El Inmigrante

Living abroad / Vivir en el extranjero


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Merry Merry Merry! / ¡Feliz Feliz Feliz!

English version

Dear all,

It’s been a while since I posted something on the blog. No, I haven’t forgotten about you!, but the craziness that December brings can be contagious, even when you do your best not to get caught up in it, it happens.

Since we all get mushy mushy during this time, I couldn’t resist to do so as well. That’s why, I want to thank you for all your likes, follows and comments. You have made this blog a special place for me!, and I hope we will be in touch next year.

I wish you all MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY HEALTHY YEAR no matter where you are, because home resides in our hearts and memories.

See you in 2014!

El Inmigrante

Versión en español

Queridos todos,

Ha pasado mucho tiempo desde que escribí algo en este blog. Y no es que me haya olvidado de ustedes, ¡jamás!, pero la locura que trae el mes de diciembre puede ser muy contagiosa, incluso cuando haces todo lo posible para no contraerla, simplemente es pegajosa.

Aprovechando que todos nos ponemos sentimentalones durante estas fechas, y yo no podía dejar de hacerlo tampoco, quería agradecerles a todos por sus ‘likes’, seguimiento y comentarios. Ustedes han hecho de este blog un espacio muy especial para mí, y espero que sigamos en contacto el próximo año.

¡Les deseo una FELIZ NAVIDAD y un PRÓSPERO AÑO NUEVO, LLENO DE SALUD Y ALEGRÍA!, sin importar la situación geográfica, porque el ‘hogar’ reside en nuestros corazones y recuerdos.

¡Nos vemos en 2014!

El Inmigrante

Merry Christmas / Feliz Navidad


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When the good ones leave us

(La versión en español estará disponible en los próximos días. Gracias por tu paciencia)

This was a difficult one to write…but here I go…

It has been a year of personal changes, a year of letting go; even so I did not want to, it was about time. During this process, that I am still going through, I have learnt a lot, and most importantly, I have finally seen all the good things around me. I have spent too much time complaining about everything and blaming others for my ‘bad luck’; my favorite one to blame was the country where I am currently living. But all this negative vibe is finally staying behind, and I hope to move forward to better and more positive things.

This year has brought me many blessing in terms of personal growth, but at the same time, it has taken things from me. Some of these things needed to be gone for a long time, like my pessimism about every little thing that has to do with The Netherlands as well as my lack of motivation of being an immigrant. I started to regret all the effort I put into staying in Europe. So the fact that this negativity is slowly making its way out makes me feel good. However, there is one thing that I wish I could get back.

On May 26th, my grandma passed away. It was something I had been expecting the last couple of years; not that I am a cold-hearted granddaughter, but I did the math and her health was not the best lately, so I assumed nature would take its course any time soon. Obviously, I did not want this to happen at all. This amazing woman had always been in my life and she ‘is’ my second mother. She raised me while my parents worked, she cooked for me when I was hungry, she gave me support and warmth whenever I needed, and she gave me a talent, the talent of knitting. I learnt how to knit from my grandmother when I was 6 years old; it was our special connection. Through the years, we developed our own routine, we would go to shops to buy wool, magazines and sticks for our knitting. She would guide me every time I got lost in certain patterns or stitches.

The day I received the news, I was not doing well myself, and it hit me hard, like a huge brick wall. The pain I felt penetrated my heart so fast and sank so deeply, giving me the hardest time to breathe properly. I started crying uncontrollably, and despair took all over me. All I wanted to do was run, but where? to Peru?. The worst feeling I had at that moment, beside the lost of my grandmother, was loneliness. I was all by myself when I read the news and I couldn’t find comfort in anybody, and even if there would have been somebody, that somebody would have not been my grandmother, the one who used to give me warmth and support (I do have to be fair to my partner, who took the day off after I told the news. He gave me all the support he could).

Being away from your family and friends is tough, and moments like this one makes that feeling even worse. Guilt invades you because you know you should be/have been there; you need to give and receive support from your love ones, and most of all, you need to say goodbye. But sadly, when you are abroad, that is not the case; you linger in your room with the last memory you had of that person that is now gone, and you try to hold on to their best moments. Some of us understand the powerlessness of not being able to go home or being with your family at that moment. Therefore, the grieving process cannot be done properly, and it is very probable that you still expect to see that person next time you visit your country. So what to do? How to grieve a love one while abroad?

