El Inmigrante

Living abroad / Vivir en el extranjero

The ‘making of’ friends

13 Comments

(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!

Author: El Inmigrante

Born in Peru. Dreamt of the old continent. Currently living in Amsterdam. Do dreams come true? Nací en Perú. Soñé con el viejo continente. Ahora vivo en Ámsterdam. ¿Se vuelven realidad los sueños?

13 thoughts on “The ‘making of’ friends

  1. A great set of tips there! I’ve also been finding this hard…the main problem is that people’s lives are already so full – they have their partners, families, kids, jobs and friends who they are already struggling to make time for, there’s simply not enough room in their lives. It’s not impossible, certainly not, but it is hard, and it gets much harder as you get older.

    • Thanks for your comment!. Age is definitely a very important factor in making friends. When I just arrived to Europe, I was 25 years old. The first two years were easy to find people my age and hang out, after that, they all went their separate ways to start their adult lives. This left me again in search of company. The older I got, the harder it got to make friends with people my own age. But now I decide not to pay too much attention to the age factor, and just focus on the people who are willing to build a friendship, no matter how old they are. Most of my friends now are a bit younger than me, it keeps me young😉.

      • You’ve got a point there – you can’t draw up a list of predetermined parameters when you go about choosing your friends, that would be very limiting, and a bit stupid😉
        However, I find that, in general, I don’t have much in common with 25-yr old Spanish people who’ve never left their family home, and there are many of those (the economic crisis isn’t helping). I left my country when I was 19, and my set of life experiences diverges significantly from the local average. And I’m in my 40’s now, I should add. Ultimately, I need to get out of this small town and live in a larger city. That was always the plan, anyway. I’ll really miss the nice friends I’ve managed to make here, though. Can’t win😉

      • In an ideal situation, I would recommend everybody to move to a big city. Small towns are tough for expats/immigrants, in terms of social life. Yes, it’s true, you can’t win. Oh the expat life, it brings us so much joy but it also tears us apart. Having things in common with others is essential; it is harder to connect with other people if they don’t have similar experiences or don’t understand where you are coming from. But let’s keep an open mind, who knows what life has in store for us😉

  2. Hola, soy del blog http://www.comollegaraholanda.blogspot.com y como tu he emigrado a los Paises Bajos. Casualmente he llegado a tu blog y entre otras cosas he visto la foto que tienes del cochecillo tuneado con ojos de conejo. Podrias mandarmela si no te importa que la publique? Si te apetece puedes pasarte por mi blog, tengo uno en forma de tostadora. Saludos!

  3. Thank you for your invitation to this lovely blog. It’s the only bi-lingual blog I have ever seen, so thumbs up! I cannot highlight enough how important community is in making this new beginning. I have coached over 600 people who have move away from home, even within their own countries and community is a top factor to fight the feeling of loneliness. If it would interest you and the readers, visit this uplifting article and share. Lydia Evdoxiadi the Relocation Coach from Relocate Smart
    http://www.relocatesmart.co/relationships/entry/52-how-to-move-to-another-country-alone-and-never-feel-lonely

  4. Estoy de acuero con su lista! Perfecto🙂. Los nativos pude ser tough. Como anoche algunos me recharzaron pero otros me hablaron. Facebook is where it’s at too. I am in the processing of finding a library. Churches too are good. Me encanta su blog. Me ayuda con comprehension de espanol y aprender su experiencia en un otro pais.

    Chelsea

    • Hola Chelsea. Me alegra que el blog no solo te ayude con tu experiencia en otro país pero también con tu español😉. Sí, el proceso de hacer amigos en el extranjero es muy largo, pero no te rindas, hay que echarle ganas!

  5. Pingback: El arte de hacer amigos | El Inmigrante

  6. What wise words, thanks for finding and following my blog. It’s never easy being an extranjero, here in Spain we’ve found the best way is do everything local, including employing the local brickie, electrician etc, and not depend on the ex-pats who live further away [we do live in the middle of the countryside though!]. SD

    • Thank you for your comment. I am glad you like the post. Living abroad is definitely not an easy task, but here we are, pa’ delante, as I would say😉. Yes, it is a good idea to get in contact with the locals in every aspect, not just for the social life. It gives you an insight of their culture and customs and the perfect moment to practice the language. Suerte en el campo!

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