Many expats struggle with loneliness. In fact, according to Aetna’s Expat Experiences Survey 2020, a third of respondents (33.1%) claimed that ‘missing home, family and friends’ was their biggest challenge. One way to safeguard against this is to become part of an expat community. We recently interviewed several expats who emphasised the importance of this, including Nicole Webb, author of China Blonde. She said that it is ‘imperative to find your tribe.’ In her opinion, ‘other expats become your pseudo family, and you really can’t get by without that network of support.’
Establishing your expat community may take a while, but it will be well worth the effort. When you first reach out to another expat, remember that you already have several things in common. For starters, you have both chosen to move abroad and have even picked the same country to live in. You can bond over shared difficulties, learn from each other’s experiences, and reminisce about what you’ve left behind.
How to meet expats
There are loads of ways to meet expats abroad, and which methods you choose will depend on a number of factors. For example, if you have entered the country on a retirement visa, then you may want to approach the task in a different way from someone who has relocated for work. Think about what exactly you are looking to get from your expat community. Do you simply want to meet people who speak the same language, or do you have something more specific in mind? If you’re a new mum, for instance, you may want to join an expat postnatal class, whereas a young professional looking for drinking friends may prefer to visit an expat bar. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, but also bear in mind that we all have different comfort zones.
One good way to meet other expats is to take a language course. According to The InterNations Survey 2019, 37% of respondents said that they were worried about the language barrier, prior to their move abroad. So, what better way to kill two birds with one stone? You get to meet people who are in a similar position to you – new to the country and trying to fit in – while simultaneously improving your language skills, which should make day-to-day life in the country easier. As time goes on, you may even feel confident enough to befriend some locals, whose company will help you to develop your language skills even further.
If language courses aren’t your thing, or you already speak the language of your destination country, then you may want to sign up to another type of class. Think about what you’re interested in, and search online, or through word of mouth, for expat-friendly facilities. This will help you to meet people with similar interests. Think outside the box (and classroom!) too – nowadays, there are plenty of activities available, so you may even discover a new hobby. If you prefer exercise to academia, then look for local sports teams, gyms or clubs. What’s available will depend on where you’re based, but there are usually plenty of options.
Yet another way of meeting expats is to hang out in areas where they tend to congregate. For example, there may be a cinema that shows English-language movies or a restaurant that caters specifically to expat tastebuds. Alternatively, you could find a job or volunteering role with an international company – this may lead to social or networking events, too. Listen out for English voices, and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.
Online expat communities
Since the coronavirus pandemic, online expat communities have grown in popularity. They offer a space where members can interact and offer each other advice and support, without the need for physical closeness. They are not only a great source of practical information, but also offer emotional support, which is particularly beneficial in current times. Do some research to see which ones might suit you. From diverse forums with thousands of members to small, local groups that offer more tailored advice, there are plenty to choose from.
You can find many of these communities on Facebook. For example, Expat Focus offers Facebook groups for expats in over 80 different countries. To find the right one for you, simply search for ‘Expats in [destination country]’. To become a member, click ‘Join Group’ and answer a few basic questions. Then, once you’ve been accepted, you can seek advice, post recommendations, read our latest articles, and more. It’s a great way to connect with people in a similar position to yourself, especially as current laws make in-person meetings difficult.
Meetup is another popular site. It describes itself as ‘a platform for finding and building local communities.’ You can sign up to join groups that match your personal interests and to see events in your local area. Traditionally, the site has been used to arrange in-person gatherings. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has now shifted its focus to promoting virtual events. Nonetheless, it remains a great way to connect with people, especially as it operates on a global scale.
Moving abroad should be an exciting experience that offers all sorts of opportunities. However, make sure you consider your emotional wellbeing, as well as the more practical side of settling in. However excited you are about starting your new life, don’t underestimate how big an impact loneliness and culture shock can have in those initial few months. Having familiar faces around you can make all the difference.
Even so, be careful not to alienate yourself with the locals. Expats sometimes give themselves a bad name when they enter a new country but fail to embrace its culture and way of life. When you establish your support network, don’t discriminate between ethnicities – it’s more important to find your kind of people than simply people of your nationality. Plus, locals can help you discover new areas, while offering you useful insights and advice. Don’t end up feeling like a foreigner in your own home. Stay connected with those around you, and seek help if you find yourself struggling. As with any new venture, you’re bound to experience highs and lows, but the better you prepare yourself, the smoother your journey will be (in this case, quite literally!).