My way to say goodbye to my grandmother from afar was to ask my mother to put a picture of me in her coffin. Since I wanted to be present at her funeral, but I could not, I felt the immense need to be there somehow. My picture was my way to say ‘Toti (that was her nickname), here I am, I will always be here with you’. I am not sure yet if my mother did it or not, I have to understand that she was also going through a hard time. Whether she did it or not, the idea gave me a bit of closure and inner peace. This is of course my very personal opinion and suggestion. But, if you ever find yourself in this situation and feel the need to do something else, I have found some other suggestions that could help you.

On this article, I found tips given by grief counselor Mertick, she suggests the following:

  • Keep in touch with other family members or friends to exchange stories. Secure something—anything, it doesn’t need to be a valuable item—that will remind you of the loved one who died. This object should represent what you remember about the relationship you shared.
  • Make a scrapbook of memories including poems, letters or pictures.
  • Search for therapy, if possible, or the help of a support group, just to let you know that your feelings are normal.
  • When you return on Home Leave, it’s important to visit the grave. If there isn’t one, go to a place that reminds you of the person lost. “This visiting will trigger grief,” she says, “but it’s also a way of creating a conclusion.”

Whether this helps you or not, one thing is clear: when the good and love ones leave us, we are left with an emptiness in our hearts that will probably never be filled again; all we can do is keep the great memories and teachings they left us. Celebrate their lives with a smile and light a candle for them. Share your stories with them to anyone interested, once you try, you will realize that there are people willing to listen to you and your memories. There is always somebody, even here, I am willing to listen to you.

In the meantime, do not waste time, call the ones that are still wandering this world. Send them an e-mail, a text, make a call, anything. Let them know that you are thinking about them.

Grandma in her 20s

Grandma in her 20s

Her spirit was unbreakable; she went through a lot in her life, but she always had a smile for you and laughed loudly, like there was no tomorrow. The moment you least expected, she would make a sarcastic comment that would make you laugh nonstop. All her grandchildren called her ‘Toti’ o ‘La Toti’, a nickname given by my brother when he was 2 years old….we still don’t know why or what it means. Her favorite quote was ‘Not everything in life has to be good, because otherwise, it wouldn’t be life.’

R.I.P., Toti


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The Guest House / La Casa de Huéspedes – Jelaluddin Rumi

(ver versión en español a continuación)

CC Image courtesy of Łukasz Strachanowski on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Łukasz Strachanowski on Flickr

Living abroad brings a lot of emotions that sometimes can be unpleasant. We fight against them, we don’t want to accept them. The more we fight, the stronger they get.

When I find myself full with unpleasant emotions, like anger, resentment, homesickness, etc., I usually turn to this poem. I have realized that, instead of rejecting these emotions, I need to welcome them, no matter their shape, their color or their intensity. This poem teaches me to be patient and open to what comes my way. And I say ‘teaches’ in the present tense, because I haven’t accepted all my emotions yet, and that is why I like to keep this poem close to me and use it every time is needed.

I hope you like it and find some truth in it. Have a great a week!

***

Vivir en el extranjero puede producir muchas emociones que algunas veces no son para nada placenteras. Luchamos contra ellas, no las aceptamos. El problema es que mientras más luchamos, más intensas se vuelven.

Cuando me siento llena de emociones desagradables, como cólera, ira, resentimiento, nostalgia, etc., normalmente leo este poema. Me he dado cuenta que, en vez de rechazar estas emociones, debo darles la bienvenida sin importar su forma, color o intensidad. Este poema me enseña a ser paciente y abierta a lo que se presente en mi camino. Y digo ‘me enseña’ en tiempo presente, porque aún no he aceptado todas mis emociones. Es por eso que me gusta mantener este poema a mi alcance para leerlo cada vez que sea necesario.

Espero te guste y encuentres algo de verdad en él. ¡Que tengas una buena semana!

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

LA CASA DE HUÉSPEDES 

Esto de ser un ser humano

es como administrar una casa de huéspedes.

Cada día una nueva visita, una alegría, una tristeza,
una decepción, una maldad,
alguna felicidad momentánea
que llega como un visitante inesperado.

Dales la bienvenida y acógelos a todos ellos,
incluso si son un grupo penoso
que desvalija completamente tu casa.
Trata a cada huésped honorablemente pues
podría estar haciendo espacio para una nueva delicia.
El pensamiento oscuro, lo vergonzante, lo malvado,
recíbelos en tu puerta sonriendo e invítalos a entrar.
Agradece a todos los que vengan
pues se puede decir de ellos que han sido enviados
como guias del mas allá.

