Making Friends as an Expat WomanBy Rosalind Van Aalen, blogger at Tales from the Windmill Fields
As an expatriate - a large part of the adventure is making new friends. Meeting the other members of the expatriate community is the first step to acclimatizing to a new home.
However, familiarizing yourself with the people whose homeland it is can take a little more effort.
Take the time to venture out of your initial comfort zone and the reward is a cultural experience and new friendships that can extend your vision of life.
Many women who have to emigrated abroad, have done so in the majority of cases; as a result of the husband's work, emotional or family issues or simply because they are going in search of better opportunities.
And bravely, we must leave behind our family, our friends and even our professions, without thinking much about what it would mean, that is, the adaptation process in another country.
And, in the time I've been here, I have heard many times, several women say how difficult it has been for them to make friends in the Netherlands.
After repeatedly listening to these comments, I kept thinking that perhaps one of the reasons is, the way we express ourselves is completely different from the Dutch. The Spanish (a culture I am used to) for example, are warmer; they talk with people, and enjoy being surrounded all the time by people. The climate of a country also influences the way people socialise, Gran Canaria where I lived previously is an outdoor climate, and people sit on chairs in the street outside their houses. I can’t imagine any of my neighbours doing that! In the winter months I hardly see them or anyone else, which can make it depressing.
The habit of talking and socializing, then, is something that we think, is inherent in every human being. However, not everyone has the "gift" of the word, which means that if someone never speaks, it is not because they are not so sociable like us, but because they are perhaps very shy or simply grew up in a culture where they are not accustomed to suddenly approaching a stranger in the street or in a group.
But how can we know whether or not a person is friendly, if we are trying to exchange a word with her?
A friend, of Latin origin, who had been little more than one year living here, told me that one of her friends, who had been living for more than 5 years in Holland, had told her that the secret of making friends in a new country, is to be the person who takes the initiative and use the phone to suggest any good plan.
And I think that it is true, the best way to make friends is by removing the penalty and taking the first step, “If you want to make friends, you have to play the game".
So making friends, consists in carrying out such simple things as starting a conversation, sending a text message or making a phone call. Don't let that shyness be the obstacle that prevents you from surrounding yourself with new friends, Many times the best friendships start with the exchange of a few words and the rest is history! I met my Dutch friend at a party, and started up a conversation with her, now we are good friends and our children are friends. I have someone I can rely on, ask for help and so does she. All it took was a small conversation and maybe a few bottles of wine too!
Making new friends!
- Learn about the country where you are going to live before you go. Read travel guides and history books. See documentaries. Familiarize yourself with the culture to understand the customs, festivals, food and the environment of potential friends. Once in the country, immerse yourself in that culture, never think that is not me, I could never participate in that. Once you get to your new country you may surprise yourself. I have a motto; If you can't beat them join them, that motto especially works with the likes of Carnival and Queens Day!
- Balance the time spent chatting with old friends online whilst living abroad, with interaction in real life with new acquaintances in the country where you live now. Make an effort to communicate with owners of shops and bars, the local residents who work in the same company as you or your spouse. It can be easy to spend time seeing what old friends are up to and thinking about what you are missing but you may be missing things that are there in your new environment. Join the local gym, choir, groups and clubs. Through joining the choir I now have another friend and we do aerobics together, not only does it get me out, but my Dutch has improved immensely.
- Learn the language of your new home. Take a class to learn the basics and then engage in a conversation based on the classes. Share photos of your family, home cooking and stories about your own life with your companions and teachers. Show your appreciation to share their lives.
- Involve your family in the development of friendships. Rather than always hanging out with other expatriates, schedule a regular time to go to the park with your children. Play with other children; meet the parents of other children. Go to local activities such as family outings. Websites such as http://www.uitmetkinderen.nl/ tell you about all the activities on around the Netherlands, that are for families.
- Ask questions, when you purchase something or explore the area, even if it is only to ask for directions. Your question opens the door to a future conversation. The market is always a great source for conversations, many Dutch women always gather round the flower stall for a chat. Even if it is only a hello every time you go back and a how are you? you will feel more involved in the community and wanted and welcomed. Our local market is the highlight of our week, and my daughter rarely eats her dinner on a Thursday!
- Invite new friends to join you for lunch, dinner or an excursion. Get involved ask them to show you historical sites, teach you the local customs.
- Ask people to visit your home. Start with sharing a simple meal and then expand to include your new friends in family celebrations and festivals. When you are invited to their house, accept with grace and bring a small gift to show your appreciation, it is very normal in Holland, when being invited over for dinner that you bring flowers and wine for the host. If it is just a cup of tea, then some biscuits are also a good idea.
- Connect with your colleagues. If you are in another country for work or study, you have colleagues as well. So it is a logical step to get to know them on a more personal level and try to make friends with some of them. Don't only keep their relationship work or study related. After work or after school, invite some of your colleagues out for a beer or something. You will likely discover at least one or two people who really you bond with.
- Participate in meet-ups. In most large cities, there are special events for people who want to meet other people. These meet ups are an easy way to interact with new people and make friends. The first step is to go online and search for meet ups in your area. Choose those which work in terms of time and place and attend them.
Whatever you do, do not be too demanding. The key to see the results yourself, is to participate in any event and be sociable.
In fact, there are many ways to meet people and make new friends. Put them into practice and socialise on a regular basis, and you will find living in another country to be much more fulfilling and happy experience. Balance between the old and the new is the key.
"My friends are my estate."
- Emily Dickinson