Making Friends in a Foreign Country
You’ve heard the saying that you “gravitate towards people like you”. I have found in my travels and many moves across the USA and overseas that this saying is very true. When making friends in a foreign country, you attract people like you.
Recently I received an email from someone who wanted to move overseas and asked me how I made friends. When I mentioned the friends I had here, he was the one who reminded me that we do gravitate towards those like us or have similar interests. It’s scary to move somewhere new if you have lived in the same place or country all your life. Friends and family that you’ve known for years are just a drive away, or maybe a short flight away at the most.
That border between countries is not just a physical line on a map. It’s also a mental barrier in some people’s mind.
How far away will I be from family and friends?
What if something happens? Can I get back in time?
Making friends in a foreign country is just like making friends in your own country. There may be a learning curve with the language, but people with similar interests always find a way to communicate. Look at children. They don’t care what language someone speaks if they know how to play a game. When Tom was little, he visited his grandmother in San Miguel de Allende during the summers. He would run around playing ball with other kids in the neighborhood. To this day he doesn’t remember them really talking, just getting into trouble as boys tend to do.
Easy: Making Friends With a Built-in Network
When you move to a foreign country to study abroad or for work, you have a built-in network of people who could potentially be your friends. When I lived in the Dominican Republic, all the managers of the park were international expats, so we all had “moving to another country” in common. My co-workers were from Mexico, Bahamas, South Africa, Spain, France, United States, Bulgaria and the Dominican Republic. My landlords were Austrian. We all had living in a new country, work, and/or rescue dogs as our baseline for friendship.
Making Friends on Your Own
Moving to Mexico, Tom and I are not sponsored by a work environment, do not have children and are not retirees. We have businesses we run online. That means we are in the house, not out interacting. When Hayley was with us, I met many of our current friends on our daily walks. People love to talk about their dogs and get to know other dog lovers.
Looking around at the majority of our friend circle, our common theme is we have all lived somewhere else outside our home country. Our neighbors lived in the United States for 25 years and El Salvador for over 10 years. Suzi lived in India after college for 8 years. Brenda lived in Norway. Michelle lived in China, and Alex lived in California. Even our architect lived in Germany for a few years. And most of us have dogs.
I’ve lived in 5 different countries in my lifetime, 2 during childhood and 3 as an adult. What I have found in every situation, is that you need to take the initiative to get out, say Hello and interact.
Here’s some ways to meet people regardless of your current situation as a student, worker, family or retiree:
Leave your door open, walk the neighborhood, or sit outside on your porch. Be available to talk to your neighbors. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t fluent in the native language yet. Good neighbors will try to talk to you slowly, in short sentences and ask you about things that they can point to or mime. The children in our neighborhood are learning English in school so when they see us, they like to practice their English. It’s a great vocabulary lesson for both of us.
People with children gravitate towards other people with children. Playgrounds and school are a great way to meet parents of the children your kids like.
WALK YOUR DOG
Dog people love to talk about dogs. And they want to know about yours and talk about theirs. If the dogs get along, even better. That means more doggie play dates and more face to face time practicing your Spanglish or whatever language you are learning. (This is how I met just about everyone we know.)
What group activities did you do back at home? Were you part of a tennis club or running group? Did you have sewing meetups or Bible study? You can do all those things in your new country. Find the group (they probably have a Facebook page, or the local store has website info) and just go. At least one person will speak a little English, and if you know basic conversation, that will go a long way. Plus, you will learn the Spanish words associated you’re your favorite activity faster by being immersed in the experience because you will be actively associating the words with the object or action.
You don’t have to have a website and FB page like we do (though many people have found us this way). Facebook has numerous pages of people with common interests. We’ve found expats pages, the website InterNations hosts events in most major cities of several countries and local events like beer or wine tastings are wonderful ways to meet others with common interests that are in your shoes.
When You First Move to a Foreign Country FYI
For the first 6 months, it can be difficult to understand how things work and getting a handle on daily life. You need a support system to help you through but sticking with “your own kind” is not always the best method. There are people out there that have not embraced the local culture and just moved their old life and expectations to another country.
Reach out to those that have similar interests and try to expand into your neighborhood. The more you integrate, the more help you will get, and the more life will become comfortable. Language is just a small part of meeting new people. Interests are what keep people coming back that lead to friendship.