– Jelaluddin Rumi


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El arte de hacer amigos

(See English version here)

Hacer amigos en el extranjero: otro desafío en nuestra lista de cosas por hacer.

A veces nos preguntamos cuándo se va a acabar todo esto, pfff…otro desafío más que tengo que vencer para comenzar una nueva vida…Sí, lo sé, la lista puede ser muy larga, e incluso interminable, pero se pone mejor… con el tiempo.

¿Cómo que 'todavía hay más por hacer'? - CC Imagen cortesía de Kemal Y.

¿Cómo que ‘todavía hay más por hacer’? – CC Imagen cortesía de Kemal Y.

Para los recién llegados vivir en el extranjero puede ser una experiencia muy solitaria al comienzo; eres el nuevo chico/a en la escuela y nadie está realmente interesado en ti, a menos que hagas un esfuerzo para que los otros niños te presten atención. Para aquellos expatriados o inmigrantes que son extrovertidos, este desafío es muy fácil (pan comido, papayita, un mamey, está tirado – en fin, como lo digan en tu país), ya que ellos pueden entablar una conversación con alguien en el parque o proponer una salida con sus nuevos compañeros de trabajo, y a partir de eso comenzar nuevas amistades. Sin embargo, por otro lado, tenemos a los tímidos, que les cuesta mucho romper el hielo con otros en el trabajo o en algún curso que estén tomando. En resumen, no importa qué tipo de persona eres, el hacer amigos en el extranjero requiere esfuerzo, paciencia y muchos intentos.

Últimamente he estado leyendo los consejos de otros expatriados sobre cómo hacer amigos en el extranjero y he encontrado todo tipo de opiniones; las que basurean/hablan muy mal de la simpatía y amabilidad del país en el que viven, las super optimistas que te aconsejan hablarle a cualquier extraño en la calle y las sarcásticas e hilarantes, como esta (solo disponible en inglés), que sugieren tener mucha paciencia y aceptación de la nueva cultura. De todas estas opiniones, me quedo con la última.

Primero que nada tengo que confesar que por varios años fui parte del grupo que basureaba/hablaba mal de la simpatía del país anfitrión. Vivo en un país que es considerado por muchos como muy amable y abierto a todas las nacionalidades y culturas. Es por eso que cuando llegué a Holanda solo esperaba lo mejor de este país. Entonces, ¿que pasó cuando me sentí excluida y sin amigos? – Bueno, creé un monstruo en mi cabeza y me rehusé a hacerme amiga de este país. Y es allí cuando todo empezó a andar mal.

Cuando le conté a mis amigos y familia que me iba a Holanda, solo escuché cumplidos sobre los holandeses; todos me decían que los holandeses eran muy relajados, que hablaban muy bien el inglés y que eran muy liberales y abiertos a casi todo. Con todas estas referencias me sentí muy segura sobre mi nueva aventura; no hubo ni un segundo en el que dude de mi decisión.

Los primeros meses en Holanda tuve la oportunidad de confirmar todos los cumplidos que había escuchado, los holandeses eran de verdad muy amables y siempre tenían curiosidad sobre quién era yo. La gente en la calle me sonreía o me saludaba muy cordialmente, me sentía bienvenida. Hasta hubo un momento que me atreví a pensar que mi experiencia en Holanda iba a ser aún mejor que la que tuve en Inglaterra, pero probablemente ya se habrán dado cuenta que solo era mi etapa de ‘luna de miel‘.

Después de pasar esta etapa, me encontré rodeada de conocidos, pero no de amigos, no estaba preocupada por eso…aún. Me senté en una silla, miré el reloj y esperé a que los buenos amigos aparecieran. Por supuesto que me quedé sentada allí por mucho tiempo. No pasaba nada; la gente seguía sonriéndome, pero yo no estaba haciendo ningún amigo; la gente seguía preguntándome qué estaba haciendo en su país y si alguna vez había estado en Machu Picchu, pero nadie me invitaba a su casa. ‘¿Qué estaba pasando?’ – me pregunté.

