Being an expat isn’t always Instagram-able: Feeling lonely and making friends

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This business of blogging has really opened up some interesting conversations for me in the last few weeks as I have friends here in Edinburgh, as well as friends online that are living as expats far from home. My blog post last week really centred around the idea of belonging and what it’s like to realise that you need to start from scratch when you arrive in a new city or country.

The fear and loneliness that I personally felt in my move abroad wasn’t something that I wrote about or spoke about much at the time but it’s not something that I am going to shy away from. Just because I didn’t realise the importance of what I was feeling and just how relatable it would’ve been, doesn’t mean that my words might not help someone feel a little less alone now. 

Towards the end of last year, trolling through random Spotify playlists I came across a song called, ‘Old Friends’ by Jasmine Thompson. I’d never heard of the artist before but the lyrics caught my attention instantly because I had a direct emotion attached to every word she sang.

I miss my old friends
’Cause they know when I need them the most
I made some new friends and they’re cool friends
But they don’t know
What I do, what I got, who I am and who I’m not
I miss my old friends.
— Jasmine Thompson

When I first moved to Edinburgh I was so excited, I was living out of home and living with a boyfriend for the first time. I had friends back in Sydney who I could message and speak to whenever I felt the need and I had a brand new city to explore. My days were full and my mornings and evenings were spent texting with friends.

When I finally got a job here in Scotland it happened to be within a small team, where I was one of the youngest and there wasn’t any after work socialising (no big deal). I also happen to be an introvert, preferring small groups of people, reading by myself and quite days at home, so at first I didn’t notice the impact that my change in social circumstances was having on me. But, it was having an impact and I didn’t open my mouth and say anything about it because I had Joe and didn’t really think I had a right to complain. I’d make friends eventually and it would be fine… 

BUT THEN

One day a few months in, Joe wouldn’t help me decide between some clothing items when I was shopping online… and in response, I started to cry. 

How. utterly. mortifying. 

I started to cry because my boyfriend didn’t want to help me pick between jumpers or something completely insignificant. However, when he consoled me and asked what was wrong, my response had nothing to do with him, it was that I missed my friends.

I missed having friends in the same timezone that would just tell me what to pick, or give their honest opinion when I didn’t know what to do, because they knew me as well as I knew myself. I missed my old friends. I missed going to dinner with them each week, hanging out with them after work, being a part of WhatsApp conversations (at the actual time they were happening) and just having them near enough to touch in general. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made new friends here in Edinburgh and they are beautiful, lovely people. And you can’t have old friends without first having new friends but the truth of the matter is, it’s sometimes just nice to hang out with people that know you, that you can ask questions to without having to give any explanations. Does this make sense to any of you? I really hope it does. 

Being an expat is amazing, meeting people, exploring new cities, finding new loves, it's the absolute best. The side that we don’t speak about though, is the doubt and the loneliness that comes along with it, in one form or another. It takes time to find your people, the ones that will be there through thick and thin. The ones that know everything about you. It takes time and that's okay. 

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As an expat, for at least the first few months, everything and everyone will be new. You’ll be new to the city you’re in and the city will be new to you. You’ll be new to the people you meet and they will be new to you. And even as people get to know you it’ll be hard at times when people act surprised with the things that you say or do, because, it’s ‘not like you’.

I remember the first time someone said, ‘that’s not like you,’ to me here in Scotland and I felt frustrated at having to explain myself and my personality. But how were they to know the facets of my personality after only having known me for a few months? I know that we meet new people everyday but as an expat you are new to everyone you see and speak to.

As an expat the new friends and colleagues in your life will have only known you, for as long as you have known them. And they will only ever know what you choose to share with them and you can’t expect more than that. It’s up to you as an individual to be yourself and allow yourself to be known. If you hide aspects of your personality in a city where no one knows you, no one, will ever really know you.

It sounds so simple and I guess if you wanted the chance to be someone else this would be a great place to start. But honestly, most of us find the places we are meant to be and the friends that we are meant to have through being ourselves, not through pretending to be someone that we’re not. 

This post is obviously a little different from the norm, I’m not giving you my top tips or suggestions and I don’t have any direct answers for the loneliness you may be feeling. But you will be okay.

If you’re thinking about moving abroad I’m not going to try and tell you that you’ll make the best of friends and have the perfect social life as soon as you move to a new place. That’s not how the world works and it’s now how people work. 

But what I will tell you is this: You are worth knowing.

You deserve to have the chance to meet new people and you are courageous enough to open up to new friends. And let’s be honest, if you didn’t want to meet new people, I doubt you would’ve ever left the house you grew up in, let alone the country or city you’re from. 

Take a chance on people and give them and yourself time to get to know one another.

If you have to step a little outside your comfort zone, so be it.

The life that you want abroad is there waiting for you, you just need to be willing to go for it.

If you are feeling a little alone or a little lonely in a new place, know that there are plenty of us expats out there that have felt or are feeling the exact same way. Look after yourself, fill your cup by doing the things you love and if you ever need a quick chat, or an ear that understands feel free to hit me up on Instagram or in the comments below. 

Love,

Jessie