How to make friends in your new country?

For expats living and working in new countries, building a social network can be a great challenge.  Read tips that readers are sharing for meeting new people in strange places.

Moving to a new country comes with a lot of challenges – from strange cultural quirks to finding a place to live. But one of the most difficult things is meeting new people. One of our most popular stories was about dating in Sweden, which examined loneliness many expats feel when trying to live abroad. So we asked the question: How did you make friends after moving to a new country? Many of you responded with innovative, thoughtful and new ideas.

After he worked in the Middle East, Africa, USA as well as in Europe, “where all social life was dictated by work colleagues”, Mark Adams started a new project in Norway in 1991. “In the beginning, it was just another country and another project, but then I joined a gym, learned to ski and started walking in the mountains. Through these activities, I developed a network of friends outside of work. “26 years later I am living permanently in Norway,  I married a great Norwegian woman and we have a son. Locals in Norway are not so easy to get to know so you have to have patience. But it is worth the wait. I have learned the language, culture, history and about politics, and this helps.”

For Jeannie Liu the key was to be persistent. “I went back to the same place again and again. A restaurant, or a supermarket. Eventually, I started to know the people and was invited to all sorts of meetings. I started to meet more people and made friends.” When you don’t speak the language (yet), just keep on smiling and be nice to everybody. A common language is helpful, but even without a common language, just keep on smiling and be nice to everyone. Be considerate to the people that surround you and listen to them.

Social networking, online and also offline

Joining groups on social networking sites like Meetup saved Christine Ndirangu when she moved to London, UK. “It’s such a fast-paced life it was difficult to meet even the few people I knew from before. The meetup networking site is for people looking to do just that. I surprised me that even native Londoners were using it to expand their social networks after their old friends settled down and no longer want to get out much.  “Cannot say I made any friends for life, but I got to go out and did some fun things.”

For Caro Chan, in a similar vein, language meet-ups and dancing were a good point to start making new friends in the UK.  But she found it more difficult than in Japan, where most local friends were met through work.

A language barrier can make you feel lonely

Joining a faith community was “huge” for Dave Kelly. “Faith helps transcend cultural differences, breaks down barriers to friendships and brings people of different nationalities together,” he writes, when he responded to our question.

Emilia Bergoglio, who lives in Japan, building a social life in her adopted country has not been easy: “Very simply, I have not made friends”. She says that colleagues are not meant to be your friends, and foreigners tend to stick together. “Only now that my local language skills have improved I am able to have a conversation with the locals, but relationships are for the most part on the level of polite acquaintance. “I am not upset with the situation. When I feel the need to talk I Skype my old friends back in Europe. I am also starting a new job soon, so maybe the situation will change in the future.”

David W. Duffy felt lonely as well, even after ten years living in Poland, but says an independent spirit is important. “There needs to be a degree of fearlessness, and a strong enough mentality to be able to handle the loneliness, which can be crippling at times. “People who are more attached to the comforts of home and family will struggle much more. However, I would not want to change it at all – for me, the sense of adventure is far more important.”

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