El hecho es que yo tenía la suposición incorrecta de cómo hacer amigos. Un tiempo después aprendí que hacer amigos en el extranjero no se da de la misma manera que en tu país; es importante conocer la cultura y las costumbres del país anfitrión con el fin de conocer a los lugareños y sus reglas sociales, nunca esperes que ellos adopten las tuyas. Además de mi ignorancia, en realidad nunca había aprendido a hacer amigos en mi propio país, cosa que me di cuenta una vez viviendo aquí. Mi primera mejor amiga en Perú fue la que tomó la iniciativa. En mi primer día de clases de la escuela primaria, fue ella quien me invitó a sentarme a su lado; si ella nunca lo hubiera hecho, quizá ahora no tendría ningún amigo. Le estoy muy agradecida por eso. No obstante, no esperes que otros tomen la iniciativa, porque no llegarás muy lejos con esa actitud. Cuando se trata de hacer amigos en el extranjero es necesario empezar desde cero.

Hacer amigos es importante, hacer amigos en el extranjero aún más; todos necesitamos un sistema de apoyo. En un país nuevo ya no tienes a tu familia ni a tus amigos, al menos no físicamente, es por eso que es bueno tener a alguien con quien contar para tener una experiencia más agradable en el extranjero. Bueno entonces, ¿cuál es el secreto?, ¿cuál es la fórmula? – No creo que nadie la tenga. Tampoco creo que haya 5 consejos milagrosos para hacer amigos en el extranjero; todos somos diferentes, y lo que puede funcionar para mí, no necesariamente tiene que ser para ti. Sobre este tema solo puedo ofrecerte mi experiencia y consejos, los cuales espero encuentres útiles.

Existen muchas maneras de conocer gente y hacer amigos en el extranjero, esto no quiere decir que tengas que aplicar todas, pero no pierdes nada si al menos aplicas una:

- Utiliza Facebook u otro medio social como tu punto de partida. En mis tiempos (2006), Facebook aún no era el gran éxito que es ahora, así que no había grupos como Expats in Amsterdam, Meetup, etc. La tarea de hacer amigos era un desafío un poco más grande. Hoy en día es mucho más fácil; a través de los medios sociales podrás buscar a expatriados en tu zona o gente que comparta gustos e intereses similares, pero no solo únete al grupo, ¡participa!. Puedes presentarte en el grupo y explicar que eres nuevo/a en el país/la ciudad y que estás en busca de nuevos amigos, reuniones de expatriados, etc. Vas a ver que la gente reaccionará a tu post.

Tener una lista de las cualidades de tu futuro mejor amigo solo reducirá tus posibilidades – CC Imagen cortesía de e3Learning

Tener una lista de las cualidades de tu futuro mejor amigo solo reducirá tus posibilidades – CC Imagen cortesía de e3Learning

- No trates de recrear tu pasado en este nuevo escenario. En algún momento de mi experiencia como inmigrante busqué gente que se pareciera a mis amigos de Perú, no físicamente pero con la misma personalidad. Lo hice inconscientemente. Es solo ahora que me doy cuenta del porqué de mi fracaso al hacer amigos. Es necesario, es más, obligatorio ser abierto/a a todo tipo de persona que se cruza en nuestro camino. No juzgues hasta que hayas pasado cierto tiempo con ese nuevo conocido, dale la oportunidad para que te demuestre el tipo de persona que es. En mi mente solía tener una lista con todas las cualidades que mis nuevos amigos deberían tener, y eso redució mis probabilidades de conocer gente. Perdí la oportunidad de conocer a muchas personas.

Reúnete con tus compatriotas – CC Imagen cortesía de Juanky Alvarez

Reúnete con tus compatriotas – CC Imagen cortesía de Juanky Alvarez

- Busca a gente de tu propio país. Quizá esto pueda ser un primer paso; es más fácil y cómodo, no hay necesidad de aprender otro idioma y puede ofrecerte la sensación de estar en casa. En mi opinión creo que esta no es una mala opción, pero no debería ser la única. Cuando solo pasas tiempo con tu ‘gente’, podrías aislarte de la cultura en la que vives y podrías terminar en un círculo vicioso, donde solo te reúnes para quejarte del país anfitrión. ¡Así que procede con cautela!.

Crea tu propio grupo en Facebook – CC Imagen cortesía de Alan Levine

Crea tu propio grupo en Facebook – CC Imagen cortesía de Alan Levine

- ‘Vivo en un pueblo pequeño y no hay ningún grupo de expatriados. ¿Qué puedo hacer?.’ ¡Crea uno tu mismo/a!. Sé que esto puede sonar un poco aterrador, pero si lo que estás buscando, no lo encuentras, entonces créalo. Promueve el grupo que se ajuste a tus deseos, estoy segura de que hay al menos una persona en casa esperando este tipo de grupo. Busca, busca y busca, porque encontrarás. Puedes utilizar Facebook o Meetup, u otro medio social.

