one of the most important ways of adjusting to your new culture is learning the language. If you already know it, that makes things one step easier, but if not, dedicate some time each day to learning and, hopefully one day, mastering it. Sign up for a class at the local language school or find a tandem partner to practice with. The more you are able to communicate with the local population, the less you will feel like an outsider and the more doors and possibilities will open up for you — even hopefully some new potential friendships. Learning the language will also give you a more well-rounded perspective of the culture and how the locals live their lives, which certainly aids in adapting and making contacts. Plus, having more friends in your new location can certainly help make your new environment feel like home.
Making any friends of course is a very good thing, but it is also important to have some other single friends. Once you reach the point in life where it seems like everyone is in either a serious relationship, getting married, or already are married, life can start to get a bit lonelier and even make you feel out of place. Even though it’s nice to hear about your friend’s wedding plans, or how fantastic their new boyfriend/girlfriend is, sometimes you just need someone who has no obligations to a partner and is ready to go out partying with no advance planning needed, or a partner-in-crime to mutually scope out potential dating prospects. Every single girl needs a single buddy.
In addition to meeting people from your new country, I find it very important to also get in touch with other foreigners who understand exactly what it is that you are “going through”; people who can relate and know what it’s like to be from the “outside”. You need some people you can turn to and mutually vent with on days when you are homesick or encounter a cultural difference which frustrates you. Meeting up with someone from your own culture who understands your cultural references, speaks your native language, and celebrates your major holidays is also a good idea if you can find someone. Sometimes we need someone who knows where we are coming from, with whom we share some common ground. Find these people by looking out for expat groups (like InterNations) or do a search online for such groups in your city. If one doesn’t yet exist, you can start one.
Doing a hobby you enjoy can be beneficial for you as an individual, as well as open up opportunities to meet others. Join a sports team, take a cooking class; find something that you enjoy doing outside of work. Keeping up with your passions not only helps to keep your sanity, lift your mood, and make you a more interesting person overall, but it also gives you the chance to meet like-minded people who can potentially become friends. Can’t find any group that you normally would have joined? Use this as a time to try something new. Being in a new country offers you a clean slate to try new things and become a new, improved person. You might just enjoy what you find and the people you find doing it.
Another source that can help with adjusting and that is easy to accommodate into a busy schedule is the Internet. Use the web to find people like you around your city, and if you live in a small town, utilize online platforms to talk to people with when you feel lonely. Make sure also to keep in contact with your loved ones at home. They will be an important support system. Sometimes, having someone to talk to on the other side of the screen is a great comfort.
Another potentially exciting option is trying out online dating. Nowadays, online dating is very popular and a great way to meet a potential partner as well as a great motivation to learn a foreign language! Find a site that fits your interests and goals and get ready to meet some other singles in your area. And who knows, if the dating goes really well, you won’t be the “single” expat for much longer.
Regardless if you are single, married, male, female, etc. - don’t spend your expat time (or any time of your life for that matter) isolating yourself and being alone. Take advantage of this time to develop yourself and your life, interests and career, and just simply be fabulous. Meet new people and take chances, and before you know it, you will realize that you are capable of making a new home anywhere with people who have become like family.
Gabrielle Byko is an international communication professional who has studied and been working in Germany and Austria for the past 5 years. She has a passion for experiencing international culture exchange in all of its forms.
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