Being an expat means putting yourself out there, wherever there is daily.
It’s starting over every facet of your life every few years. It’s arriving in a new city, creating a home, settling a family, navigating the new education system with /for your kids, possibly learning the basics of a new language, there’s new ways of doing (or not doing) things, different cultural protocol (every society has them even if you don’t realise it), finding ways to fill in your endless days while husband goes to work and kids are ensconced in school.
So many aspects of this lifestyle are rewarding, and all are hard work but the most rewarding and (sometimes) the most difficult to navigate and ‘win’ is the social network, making friends and creating a social life for you and your family.
When was the last time you went way out of your way and consciously created an opportunity to meet and make (and nurture) a new friend?
Not simply offering a warm welcome to a new work colleague, or smiling and saying hello to a new family at school, or waving to the new neighbour across the road but really reaching out and connecting.
The older we get, the less likely we are to have to do this. We have the friends we want/need. Who has time for new ones, right?
For someone like me who loves meeting people it’s relatively easy tho it’s not always successful and that’s absolutely fine (Life Lesson # maybe?). For quieter personalities, or people who are shy, others who don’t speak the most popular language (most International Schools are English speaking, tho of course, not always) it must be so very difficult and socially isolating.
Those with young school aged children probably have it the ‘best’ as there’s always a group of parents in your child’s class waiting to say hello. There’s play dates to be organised for the kids, birthday parties, an interest in common (sport, ballet, art, drama, cubs, brownies etc) that enable the children to make friends so very quickly and the parents go along for the ride.
Empty nesters, or parents of older kids who are able to make their own friends don’t offer mum the same environment, so Mums usually left to her own devices to make a friend – coffee mornings at school, a common interest (this is where tennis, squash, running, theatre, arts’n’crafts, book clubs etc come in super handy)
Young mums with toddlers or younger meet at the local park, or playground, maybe the International School offers them a spare classroom once a week.
A new adventure is also an opportunity for some people to recreate them selves. I don’t mean become a whole new identity, but think about it – no one knows you!
No one knows your baggage (unless you choose to tell them)
No one knows the mistakes you’ve made, or the successes you’ve had (unless you choose to tell them, and it obvious which ones get talked about more)
You choose the bits of memorabilia you want to share, which anecdotes are worthy of retelling, which life lessons you want to expose. No one’s immune to bad experiences, everyone’s had ups’n’downs but you get to choose who knows from now on.
There are frustrations for some. Qualifications may not be recognised, or you might need to requalify to do a job you did years ago. You might need to learn how to have a full time helper living with you for the first time as up til know you’ve always managed to work and run the house, but now in your new city you’re not working but it’s the done thing to have home help. You find yourself with endless hours to do what you want but don’t quite know what it is you want to do.
You take up tennis – it’s never interested you before, but hey, everyone else is playing.
You learn to play bridge – again, you don’t care for cards at all, but the social aspect is what you yearn for.
If there’s no book club (or no room in the current one) you start one.
If you can cook, or are into arts’n’crafts, know yoga or Pilates, you might volunteer your skills to the schools Parents Committee. You volunteer to the Parents Committee.
You get out of your comfort zone and you DO stuff, you get involved.
People only know the YOU, you present to them.
There is another way friendships happen and it’s organic. It’s the benefit of a few Adventures and the impact you had on others while you were there.
I am very fortunate that it’s worked for me since our first Adventure in Ireland an I am so conscious of ‘paying to forward’ every opportunity I can.
It’s way easier that simply landing somewhere and starting from scratch.
Its getting out of the comfort zone and networking. As soon as you can announce where your next Adventure is taking you, friends get busy making online introductions via FaceBook or email their friends in your new city, alerting them to the fact ‘a friend is moving there, and will you please make them welcome’
Here are a few stories that I have been involved in.
My brother’s best mate from school is married to a lovely English girl who went to high school (in the UK) with MsS. When brothers best mates wife learned we were moving to Winchester, she contacted MsS who she hasn’t seen since immigrating but has reconnected with on FB that we were coming and would she mind meeting me for a coffee?
We did, and we’ve been chatting and laughing and drinking regularly ever since.
MsS invited me to a girl’s lunch, where I met MsC and while we don’t catch up often (both girls work) when we do we have a really lovely time.
The extra good bit to this story, is all our husbands/partners have met and they seem to get along well too, so there’s now not only a girls friendship happening, but a ‘couples’ one.
MsC who I was in Dublin with, was in Berlin with MsY. When MsC knew we were coming to Winchester she contacted MsY and we’ve hooked up and laugh so much when we’re together. Our daughters are the same age, so that works well too.
MsE who was in Yokohama with me and has since repatriated to the UK has a friend who is moving from London to Winchester (a very popular move). Would I mind getting in touch with MsC ? Not at all – lunch is booked for next week.
The same MsC from Dublin moved back to Paris a while ago. I hooked her up with MsJ who moved from Yokohama to Paris via Tokyo. MsC (she moves a LOT) is currently in Cork, Ireland where my dear friend MsL is from and yep, they’ve chatted and MsC is better informed about Cork as a result.
MsJ was in Yokohama for a year before repatriating to the UK. MsV, who I didn’t know well, but always enjoyed her company when we did get together (kids are different ages) also repatriated and are living close to one another. While their paths didn’t cross in Yokohama, they have that experience to share so I introduced them via Facebook.
MsA was doing her Ikebana Masters certificate when I first started. She has since moved to Singapore and started her own Ikebana studio, teaching and demonstrating. MsG moved from Tokyo to Singapore and commented on one of my pictures on FB how much she misses Ikebana – one FB message later the ladies are in touch.
MsP is moving to Istabul and while I don’t know anyone there, a quick email to a few friends and MsP has three people I’ve never met to contact and share their experiences of living there.
Expats weave a global network of introductions. We have to for survival. We have to make them quickly and well, they run deep very fast. They have to, or someone moves on and we start all over again.
My BFF in Sydney has been in my life for nearly 26 years. She and her wonderful husband know me better than I know myself at times. My ‘gang’ in Sydney have been friends for 18+ years now, and we’ve been thru everything together. Friends to this depth don’t happen overnight and I love them more and more each day we’re apart physically. The really interesting thing I’ve learnt is that TIME isn’t the key factor in a friendship – MsN, MsK, MsJ, MsL, MsJ, MsB,MsJ are all friends from within the past 6 years and we’ve shared highs and lows, laughs and tears with as much meaning and soul.
Yesterday that network was at work again when MsS introduced me to MsM and we had a great day in London together. I’d like to think I’ve made a new friend, and that when our families meet we’ve made a wider connection. Only time will tell (she reads my blog so I’m going out on a limb here, making my feelings known LOL)
So, to every friend I am lucky enough to have in so many cities around the world, THANK You for the introductions, the kindness, the support on this crazy journey my life is on.