Actividades en las bibliotecas públicas – CC Imagen cortesía de Amanda Hamilton

Actividades en las bibliotecas públicas – CC Imagen cortesía de Amanda Hamilton

- Si no eres hincha de los medios sociales, no hay problema. ¡Sal de casa y toma un poco de aire fresco!. En las bibliotecas públicas encontrarás diferentes actividades que ofrecen el momento ideal para conocer a otras personas. Además, si estás asistiendo a algún curso de idiomas u otro tipo de clases, invita a algún compañero a tomar un café. No lo pienses mucho, solo hazlo. ¿Qué es lo peor que podría pasar? – Que te rechace. Bueno, a nadie le gusta ser rechazado, pero al menos no estarás todo el tiempo preguntándote si ese compañero habría aceptado tu invitación. Recuerda: el proceso de hacer amigos en el extranjero toma tiempo y requiere muchos intentos. Si fallas la primera vez, inténtalo otra vez hasta que tengas éxito.

CC Imagen cortesía de HOBY NYE

CC Imagen cortesía de HOBY NYE

- ¿Tienes un gran corazón?. Ofrécete como voluntario. Puedes visitar el centro vecinal/ayuntamiento/municipalidad o Internet para informarte sobre los lugares y/o actividades que necesitan de tu ayuda. Esto no solo te hará sentirte bien pero puede ser una oportunidad para encontrar a un nuevo amigo.

Periódico local – CC Imagen cortesía de Matt Callow

Periódico local – CC Imagen cortesía de Matt Callow

- Los periódicos locales también pueden mantenerte al tanto de lo que pasa a tu alrededor. Aquí podrás encontrar las principales actividades sociales. Si participas en al menos una, estoy segura de que conocerás a excelentes personas que viven muy cerca de ti.

CC Imagen cortesía de through a pin-hole

CC Imagen cortesía de through a pin-hole

- ‘¿Y qué pasa con los holandeses (o cualquiera sea el país donde vives)?. También me gustaría hacerme amigos de ellos.’ – Durante estos años de inmigrante he visto que los holandeses pueden ser un público difícil (pero a veces me pregunto si yo me comportaría como ellos en mi propio país). Las primeras veces que intenté hacerme amiga de ellos fueron una desilusión y sentí que no estaban interesados para nada en ser mis amigos. Me quedé con la sensación de ‘Lo siento, pero mi círculo social ya está lleno. Gracias por su solicitud. Le deseo todo lo mejor.’. Sí, eso me dolió e inmediatamente me rendí, lo cual fue una mala decisión. Después de estos intentos de mi parte, decidí poner a todos los holandeses en la misma categoría: ‘antipáticos’. Conforme el tiempo fue pasando, la imagen que tenía de los holandeses fue de mal en peor, y solo salía con otros inmigrantes. El resultado fue que los únicos amigos holandeses que tenía eran los amigos y la familia de mi pareja, que son excelentes personas, pero no son míos. Es una pena, porque sé que hay holandeses allá fuera que estarían muy felices de ser mis amigos. ‘Pero, ¿dónde encontrarlos?’ – No pierdas tiempo en saber dónde encontrarlos o cómo hacerte amigos de ellos, ni tampoco en ninguna opinión negativa sobre qué tan antipáticos pueden ser, mantén una mente abierta, hazte amigo/a de aquellos que sí están disponibles, sin importar de dónde provengan. Y lo más importante: ¡cultiva la paciencia y la tolerancia!.

Todos estos consejos están basados en mi propia experiencia y en lo que he visto durante estos años en el extranjero. Los recién llegados pueden aplicar estos consejos a su nueva vida, pero también los veteranos; nunca es tarde para comenzar nuevas amistades. Aprende de mis errores. Yo he aplicado estos consejos recientemente, y ahora que lo he hecho me doy cuenta de toda la energía que hubiera ahorrado si hubiera seguido al menos uno de ellos. También puedo ver que mi camino estuvo lleno de frustraciones y desilusiones. Si hubiera sido más abierta y menos crítica, hubiera sido más feliz. Sin embargo, aquí estoy, he empezado a seguir estos consejos yo misma y los resultados son muy buenos. Puse mi negatividad de lado y empecé un nuevo capítulo en mi vida.

