This months “Spare a thought” feature is all about the expat journey of making new friends again and again. I hope you enjoy Heather’s take on this minefield!
Heather lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She’s a Reiki healer and posts inspirational messages on her Facebook page through brush painting she learned during her expat days in South Korea. She loves nature and all things creative.
When we were kids it was easy to make friends in the neighbourhood. We ran around playing games, riding bikes, had squabbles and made up again. We simply didn’t move around like families do now. When you’re faced with having to move abroad as an adult, it can be quite difficult and daunting. Whether you’re moving for work, study or a future partner, it’s inevitable you will be making new friends!
I initially moved interstate (New York to Pennsylvania) to study, moved abroad (Australia) to get married, then went on expat assignment (Paris and South Korea) with my husband’s company and now have repatriated back to Australia. A place I now call home. In each place, I made new friends and have kept many along the way.
You’re probably wondering how I did it? Well, I think it’s much easier in this day and age to stay in touch with those who matter to you and the new friends we make along the way. When you move away from friends, how you maintain those friendships will change, but the friendship doesn’t need to be lost. There’s social media, email, snail mail and there’s travelling. It takes effort to stay in touch, but it’s worth it.
When I first moved to Australia in 2004, my first friends were those close to my husband. I started work as a veterinary technician and those work colleagues soon became my friends. I have since reconnected with them as we now have a fur-friend.
When we had to move to Paris in 2012, I now had two children in tow. The ‘fear’ started to set in; I had to start all over again, with two kids. My oldest was just 5 years old. Most of my friends were ones I met through mother’s group and then it was kindergarten. My husband’s company is a worldwide company that has great expat support when you relocate, so once we were settled in Paris, I soon met wives through that. I actually met one of the mothers from my daughters school on social media before I arrived in Paris. I didn’t speak French, so I enrolled in French classes that were held at the school. The adventures started!!!
11 months later, we were off again; this time to South Korea! I was just getting the hang of things. We knew it was part of the contract, it was a ‘two location’ assignment. Wow, these two countries are such a contrast from one another. Each move was getting easier as I got to know what to expect during the settling in phase. I started to learn how to network, get online to find local groups and get involved in some traditional activities in which I started making friends. We lived in an apartment building with other expat families that were also part of the project. It was helpful at times, especially having kids when someone was sick and needed help. I became friends with people who had similar hobbies to me including a few Koreans who taught me a lot about the food and culture.
There were many ups and downs of starting over and over again, but it has truly made me the person I am today. All the experiences I’ve had have made me more confident and more resilient. I’m back in Australia now; I get involved in the things that interest me most like yoga, art, coaching studies and activities with my two girls. You never know where the next person you meet will lead you…an opportunity to continue learning and grow, one can only hope!
“Every new friend is a new adventure, the start of more memories” – Patrick Lindsay
Heathers top tips for making friends in other countries
* Prepare before moving by joining local social media groups that interest you.
* Live in an expat community if it’s possible and it suits your needs.
* Join local groups that may be organised by the company or even the school your children attend.
* Join clubs if you have any hobbies or play sport.
* Network; be brave and talk!
* Don’t know the language? Try new language classes or even join cultural groups.
* Do you go to church? Some expat destinations have foreigner services.
* Do not be the person who waits to be invited to socials. Why not be creative and even start your own! I am!
* Push through your boundaries or any barriers you have.
So there you have it. Keep trying and don’t give up. Set small goals for yourself each day during your process of settling. You never know…someone else might just be looking for a friend too! Remember, it gets easier the more you do it.
“An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The red thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break. ~Ancient Chinese Proverb~
If you have an expat story you’d like to share in our “Spare a thought” series, get in touch!! We’d love to hear from you!!