How to make friends in another country
I often ask clients and friends what the hardest thing is for them living away from home and they tell me it is making friends.
I wanted to back up this theory before writing about it so I did what every good researcher would do… I put the word out on social media.
I specifically asked women living abroad what their greatest challenges were, and sure enough, making friends and feeling part of a friendship group were top of the list.
So what is it about moving country that makes creating new friendships so damn hard?
- More often than not, the local people simply don’t need your friendship – think about it, how open were you to making entirely new friends when you were ‘back home’? You had your school friends, Uni friends (if you went to Uni), work friends and a few other randoms too. Chances are you were already probably quite busy socially and not necessarily looking to expand your friendship group! It is the same wherever you are living now. In many cases, the local peeps already have their friends.
- Making new friends is essentially like dating – you have to put yourself out there. You have to be willing to take risks and potentially go on some bad friendship ‘dates’ with a bunch of different people… to then find your new besties. And be willing to use the internet to find new friends… more on that later.
- International friends from other countries may well move on to someplace new… and you might feel lonely and suffer from some severe abandonment issues.
- Cultural differences – it is hard to understand the ‘friendship scene’ in another land, how do people ‘hang out’ where you live now? Do they ‘go for a coffee’? Do they go to each other’s house for dinner as a way of getting to know each other? That is too forward in some cultures… perhaps in the culture you are living in friendship is initiated by going for a walk in the park together. Without asking the locals, it is pretty confusing to find out the basics of how friendships work and what the social norms are, hence your friendship requests may well get rejected!
Ok, ok, we know it can be hard, so what can you do about it?
Some top tips on making friends
- Adopt an attitude of openness – you may well make a great friend in the supermarket, in the airport, at the gym, in the metro. Be open to making friends everywhere and always look to see the good in everyone. If you treat everyone as you would want to be treated and walk around smiling and engaging with people chances are you start to make connections with the people you interact with and those connections develop into friendships. If I think of my wonderful local friends here in Madrid, one I sat next to on a plane, one is my landlord, another is a connection through a former client and another is a friend of a friend… the list goes on, the point is stay open!
- Take the rough with the smooth – you might have some friendship hiccups. I have experienced a couple of instances of these both with local friends and international friends in Madrid and in Cape Town. I assumed friendships would always be loving and easy and yet people have different expectations of what they want and need from a friend. Some people felt that with my travelling for work 6 months every year, I wasn’t available enough to see them, fair point… I wasn’t going to change my work schedule for them, so we parted ways. And that’s OK, some of the friendships you make won’t last forever.
- Local vs. International friends – to be honest with you I assumed I would have more local friends than I do. I currently have a mix of both local and international friends. It depends on the openness of the people in the country you are currently living in and your willingness to ‘put yourself out there’ and build friendships with people and then of course there can be the case of a language barrier. More on the local vs. international friend debate in another blog post.
- Join classes in your local area – depending on what you are into join different classes in your neighbourhood. How about trying out yoga, dance, life drawing, drumming, joining a choir?! This is a great way to meet people with shared interests.
- Get online – this may sound odd for those of you who have not done the whole online dating thing (like myself!) but it is very possible to find friends online and then develop friendships with them in person. These are some of my favourite platforms through which I have met some wonderful people and formed some great friendships:
- Lean In: Lean In is a nonprofit organization and online community dedicated to helping all women achieve their ambitions. With monthly Lean In circles happening in many cities around the world, Lean In is an incredible source of inspiration, support and friendship. Search for a Lean In circle near you.
- MeetUp: MeetUp brings people together in thousands of cities to do more of what they want to do in life. Sign up and search for MeetUp groups according to your interests.
- Girl Gone International: Girl Gone International is a thriving, fast growing worldwide non-profit community of 140,000+ international women with local communities in over 130 cities. Join the GGI community in your city.
- Escape the City: Escape the City is a global community for anyone looking for more from work. They have meetings in many cities around the world and are a great place to meet interesting people and to get inspired.
- Put out the word out – mention on Facebook that you are moving to X or that you have moved there and ask if anyone knows anyone there that they can link you to. It is so great to be connected to friends of friends (be they local or international) they can really help show you the ropes of a new place and make you feel at home!
- If you get super homesick, seek out a restaurant or cafe from your home country and go hang out there once in awhile so you can experience a little slice of home.
What about you – any tips on how to make friends in another country? Any stories you would like to share? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
PS – If you would like to learn more about how to create more fulfilling friendships and to move from surface level to more deep and meaningful then you may be interested in reading section 4 of my free PDF guide: The Ultimate Guide to Thrive: 21 tips to help you to find your feet in a foreign land. Click on the opt in here.