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Social Network

Now that I have a plan
for tackling the practical aspects of building a support network, how do I deal
with the social aspect of it?
One of the qualities I
admire in people who move every few years is their ability – and willingness –
to start over every time. To manage the daunting logistics of a move and to
build a support network over and over again, but especially to create a new circle
of friends, usually from scratch. For me that is the hardest part – not only making
it happen, but also accepting the reality of it.
I have many friends who
believe that every move is a sensational opportunity to meet new, interesting people.
You end up with friends in every corner of the globe – and that is a blessing.
I agree with that. It is indeed a great feeling to see familiar faces
everywhere you travel. Whenever we go back to Boston, Paris or LA – our
previous homes – we will always have a place to stay and dear friends to visit. Having
the opportunity to catch up with friends in places as diverse as Kuala Lumpur, Washington
D.C., Helsinki, Mexico City or Sao Paolo (among others) is kind of cool, I must
admit.
On the other hand, I
miss those people very much and every time I leave them, I regret that we are not
living in the same city. I believe that I am relatively good at maintaining
long-distance friendships, but that does not mean that I’m enjoying having my
loved ones so far away. I like being able to call up a friend when I’m not
feeling well – or when I have some good news to share – and meet them and talk.
There is something to be said about the beauty of the deep friendship bonds
that you can create when living in the same place, where you can have regular
interaction and share the little things of every day life. I also love bringing
people together; I love the sense of community that creates. You need to live in
the same location for that to happen.
So I’ve established that
building a new circle of friends in my next “home” is not something I will do
light-heartedly.  I still need to figure
out how to do it. There are two
schools of thought on how to approach the social aspect of expatriation.
According to one, there is no better way to adjust and get settled in a new
place than to fully immerse oneself in its culture and people. The idea is to
socialize only (or mainly) with locals and to aim at becoming part of their community
– with the ultimate goal of “going native.” According to the second school of
thought, seeking out other foreigners – preferably but not exclusively from one’s
own culture – is the best and easiest way to build a support network and cope
with the challenges of an international move.
I find the first
approach reasonable, assuming it works. If your goal is to get the most out of
your experience in a new country, then you need to get to know the place, its
people and its culture and you need to do that through first-hand experience. Learning
the language helps tremendously. However, some cultures and
societies are more familiar with foreigners and more open to them than others,
so it depends where you are. If your sole focus is on assimilating in the local
culture and becoming part of the community in a society that is relatively
closed, it could be a frustrating experience. Also, how long you’re planning to
stay somewhere usually influences the amount of time and energy you are willing
to invest in submerging into the local culture. There are other factors
affecting the success of such an approach, such as whether you are moving to a
big city, where it’s harder to get to know people – compared to a smaller community;
or whether you have opportunities in your daily life to come into contact with
locals.
I understand the rationale
of the second approach as well. We do tend to gravitate towards people with
similar backgrounds and experiences. A fellow foreigner will understand much
better than a local the challenges of an international move, which you are
currently going through; they will be able to point you in the right directions
when building your support network (after all, they’ve had to go through the
same process themselves not too long ago). Communication may be easier with
English as a common language; if neither party is a native speaker, it is also
on more equal terms. Transitions are emotional times. Sometimes you just want
to be able to express those emotions – both the excitement and the frustration –
and know that the other person will understand exactly what you’re talking
about. Last but not least, as a foreigner you may have more opportunities to
meet other foreigners – through school, work etc.
Of course, this approach
can be taken to extremes. There are Greeks who have lived in North America all
their life, who do not speak a word of English, just as there are Americans
living in Germany not speaking a word of German. If you only seek out and
socialise with people from your own culture, you end up living in a bubble,
which defeats the purpose of moving and neutralises all its advantages.
Ultimately, each one of
us decides which approach fits better with our needs, personality and
circumstances. The two approaches can also be combined as different stages of
the adjustment process: maybe in the beginning, when you don’t know a soul in the
new place, it’s easier to get to know other expats; when you have a solid circle
and feel confident enough, you can reach out to the locals.
I will go for that
mixed approach. My instinct is to seek out fellow expats first and that’s what
I’ll do. I’ve joined online expat forums in Zurich already and plan to become
member of a couple of local expat groups. I have been introduced to friends of
friends who live or have lived there and I am already amazed at how open and helpful
they have been. At the
same time, I am very open to meeting Swiss people. I suspect I will have
several opportunities to do so through the school, the day care, the
neighbourhood or our various activities. At the end of the day, what is
important is to have friends – no
matter where they come from. So whatever works J.
How do you go about building
a new circle of friends when you move? Do you have a conscious strategy or do
you leave it to chance?

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    When we came to Holland we copnciously decided not to engage with expats, we had done so in Australia, because we didn't want to start an experience in a new country with whinging people….expats usually are…the one thing all have in common is the new country and often people just complain about the new country…and you end up seeing only the negative aspects of it. Inevitably we did meet only expats at the beginning and inevitably they were just whinging about the Netherlands…but we also met a lot of locals especially through school, creche, etc. Deep inside I don't know if I believe in friendship very much anymore. It used to be sacred for me but now…yes, me too I've got friends everywhere…and it's excellent to meet once every couple of years but…do they really know me? Or do the people who see me every day know me (Aglaia version 2012) better…Also friends in Italya got used to the fact that we see each other once a year and it gets soemhow artificial, the whole thing…everybody proclaiming loudly that we are friends (Italians love to do so) but how many people do you think call us in Holland during the winter? Just one, the other ones…aria fritta! Ciao Katya…

  2. I tend to leave it to chance (and schools etc) ..I enjoy meeting new people, whether local or expat, but must admit have always been terrible at maintianing long distance friendships, having been to possibly too many schools, moved and travelled a lot in my late teens and early 20´s, then at the start of my married life, again moved appartments/houses and countries, – I have made an abundance of "friends" over the years but have also developed a "thick skin" to wanting to form close friendships, it was the easiest option for me, being terrible at maintaining these friendships – I agree with one of previous comments, it may seem a rather unhappy statement at first to say that you dont believe in friendships anymoe but C.S Lewis summs it up rather nicely when he said "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."

    I have also found that I tend to want to immerse myself in local culture and life on holidays or when I stayed someewhere for a couple of months but yet when I move to a new country to live, I enjoy and need the moaning expats 😉

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