Forming friendships in a foreign country can make or break your time living abroad. As of this writing, we’ve lived in six countries as a family and we’ve noticed some patterns in moving to a new place. I’ve noticed, as I’ve always started work in a new place right away, that it’s easy to make friends when you have to see them every day. On the other hand, if you’re a stay-at-home parent or work from home, you have to be much more intentional about building community. It will make the difference, even if it’s just a couple of people that you get together with sometimes, to helping you not feel isolated in your new place.
Religious groups - if you’re a member of a church denomination or spiritual community already, look them up online and see if you can connect with members already in your new location. I’ve found this to be a great way to meet locals as well - you have a built-in common ground and you have a big motivation to get past any weird cultural differences.
Facebook groups - Facebook groups are an easy way to get an idea of what things are like before you move to a new place. Just search your new location and what you’re interested in - “Cambodia parents” - as an example. Most cities will have some groups, and if you don’t have any luck, try it in the native language of the city.
Clubs and organizations - Many clubs that are widespread around the world are things like Toastmasters, rugby, cooking classes, rock climbing, you name it. You’d be surprised what’s out there - things are easy to find these days with social media. If you’re having a hard time, go to some expat-frequented coffee shops and have a look at their bulletin boards - there are sure to be some advertisements there.
Working - It seems like most people move abroad for work, though I realize that’s not always the case. If you do work abroad, you’ll likely find someone, or a few someones, who you’ll hit it off with. You might only be there for a year or two, so take a chance and invite someone out for a coffee or get together for dinner. One awkward conversation won’t kill you if it doesn’t go well, and you might get a good friend out of it.
Reach out - Invite new friends or neighbors out for a coffee or over for dinner. Most people understand if your house isn’t perfectly decorated - after all, you just got there! (and who cares, really?)
What tips do you have for building community when living abroad? Share your comments with us!