Alex and I have made our home in two countries where neither of us knew anyone before arriving, the Netherlands and Ireland. When you first arrive there is a lot to do. Along with finding a place to live, there is immigration, tax and banking to sort out. It also takes time to develop an intimate knowledge of your surroundings to shop for necessities. These things are relatively easy, that isn’t to say they won’t be frustrating beyond belief, but it’s all doable in a reasonable amount of time. But what about making friends in a new country?
Making friends, beyond the occasional drinking pal, can be tough and takes time. Alex and I have found that it takes about 6 months to begin to feel like we have friends and 12 months until we really feel we have a network. That may seem like a lot of time, but when you are in your 30’s and people, including ourselves, are busy with work and life, the process moves slowly. If you’re a college kid, more spare time and alcohol should expedite bonding.
So where do you find people to forge friendships with after college?…Work? Colleagues can be great but sometimes that will only go so far. Alex and I have generally had more success by attending social events of groups we have an interest in.
In Amsterdam, we went to the Friday night meet ups for Couch Surfing. We made some wonderful friends via this network as locals as well as travelers often attend these events. What’s interesting is that not that many of our primary friends came from there, but indirectly because of Couch Surfing. For example, one night we were out with a CS friend and their couch surfer and we were being loud and speaking English in the suburbs of Amsterdam. An American/Dutch couple overhead us from the table next to ours. The American had been living in Amsterdam around 10 months and was missing the company of other Americans. When football came up in our conversation the Dutch boyfriend jumped in while his girlfriend was in the bathroom. Upon her return they joined our table. This couple became our closest friends in Amsterdam.
This time we have made most of our friends, either directly or indirectly via Democrats Abroad. We also attended social gatherings of this group in Amsterdam, but we were younger then so we generally felt a closer connection to Couch Surfing at the time. But here in Dublin when Alex went to register to vote, the afternoon turned into the wee hours of the morning and included an invite to the house of one of members for an American style brunch 2 days later. We just immediately hit it off with several members.
Alex and I are not necessarily suggesting that these are the best places to meet people, but they are two groups that we share common interests with and that have saved us from feeling lonely, which is probably the hardest part of being expats. Our advice is to find a group that has similar interests to you- be it a book club, running group or knitting group. While we haven’t tried it, Meetup.com is a fantastic forum for an abundance of interest groups to come together for a fun filled time. If it doesn’t work out the first few times, hang in there and try something else.
We’ve met expats who are chronically lonely, and while going to an event where you don’t know a soul can be intimidating, you can’t sit at home and hope life will come to you. Like most people, Alex and I have our socially awkward moments, and while it can look like we’re at ease on the outside, both of us aren’t always comfortable meeting new people. Luckily we have each other to kick the other in gear.
Does anyone else have any tips on how to make friends when living abroad?