Si tienes más consejos sobre cómo hacer amigos en el extranjero, me encantaría escucharlos. ¡Compartamos historias!


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Otoño / Autumn

(see English version below)

Solo para decir que…

Detesto el verano en Holanda…uy, creo que soné bastante negativa, pero no importa, porque cuando llega el otoño cualquier desilusión veraniega se desvanece y me vuelvo a enamorar del viejo continente.

Este es mi séptimo año en Europa y antes de esta aventura, jamás había experimentado estos colores. Cada árbol tiene una combinación única. Hasta hace algunos años solo había visto tal paleta de colores en postales, tarjetas y películas. Hoy me enamoré otra vez y me siento como en casa. Otoño, me tienes a tus pies.

IMG_20131017_133101 IMG_20131020_152459 IMG_20131022_162344

Autumn

I just want to say that…

I hate summers in the Netherlands…ouch!, I think I sounded a bit harsh right there, but it’s O.K., because when autumn arrives, any summer disillusion fades away, and I fall in love with the old continent all over again.

This is my seventh year in Europe and before this adventure, I had never experienced these colors. Each tree has a unique combination. Before, I had only seen such a palette of colors in postcards, greeting cards and movies. Today, I fell in love again and it feels like home. Autumn, I am all yours. 


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The ‘making of’ friends

(La versión en español estará disponible pronto. Gracias por tu paciencia.)

Making friends abroad: another challenge in our to-do list

Sometimes you wonder when it is going to get easy, pfff…another thing I need to do in order to start my new life…Yes, I know, the list can be quite long, and even endless, but it will get better… eventually.

What do you mean with 'there is more to do' ?? - CC Image courtesy of Kemal Y.

What do you mean with ‘there is more to do’? – CC Image courtesy of Kemal Y.

For newcomers, living abroad can be a very lonely experience at the beginning. You are the new kid at school and nobody is really interested in you, unless you make an effort to be noticed. For some outgoing expats/immigrants, this part of living abroad can be a piece of cake; they can strike up a conversation with someone at a park or propose a night out with their new colleagues, and from there, they start new friendships. On the other hand, we have the shy ones, who struggle to break the ice during their new language course or at work. All in all, no matter which type of person you are, making friends abroad requires effort, patience and lots of try-outs.

Lately, I have been reading other expats’ tips on how to make friends. I have found all sorts of opinions; the one that trashes the country’s friendliness, the ultra-optimistic post that advices you to go out and talk to any stranger on the streets and the sarcastic and hilarious one, like this, that suggests lots of patience and acceptance of the culture. From all these opinions, I agree more with the last one.

I have to confess that for many years I was part of the group that trashes the country’s friendliness. I live in a country that is considered to be very friendly and open to all nationalities and cultures. Therefore, I came to the Netherlands expecting the best. So, what happened after I felt left out and with almost no friends? – I created a big monster in my head and I refused to make friends with this country. And that was when everything went wrong.

When I told people I was moving to the Netherlands, I could only hear great things about Dutch people. Everybody told me that they were very laid-back, spoke English fluently and were very liberal and open to almost everything. With all these references, I felt very confident about starting my new adventure; not once, I had a single doubt about my decision to come here. In the first few months in the Netherlands, I confirmed that people were very friendly, and always curious about me. Strangers would smile at me or greet me very courteously, I felt welcomed. At some point, I even dared to think that my experience in the Netherlands would be greater than the one I had in England. But as you probably know by now, it was just another honeymoon stage.

After this stage was over, I had some acquaintances, but no friends, I wasn’t worried…yet. I sat on my chair, looked at the clock, and waited for good friends to appear. Of course, I sat there for a really long time. Nothing was really happening; people kept smiling at me, but I wasn’t making any close friends. People kept asking me what I was doing in their country and if I had ever been to Machu Picchu, but nobody was inviting me to their homes. ‘What was going on?’, I wondered.

The fact is that I had the wrong assumptions about making friends. I learned later that you don’t make friends abroad the same way you do in your country; it’s very important to know your host country’s culture and customs in order to know the locals and how their social rules work, don’t expect them to adopt your rules. In addition to my ignorance, I had never learnt to make friends in my own country, and I didn’t realize that until I lived here. My first best friend in Peru was the one who made the first move. On my first day at primary school, she was the one who invited me to sit next to her; if she wouldn’t have, I would probably have no friends now. I am very grateful to her for that move!. However, expecting that others do the move won’t take you very far, you need to start from scratch and work on your friendships.

