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Avoiding Isolation

One of my biggest fears about moving to a new country as a “tag along” spouse was isolation. I dreaded the thought of moving halfway around the world with my husband, having him go off every day to a job while I sat twiddling my thumbs in the apartment, wondering what to do and not knowing a soul.

I’ve had my share of “thumb-twiddling” days and moments where I made faux pas in social situations. Overall, however, I feel as though I’m doing an OK job at transitioning to life in New Zealand. I think that if I could talk to every person who’s preparing to move to a new country, I would tell them that one of the best ways of easing the transition is to form a social network.You’ll make friends, learn about the community, and develop a sense of purpose by having something to do on a regular basis.

There are many ways to get out and get involved, but in my opinion, here are some of the best:

1. Start searching the internet. Read up about your new country. Find the local newspaper and check it daily. Reading the news will give you something to talk about when you meet people, and you’ll be up on current events in your new hometown. If you don’t have a blog, think about creating one and linking it with an expat website. If blogging isn’t your thing, then register with expat sites and read through the Q&A forums. Follow the links to user blogs based in your soon-to-be new country. Most expats, me included, are happy to share what they know.

2. Get out of the house. If you’re able to work, then look for a job. It doesn’t have to be full-time or even in your area of expertise, but you’ll meet other employees and have a reason to go out every week. If you can’t work {don’t have the right paperwork, need to stay home with children, don’t speak the language} then check out your local mission, soup kitchen, museum, or gallery to see if they need volunteers. If you can’t volunteer, then look into joining a gym or a community center or a church. Definitely join the local library. Most libraries have classes on a variety of things – learning the language, lectures on local history, book clubs – and most don’t cost a thing. If you have children, libraries can be a God-send with their story times and children’s reading programs.

3. Exercise. Working out is good for your body and your brain. If you’re able to join a gym, then do it. Take a class or simply go there to use the equipment. If you’re like me and hate any sort of situation where you’re working out amongst other people, then skip the gym and go for a walk or a run around the neighborhood. You’ll feel better about yourself, be in a better mental state, and afterward you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. Taking a walk or going for a jog outside is also a great way to familiarize yourself with your new locale.

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4. Extend the hand of friendship to others. I’ve found that one of the best ways to meet people and form a friendship is to invite someone out for coffee/tea/beverage of choice. Maybe you feel like you’re not very good at making small talk. Maybe you don’t speak the language very well. Perhaps you’re worried about being rejected. Two words: be bold! You’ll be glad that you did. If you ask someone to hang out and they decline, move on and ask someone else. It’s a big world, and there’s a good chance that you’re going to come into contact with someone else out there who’s looking for a friend.

5. Cut yourself some slack. Before moving to New Zealand, I resolved to not draw any final conclusions till we’d lived here at least 1 year. There were times where I thought, “This isn’t for me!” and longed for home, but then I’d remember that we hadn’t reached that one year limit and it helped. It takes time. Recognize that, and give yourself the space to adjust.

Moving to a new country is hard and it’s not for the faint of heart! We’ve been in NZ for over a year and a half and I still have moments where I wish our families were closer or things were a bit more familiar or the Christmases were a smidgen snowier. That being said, I have made some wonderful friendships here, and it’s because of those friends and that social network that I enjoy our life overseas as much as I do.

Jenny is an American from Indiana living abroad in Auckland, New Zealand. An ER nurse, she spends her spare time with her husband and infant son and enjoys photography, travel, and writing about her experiences as an expat. You can read more of her thoughts and opinions at www.practicallyperfectblog.com

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