A fulfilling, interactive and stimulating work-day is a given for most expats. But what about after hours? Establishing a new life and connecting socially will ensure your long term happiness offshore.
Without contacts and an obvious peer group, expats risk falling into social limbo. A feeling of belonging neither ‘here’ nor ‘back there’.
Like any potentially tricky situation, the solution lies in knowing what to expect and planning a way forward. Unpack the suitcases. Get over the jetlag. Then take a moment to cover off the following bases.
1. Old friends and family
Decide who to stay in touch with back home - but don’t make it everyone, all the time. Allocate regular time-slots to your best friend, your parents, your sister. Ideally this should be face-to-face with Skype, Facetime etc.
Resist relying on frequent social media posts showcasing your new life to a mass audience. Or obsessively following what is happening at home and feeling resentful about your absence. This is no substitute for genuine two-way interaction with your nearest and dearest.
Better to use your time to get out and about developing relationships in the here and now.
2. Other expats
Find some expats you like, not too many, and get together once in a while to share a common cultural experience. Track them down via blogs, clubs or be brave and approach people with a familiar accent. Watch your national sport, cook food from home, and relax with people who understand the same in-jokes and references.
Work hard to make sure it doesn’t become a moan session – but sympathise with each other about the ups and downs of life offshore.
Seek out like-minded and open-minded locals as your passport to settling in. Start with the helpful co-worker to who happily shares advice on everything from health insurance to grocery shopping. Friendship may develop, but if not, just remember to repay their kindness when you can.
With the basics sorted, venture further afield. Meetup.com is a great way to target your effort. It hosts a multitude of informal interest-based groups to choose from. Membership is as simple as turning up and there’s no need to go back if it’s not your thing,
You’ll soon be meeting plenty of locals but don’t be discouraged if it seems hard to engage beyond a first encounter. Chances are they have busy lives with their own friends and family – they are not meaning to be unfriendly, so just move on. Others may lack expat experience themselves so won't appreciate how hard it is to put yourself out there in pursuit of friendship.
Expat friend-making is essentially a numbers game. Persevere. Step-by-step. Show initiative. Put in the effort and you will develop the network that anchors you into your new home.