Making friends and feeling like you belong as an expat: My top five tips!
Living in a new city or a new country is intimidating for a variety of reasons, be it the language barrier, the climate, the culture or the simple lack of knowledge you have about the area. As an expat these are challenges we expect to face. We expect to find life a little up and down for a while, but the one thing that I hadn’t thought about was the idea of belonging and the possible impact it would have on my new life abroad.
Belonging, honestly, the word gives me flashbacks of high school English class where we were made to define the word and study texts to which it had a strong association. If you completed the HSC in NSW, Australia, there’s a really good chance you know what I’m referring to here and if not - I’m sorry. If I can forgive the English curriculum, you can forgive me.
Regardless, belonging, as humans comes along with needs such as shelter, food and water. Most of us belong somewhere, to friendship circles, families, communities, religions, cultures, clubs and sports. However, when you pick up and start somewhere new you need to figure out how to ‘belong’ all over again.
MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE
I’m a ‘nester’. I like to be comfortable and cosy, surrounded by items that hold meaning to me. When I first packed to move to Scotland I made sure to not only bring the obvious such as clothes but also packed photos and little trinkets that I might want near by, including a few favourite books. Once I arrived I made sure to put my things around the flat that I moved into straight away so the space felt like my own - I even had my favourite mug with me! Soon enough I began to buy other soft furnishing in colours and fabrics that I liked in order to make my space feel like home.
When you’re renting sometime it’s hard to make a space feel like yours but I would wholeheartedly say that when you are staying somewhere new, the place that you call home should be the one place where you feel as if you belong wholeheartedly - it will be your refuge after long days out and about after all.
Making friends, finding work, building social circles takes time, making sure that your flat or bedroom is a safe space that reflects your needs is not as difficult. If you are worried about just how to make a space feel like ‘home’ or worry about having to take furnishings from one flat to another I highly suggest you speak with an interior designer. Interior designer, Jeanette Del Zio, is a friend of mine and an expert on making any space feel like, ‘home’ as she herself moves a lot with her husbands work. You can find her and her amazing work here!
TAKE PART IN LOCAL EVENTS AND TRADITIONS
One of the first events I attended in Scotland was the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, it’s a cultural festival that occurs ever year in April. I personally attended as a spectator, however, there are a multitude of ways you can volunteer in the event itself if you’re a creative type. Taking part in local events that interest you or volunteering your time is a great way to meet people with similar interests. I actually started up a conversation with a woman at an Edinburgh networking event (where I didn’t know a single person!) because she was carrying some materials with the fire festival detail on it. She also may or may not have happened to have had a small drum with her. But at least I had had an open path to conversation! Living in Edinburgh there are also weekly markets and small businesses aplenty to familiarise yourself with.
At the end of last year we celebrated Hogmanay taking part in the Torch Light Procession and just recently here in Scotland Burns night was celebrated. No matter where you are living in the world there will be local cultural and creative events taking place. If you don’t know anyone in the area and are wanting to take part in some way do it! Don’t be afraid to get involved! Getting to know the people around you who also live, work and love the city you’re in will never be a bad thing.
BRING YOUR HOBBIES WITH YOU
Hobbies and interests always seem to be that weird section that we wish to avoid on our CV’s. The truth is that we all have things that we like to do in our spare time and they are generally hobbies which can traverse oceans. Personally, I love to do yoga and I have in the past been a member of a yoga studio here in Edinburgh, this means that I get to feel at home doing something that I love whilst also enjoying the social aspect of being in a class.
As someone who loves to read I also know that there are many a book club I could join if I wanted to. If you like to paint, take photos, run or dance there are groups and communities in every city who love to do the same things as you. The best thing being is that you will already have one thing in common with the other people who are in attendance! Oh and if you think your only hobby might be eating, there are supper clubs and cooking classes you can join and really getting to know a culture through its food is an excellent way to start!
Now, just a little heads up, not every group will be right for you, as not every yoga class and teacher has been right for me. If you have a hobby that you love and you want to be more social, keep testing out different groups and classes until you find the right one. Keep trying, it’s worth it!
DON’T FORGET WHERE YOU’RE FROM
Even as we strive to belong in a new city or place there’s no reason to cut off all ties with wherever you have come from. A saving grace for me when I first moved to Edinburgh was being able to speak with people back home when things weren’t feeling super easy. I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘you’ll settle in quickly’ all the time because some of the realities of feeling settled take longer to happen. When I moved to Edinburgh I had Joe and a place to live straight away which I was incredibly grateful of. What I didn’t have was a job and even when I found one it was in a new industry with a group of people that weren’t teachers.
Now, as someone who prides herself on having a lot of friends back home it’s taken time to nurture good friendships here in Scotland. As an adult you don’t have long boring days at school or university to bond with people. You might only have a few hours with the people you work with before they go off to their own lives and you do the same. Each evening and weekend we are all busy with the basic duties of life and it’s easy to not make time to ‘be social’. The friendships you make in a new city or country can take longer to grow in strength but there’s nothing wrong with this because good friends are the ones who stick around no matter the time or distance between.
DATING AND DOUBLE DATING
Alright so lets put it out there that until recently I haven’t always been the most romantic person in the whole wide world. I wouldn’t even go on double dates with my friends and their partners until I met Joe, so don’t take it personally guys, it wasn’t you, it was all me.
Now, the whole dating thing has always been something that I have shied away from but there is no doubt in my mind that this is a great way to meet people and build up your social life in a new city or country. There are websites, there are apps and there are a zillion other methods I am sure to find yourself on a date. Wether you are looking for a relationship, a good night out or a friendship the internet generally has you covered. I would however suggest that you always ensure your safety first when meeting someone, male or otherwise for the first time. Even if you are meeting someone in the nature of friendship from a basic social media platform, your safety comes first, always.
As for double dates, well, I have to say that I am a recently converted fan of double dating. I have been on a lot more double dates since moving to Edinburgh and it’s always worked out to my benefit because now instead of one friend, I have two. (They come as a package deal and I have very few complaints.) It’s very simple math in my mind. I know it can be awkward and maybe you feel like you don’t have time for these types of friendships but if you have been brave enough to move abroad and start life in a new city or country, trust me, you’re able to do this too.