Making friends is important, making friends abroad is even more important, because everybody needs a support system. You no longer have your family and friends around you, so having someone to count on would make living abroad a bit easier and more pleasant, too. Then, what is the secret? what is the formula? – I don’t think anybody really has the answer. I don’t believe there are 5 miraculous tips to make friends abroad; we are all different individuals, and what it may work for me, it doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. I can only provide my experience and advice, which would hopefully help you a little bit.

There are many ways to find people and make friends abroad, that doesn’t mean you need to do all of them, but it won’t hurt if you try at least one:

CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

- Use Facebook or any other social media as your starting point. In my times (2006), Facebook was not the great monster that is now, so there were no Meetup groups, Expats in Amsterdam, etc. The task of making friends was a bigger challenge. These days, it is much easier. Through social media you can look for expats in your area or for people who share similar interests, but don’t just join the group, participate!. You can introduce yourself and explain that you are new in town and looking for friends, social gatherings, etc. People will definitely reply to it.

Check lists will only narrow your experience - CC Image courtesy of e3Learning

Check lists will only narrow your experience – CC Image courtesy of e3Learning

- Don’t recreate your past at your new home. At some point in my experience as an immigrant, I found myself looking for people who would resemble my friends from Peru, not physically but in terms of personality. I did this unconsciously. Only now is that I realize why it was so hard for me to find people I liked. It is necessary, and even mandatory, to be open to all kinds of people. Don’t judge anybody until you have spent some quality time with that new acquaintance, give them a chance to show you what type of people they are. I had a check list in mind about the qualities that my new friends should have, and this narrowed my chances to meet people. I missed the opportunity to learn from others.

Get together with you connationals - CC Image courtesy of Juanky Alvarez

Get together with your connationals – CC Image courtesy of Juanky Alvarez

- Look for people from your own country as well. This could be easier and very comfortable; no need to learn a new language and it provides you with a sense of home. In my opinion, this is not a bad option, but it shouldn’t be the only one. When you only hang out with your ‘people’, it could isolate you from the culture you are living in and you may end up in a vicious circle, where you only gather to complain about your host country. So proceed with caution!.

Create your own expat/immigrant group - CC Image courtesy of Alan Levine

Create your own expat/immigrant group – CC Image courtesy of Alan Levine

- ‘I live in a small town and there isn’t an expat group for me. What can I do?’ – Start one yourself!. I know this sounds very frightening, but if what you are looking for doesn’t exist, you should create it. Promote the group that you want to have, there is at least one person out there sitting at home and waiting for that group to be created. Search, search, search, and you will find what you are looking for. You can use Facebook or Meetup, or any other social media you like.

There is always something going on at your public library - Image courtesy of Amanda Hamilton

There is always something going on at your public library – Image courtesy of Amanda Hamilton

- Not a big fan of social media? Well, get out of the house, take some fresh air!. At public libraries, there are usually different activities that you can take part of. These activities could be the perfect moment to meet other people. Also, if you are attending a language course or any other type of class, invite a classmate for a cup of coffee. Don’t think too much about it, just ask. What’s the worst it could happen? – Rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected, but at least you will stop wondering if that person would have that coffee with you. Remember: the process of making friends abroad is like try-outs: if you fail once, you keep going until you succeed!.

You never know where you will find your next best friend - Image courtesy of HOBY NYE

You never know where you will find your next best friend – Image courtesy of HOBY NYE

- Do you have a big heart? – Volunteer. You can go to your neighborhood center/city hall or search on the Internet to find information about places that need your help. This would not only make you feel good but you may find a great new friend.

Local newspapers are a good source of information - CC Image courtesy of Matt Callow

Local newspapers are a good source of information – CC Image courtesy of Matt Callow

-Local newspapers can also keep you updated about what it is going on around you. They list the main social activities; if you attend at least one, I am sure you will be surprised to know the great people that live around you.

