Building a circle of friends can be a very intimidating aspect of moving to a new city as an expat.
For one thing, like it or not, most of us form our most important friendships during adolescence and early adulthood when we’re thrown together with others at school or uni. So it can be a bit of a leap of faith to move away from the security of your usual social circle and try to start all over again in a new place, where most others already have well-established friend groups. And on top of that, when you’re an expat you’ll be living in a place where cultural norms, social structures, and even the language may be unfamiliar to you, all of which can add an extra layer of difficulty to making friends. But don’t panic, here are some tips to make the process of building a circle of friends in your new city a little easier.
Make an effort to adapt to the local culture
Of course, you’re not going to become a local overnight, and you’re bound to make some kind of cultural faux pas at some point. But if you want to make friends with locals, it’s important to make an effort to get to know the local culture. Do a bit of research before arrival to find out the basics of social etiquette. Do men and women greet each other with a hug, a kiss, or just a handshake? What about two women, or two men? Is it polite to bring a small gift when invited to someone’s house for dinner? Are you expected to arrive a little later, or a little earlier, than the ‘official’ start time of a social event? Should you address everyone who is older than you in a formal manner? These little subtleties can go a long way in helping you to find friends, as you will hopefully avoid coming off as impolite due to misunderstandings.
Be observant of others’ behaviour, too. Do they speak openly about their personal lives, or are they more reserved? Do they feel comfortable talking about politics, religion or money? Are most people passionate about a particular sport? You can pick up many helpful little clues this way to help you slide more easily into social life in your new country.
And of course, if you’re living in a country where English is not the primary language, making an effort to learn the local language will make a world of difference. People generally open up a lot more and are thus more likely to regard you as a potential friend if you can communicate with them in their own language.
But also be prepared to do some cultural exchange
While you’re getting to know the local culture, you will find that many people in your new country really enjoy meeting people from different countries and learning about their cultures. Of course, don’t go overboard and assume that everybody will be absolutely fascinated by your background, but be prepared to share something of your culture with others. Whether it’s inviting some people over for an Aussie barbeque, watching an AFL game with fellow sport lovers, or recommending some great Australian movies and music, sharing a bit of your own culture with those who are interested can be a great way to spark a connection.
Find out if you are connected to anyone already living in your new city
Put your feelers out to find out if you know, even very distantly, anyone who is already living in the city you are moving to. A Facebook or Linkedin post asking friends to let you know about any connections they might have can be a good way to do this. You could end up with some pretty random results, like a friend’s cousin or a work colleague from ten years ago. But when you’re starting completely fresh in a new place, any connection can be valuable! So if you do find anyone, invite them out for a drink to chat and get some tips. You could be on your way to your first friendship in your new city.
Use Facebook groups
All over the world, Facebook has a prominent place in most people’s daily lives. As such, it can be a great tool for connecting with others. One of the best ways to do this is through Facebook groups. If the city you’re moving to has a solid expat contingent, you’ll likely find expat groups on Facebook full of support, advice and potential new friends. If not, you can probably still find some groups based on your interests, like a hiking or dog lovers group, for example.
Join a Meetup group
Meetup is another great resource for connecting with people in a new city. It’s a platform for organising real life group meetups based on different interests. You can search for Meetup groups in different areas, for example book clubs, workout groups, networking groups in a particular field etc. You can also create your own Meetup if you can’t find what you’re looking for.
Get involved in the local community
There’s perhaps no better way to get friendly with locals than to make an effort to get involved in the local community where you live. Check out the local council and community groups, or just talk to your new neighbours, to find out what you could help with. There might be a charity fundraiser, litter cleanup effort, or other special event going on. Or if there’s nothing like that already happening, you can always take the initiative to organise something yourself based on your own skills and passions.
Explore the new city
Getting familiar with your new area is a great opportunity to meet people. Hanging out at local coffee shops, restaurants, parks, theatres etc is a great opportunity to start conversations with others. If you become a regular at a few places you could end up with some more sustained connections. At the very least, you’ll have some friendly acquaintances in the form of baristas, waiters or shop assistants.
Socialise with work colleagues
Obviously this one won’t apply if you’re working online or retired, but if you have a physical workplace in your new city, it’s a great place to start when you’re building a network of friends. Try to get to know your coworkers from the beginning and figure out who you get on best with. Make sure you say yes if you’re invited out for drinks, dinner or any other social event outside work. And don’t be shy to extend your own social invites to work colleagues if they’re not forthcoming, as long as this isn’t frowned upon in the culture of your new country.
When you’re an expat in a new city trying to make friends with people who already live there, you’re kind of at a disadvantage. Most locals or longer term expats will already have a pretty firm social circle, so they will be less motivated than you to put in the work necessary to cultivate a new friendship. That leaves it up to you to put in a bit of effort to get a friendship going – for example, inviting them to get coffee or lunch a few times in a row instead of expecting them to invite you the next time – before things start to flow naturally.
Building a circle of friends as an expat can take time and effort, but it’s certainly not impossible. Unfortunately we can’t expect great friends to fall into our laps without any work. The key is putting yourself out there and finding or creating opportunities to meet like-minded people.
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