Truth! You cannot do this alone. Who do I turn to? People barely speak English and look at me funny. I also have two littles in tow. What do I do with them? Where can I take them? The first couple of months are dealing with one connundrum after another. But now, the internet is hooked up. Our new mailing system is sorted. And I even purchased a washer and dryer in a weird game of charades and broken English with my crazy, tiny shadows in tow. I may also have a Post-It plastered to each machine so I know what the settings are, but...nevertheless, I did it!
Now, who can I hang out with? How do I find these people? I know they exist. I know other expats lurk in our town. I just know it!
Pictures are hung, clothes are washing, kids have a favorite playground, and I'm slowly acclimating to living without AC. Now what? I recharge through alone time, but I am my happiest surrounded by people. But how do I meet the people? People I can relate to, can commiserate with over the crazy recycling system. I need these commonalities. I know these people exist. But WHERE to start??
Here are the TOP FIVE resources you must tap into-
Even if you are a self-proclaimed introvert, you need people! Expat life is severely lonely without people to share it with. Human beings weren't created to live life solo...in a cave. Or desert island. Remember, Tom Hanks on Castaway? Because that's what moving to a new country where you don't speak the language feels like. Don't be like Tom Hanks. Get out and share this experience with others. One of the most beautiful things about life abroad is the friendships made. Sure- you'll have life-long buddies from back home and supportive family, but you NEED people who understand your current chaos.
Without further adieu, here is what WILL work for you!
1.) Previous Life Interests-
First, did you used to hit up a Tuesday evening yoga session? Women's group at your local church? Volunteer at an animal shelter? Cool. Awesome. Amazing! Get back to it. Get on ye 'ol Google, find these spots, and jump in! I know it sounds scary, but I promise there will be other expats. Other people in your same boat looking to commiserate and experience this new life with. If by slim chance there isn't, at least you will meet locals you can jive with- that will perk your ears and spread a smile across your face. Tickling your spirit with something that made you come alive from your previous life will make your soul sigh a DEEP relief.
I know. I know. I can feel the eye rolls. But can I tell you something? Pretty much every city has an expat group for the locals, especially the women. Because hello... most of us females love to connect, and social media is a great place to start in a new city. Singapore was our first international move, and I would have been incredibly bumfuzzled without the expat groups there. From finding a great aircon repairman, to "do I need a car?", or where is the best place to buy...? These Facebook groups SAVED me. Truthfully. When you move somewhere with no friends and have zero idea where to start...lean into the Internet and those who have blazed the trail before you.
Second, if you have a FB account, go to the search bar at the top and type in the name of your new city and "expat." I guarantee something will pop up. Even if you don't feel brazen enough to ask questions, then search through the group for answers to your concern. I also guarantee someone in the group has already bubbled up a few options to squash your worries. It's THE best! Now, you can also look into global expat groups to source emotional comfort - such as "Two Fat Expats" and "Grumpy Expats."
To dig deeper, join the local expat groups for book club, wine night, day hikes, mommy meet-ups, etc. Such a fun way to meet other people walking in your shoes. And remember, they are just as vulnerable and intimidated as you are going into this. Remember when your momma said the spider is just as afraid of you as you are of it?? Expats are the same way, and that's A-OKAY. Lean into it!
3.) Be Mister Rodgers- Get out and meet your neighbors!
This may make your anxiety soar, but I promise comfort is on the way if you follow through. We lived in a condo complex in Singapore, similar to an all-inclusive resort... minus a poolside bartender serving up little umbrella cocktails. That being said, it was difficult to go door-to-door. So I made myself available and well-known at the playground and pools inside our complex.
Third, If you have kids, use them! They are a game changer. Notice your kid playing with another kid. Casually ask the parent where they are from. This small gesture of effort will open Pandora's box to a plethora of other Q&As. This is also how I found my very best friends while living in Singapore. About 8-10 women in my complex created a WhatsApp group, and they ultimately became my refuge for everything. I would turn to them for advice instead of the online expat groups. We had playdates, dinners, vacations, and even birthed babies a few weeks apart. Our husbands even started a regular poker night. It was nothing short of amazing.
Living in Germany has been a completely different story. We now live in a tiny village instead of a tropical resort complex with an array of amenities for entertainment. A full 180 from the big city life. It's laughable. Once we moved into our house on a cul-de-sac, I took a massive breath and knocked on doors. Taking a baked goodie will lighten the mood but not necessary - just the southerner in me 🙂 There are six houses on our street, and I would soon find out we were the only outliers. Everyone else was born, raised, and deeply rooted in our community. But those brief introductions made insta-friends for my kids. And it's always nice to see a smile or friendly hello when rolling your trashcan to the curb. Also nice to know who is nearby in case of emergency. With them being local, they can also point you in the right direction of many many things.
Next, remember my example of how I met my good pals in Singapore? Well, similar here except it's more physical effort. We have to drive, walk, or bike to the closest ones. The good/bad? You are meeting people in your community. They might not conveniently live next door, but it will quicken your settling phase. Getting to know others who live a street over or across town will create a deeper sense of peace and belonging to your new area.
5.) Partner's Work-
Lastly... if all else fails, express your concern to your significant other. See if they have stirred up decent friendships at work, and if they would be interested in a meet up. This has the potential for a slew of possibilities. Family park date, hire a babysitter for a proper double date, or heck...invite them over to your house for a Saturday afternoon cookout.
And that picture at the top? It means the absolute world to me. A couple more valuable faces were peppered into the bunch later on, but these ladies helped me survive my first international move. We blended New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Panama, Belgium, France, and myself from the US. This treasured picture was taken two months into our move. We maneuvered it all and learned to accept each others' cultures, accents, challenges, and families. Only two remain in Singapore, as the expat life swirls on!
BONUS: Once you start making a few connections and have an invite here and there...always say YES! Some folks have an extremely tight circle, and others love to mix and mingle. We've made some of our very best friends by last minute saying, "sure, we'll pop by." You never knew who will be there. Their story. Family lives. Career paths. Your world can align with someone in the right time and place, and it can be life-changing. You will meet people and find friends in some of the most unexpected places. If you don't drink and get invited to happy hour, still make an effort to stop by. Have a ginger ale and share a story. Shake a hand. You never know where you'll meet that person. The one who will save you from yourself and this expat life.