Oh the Dutchies... - CC Image courtesy of through a pin-holeOh the Dutchies… – CC Image courtesy of through a pin-hole

- ‘But what about the locals?. I also want to make friends with them’- In my own experience, I have seen that Dutch people can be a tough crowd (but then I wonder if I would behave like them in my own country). The first times I attempted to have a real connection with them, it was disappointing and I felt they were not interested in making friends with me. I was left with the feeling of ‘Sorry, but my social circle is already full. Thank you for applying. We wish you all the best’. Yes, that hurt and I gave up immediately, which was a very bad decision. After these attempts, I decided to put all the Dutchies in the same category: ‘not friendly at all’. With the time, my image of Dutch people got worse and worse, and I only made friends with other immigrants. The result was that my only Dutch friends were my partner’s friends and family, who are great but not mine. It is a shame, because I know there are amazing Dutch people out there who would be more than happy to be my friends. ‘But where to find them?’ – Do not waste your time on thoughts about where to find them or how to make friends with them, or on any negative opinion about how unfriendly they can be, just keep an open mind, be friends with the people that are already there for you, no matter where they come from. And most important: cultivate patience and tolerance!.

All these tips are based on my own experience and what I have seen during these years abroad. Newcomers can apply them, but the old ones as well; it is never too late to start new friendships. Learn from my mistakes!. I didn’t do any of these things until recent years, and now that I have done them, I realize how much energy I would have saved if I would have followed at least one of them. I can also see now that my path was full of frustrations and disappointments, and if I would have been more open and less critical, I would have been happier. Nevertheless, here I am, I have started following all these tips myself and the results are good!. I put my negativity aside and I have started a new chapter in my life.

If you have more tips about making friends abroad, I would be very happy to hear them. Let’s share stories!


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Integration in your partner’s country

Today I have a special guest: career and personal coach Lola Hernández, who lives in Munich. She provides support to expats and their family members during their integration process. In addition, she gives workshops and lectures about Emotional Intelligence, Time Management and a variety of topics related to Personal Development. Lola was very kind to share her post in my blog, and for that I am very grateful: ¡Muchas gracias!.

In her post, she wrote about the challenges of integrating in your partner’s country/culture. I found this post very interesting and positive, and I hope you find it useful and share your opinions and experiences (how were your first encounters in the new country?, what challenges/difficulties did you find at the beginning of the integration process?, how did you overcome them?, what positive results/experiences did you get from all this?, etc.).

For more information about Lola Hernandez, please visit her blog at http://www.lolahernandezcoaching.wordpress.com (only available in Spanish).

 

Integration in your partner’s country

By Lola Hernandez

Translated by El Inmigrante 

Many of us live in another country because of our partner. When you land in a country that is not yours, there is a long list of challenges waiting for you, like learning another language (not an easy job!), making friends from scratch and finding a job, which is something hard to do if you already have to deal with the first two challenges. To add more to the list, you also have to look for a place to live, a school for your children, social activities, etc…and let’s face it, time is not always your friend. Therefore, things can get complicated and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed.

In this transition, we also have to consider that when the social, economical and emotional conditions of living with your partner change, your self-esteem very often weakens and you experience a kind of “inferiority complex”, and suddenly you feel less than others.

The good news is that when you go through an experience like this, and you try your best and work very hard, you have a wonderful opportunity to experience real personal growth. You put your skills to test, discover hidden talents and recover forgotten resources that you had in you.

In your new country, you have the chance to put aside some aspects of you that were not working anymore and you can start a new life with new habits, new ways to do things and a new history. For example, if you were about to settle in your country, now you have the option to get out of your comfort zone and expand your possibilities of action. Maybe in your country, you had a job that didn’t satisfy you anymore, now you have a range of possibilities and options, that you might have not even considered while living in your own country.

In a recent workshop, Katia Pinal talked about bicultural couples. She said that when you leave your culture and you enter a different one, you can see both cultures as an outsider and choose the aspects of each culture that would fit you better. It takes time to practice this outsider’s view and it is a luxury; people who have never left their country don’t have this opportunity. So, you are a very lucky person!

You also need to see that you have a good situation waiting for you; you will develop your capacity to receive support and to delegate things that you used to, and do things you have never done before. All this is great, because you can put your skills, your competences and your employability into practice; you never know when you would use these tools in this very unpredictable life. So, if you were not used to ask for help or you found it difficult, now it is the time to polish this skill.

Warning: don’t rest on your laurels!…enjoy the support from others but don’t lose sight of your goals: prepare yourself and work on getting your autonomy and independence back in every aspect of your life.

If you would like to work on any aspect of your integration, you can always call me.

Successful integration – CC Image Courtesy of Daniela Hartmann in Flickr

Successful integration – CC Image Courtesy of Daniela Hartmann in Flickr

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