There’s a certain cycle that (I’m guessing) most people have with friendships when they live abroad. I’ve already written about how one can make friends when living in a different country, but actually once you’ve made those friends it’s still pretty tricky and probably not like making friends back home. (But I wouldn’t know…I’ve not been back home making friends since the start of uni…)
I’ve been fairly lucky here in Germany because my office has many strong social groups. It’s often a bubble that’s hard to break out of, but at the same time I feel I’m closest to my colleagues; both the ones from the UK team and ones from other language teams. We may be a little weird and geeky, but we’re good deep down ;)
So, here are the stages of expat friendship.
Stage 1 – BON VOYAGE!!!
The night before you leave for your foreign country, you gather up all your home friends and say goodbye to them. They know you inside out and backwards. But you’re so excited for your new adventure.
Stage 2 – OMG are you new here too?!
You get to your new home, and find other people in the same situation as you. For no other reason than you being in the same situation, you become friends – joined at the hip. You do everything together, and experience all the new things together.
Stage 3 – OMG why am I friends with you?!
Stage 2 lasts for a few weeks, then you look at your new friends and realise you have nothing at all in common. Why can’t they just be like your home friends?! Your home friends wouldn’t be idiots like them. They’d be so witty and clever and know exactly what to say. You Skype your home friends every day for a week.
Stage 4 – Where can I get more friends?
You start to venture out of the small comfort zone you’ve created. Perhaps you seek out new hobbies, go to meetups, take a language class. You dedicate a lot of time and effort into looking for new people to hang out with.
Stage 5 – This stage may be a repeat of the 2nd stage, where you find people who are equally bemused with their initial friends, but then after a while you realise that the only thing you had in common was your common bemusement. Either that, or friends you made that you were pretty fond of have finished their internship/course/marriage and have moved away.
Stage 6 – You spend months carefully pruning your garden of friends, weeding out ones you wonder what you ever saw in, saying sayonaya to ones leaving the country, and picking up lots of new ones on the way. Then, and only then, you may have a good, artificially made group of friends.
The above list may not be true for most expats. It’s been my experience here in Germany, and it’s similar to my experience in Japan (it’s just that in Japan I was a lot more limited to who I could make friends with). I’d say the hardest part is the end of stage 5, where you find someone you like but their timeline in that place differs from yours.
I found myself being really cynical and, when I met someone new, I assessed the amount of time and effort I would “invest” in that person. It’s a horrible way to think, I know. It’s just really hard when you meet someone and you really hit it off and you want to be BFFS with them, but they are at the end of the time they’d like to spend in the place because maybe they just can’t get over culture shock, or maybe they just don’t like their job. But at the same time, you love the country and love your job and don’t plan on leaving for a long time. It’s hard.
At the beginning of my time in Frankfurt I kept on getting attached to interns from the banking world. They are a really cool bunch, but they’d be gone in a few months.
There’s also something else you may want to take into account – why is this new friend an expat? You’d be really surprised to find how many people are apparently escaping from something back home. It’s not a bad thing. But it often means that the amount of crazies in the expat world is very, very high. Sometimes the crazy doesn’t show itself for weeks or months. But it’s often there. One day you look at your friend and think “my God, were you this crazy all along? We do I hang out with you?!” We need to find likeminded people so we can match our crazy and become good friends.
As always, I’ve love input from you all! Have any of you created strategies for making friends abroad?