Where Friends Meet: How InterNations Events Help Expats Connect
When you look back on your expat experience someday, chances are you’ll remember the people you met and spent time with even more than the things you did or places you visited. It is pretty self-evident that for us humans, relationships matter. And particularly when coping with the challenges of expat life, friends are everything! They’re a source of support, encouragement, information, and companionship.
But how do expats actually build a strong network of friends in the first place? And can you still make friends abroad during an ongoing global pandemic?
Find Like-Minded People … Wherever Your Travels Take You!
For digital nomads and others who are frequently on the move — living and working in different countries — making new friends is a recurring necessity. So, it’s good to have a dependable way of getting together with others who also live life internationally. That’s the idea behind InterNations Official Events and Activities: they bring globally minded people together for socializing and networking. Sometimes there are different themes, but people are always friendly and welcoming. And they take place in 420 cities worldwide.
One InterNations member who relies on these events and activities to meet new people wherever she goes is Janie Borisov, an expat from Russia who has been living in Adelaide, Australia since 2013.
Over the last few years — at least, that is, until the COVID crisis started — Janie has been traveling around the world on extended sabbatical and is currently writing a book about those experiences. Wherever she travels, InterNations events are her go-to way of meeting people: “I always look for InterNations events in the places I travel to”, she says. Across countries and continents, from N'Djamena in Chad to Singapore and beyond, or as part of daily expat life in Australia, InterNations events provided a quick way for Janie to make connections — as well as lasting friendships. She notes that, “I’ve actually met some of my closest friends in Adelaide through InterNations, as well as a lot of friends all over the world.” She relies on InterNations events because, she says, “I can be sure I will find a lot of interesting and like-minded people”. Reflecting on her recent lifestyle, she remarks “I am very grateful to InterNations and couch surfing, they are the two inventions of our times!”
Virtual Connections Count: From Your Living Room to “The Global Living Room”
For now, non-essential global travel still has not fully resumed. Social distancing is the new normal, and it’s likely to remain so for a while. Restrictions are gradually being relaxed in many places but attending in-person events is still not possible in all InterNations Communities worldwide.
Social distancing has not stopped InterNations member Lisa Graziano — an American expat living in Portugal — from getting in touch with new people. Lisa is a certified specialist of wine and spirits who also teaches English. She moved to Portugal with her husband and dog. Pre-pandemic, InterNations was the main source Lisa relied on for finding friends. “Our friends here are expat friends I’ve met through InterNations”, she says.
For three days in June, InterNations hosted a new type of online event called “The InterNations Global Living Room” — a virtual space open 24/7 so that members can interact and socialize informally, whenever they like. Lisa attended this event and enjoyed it very much: “I exchanged experiences with other expats online in the Global Living Room — it’s great!” she says.
Even though the event was global in scope, it led her to connect with a fellow expat who lives in her local area: “I connected with several people, even a woman who lives nearby in Aveiro, about half an hour from where I am. We’re planning on getting in touch and meeting up.” Virtual events have advantages and disadvantages compared to in-person events, but they can still be a catalyst for great friendships to form.
Facing Tough Times Is Easier with Friends
Why are friends so important anyway? For one thing, meeting people and finding that you share similar experiences prevents you from feeling isolated and lonely. It also makes it easier to handle difficult times.
Two InterNations members in Amsterdam happened to meet a group of like-minded expats just before the corona crisis started — and it made a huge difference in their experience.
Gene and Jen met at one of the last in-person InterNations events before lockdown measures were put in place. Gene is from Canada and Jen is from the UK. The next weekend, Jen introduced Gene to two Brazilians and an expat from Slovakia. All five of them got along right away. “That was the first, last, and only time that all five of us were together, before the lockdown started,” Gene says. After that, they stayed in touch via a group chat.
The new friendship was formed just in time. All of them were going through similar challenges, sharing their experiences about everything from opening bank accounts to finding an apartment — while also coping with sudden isolation. “It was a really good way to get support and ask questions and see what people were doing, because things were not going so well,” Jen explains. “Everyone had the same experience and we could empathize with each other.”
The emotional support they provided to each other was an important way to cope with uncertainty. Their bond was strong, even though they met in person only once. The reason, Gene believes, is that they are all curious to learn about each other. “I think this is why our friendship is so great, because everybody really wants to learn more about each other’s lives and how things are done around the world”, Gene says. Beyond the fact they are all expats and working professionals, they also have similar values, such as being open, honest, and non-judgmental. Jen says: “We can have conversations about any topic. This is what binds us together.”
Getting to the point where you find true friends who you love spending time with and who share your values can only happen if you take opportunities to network with others — even if you only do so virtually. Whether an event is online or in person matters less than venturing “out there” and seeking those connections. You never know who you’ll meet!