I’ve been thinking about writing about expat friendships, but this post in the Telegraph tackled this very topic, thus giving me the motivation needed for this post. The author basically claimed that expat can’t make friends because they never stay in one place for enough time for friendships to develop. Another argument was that expats often tend to hang out with people from their own countries, even though they don’t like these people at all. The third argument was that the term “friend” has been blurred by the use of social media so it is not clear who is a real friend.
To this, I can only say: “No, no and no”. And yes, even though expats tend to move around a lot, they basically make strong connections out of necessity- it’s not always easy to access the locals, and so, expat form their own support groups, playgroups and meeting events so that they get the chance to get to know each other. Often, we do make new friends- and for that we don’t even have to abandon our friends at home!
I joined the Delft MaMa playgroups when my second daughter was born and I was ready to climb on walls. I’ve never realized that I was feeling lonely, but with two children, I needed the support of other people. And I met wonderful, inspiring women, and many of them became my friends.
I also have Polish friends. We occasionally meet for playgroups and chats- and I like hanging out with them because I miss speaking Polish. And I think it’s great to have somebody who can understand what situation I am referring to, without me having to explain it.
Being from the same country is not what makes people become friends. Talking about similar experiences, interests and problems is. Maybe it is true that expat bond easier than locals- when they arrive, they usually have to start from the beginning. They have to learn how to function in a new country, how to deal with culture shock, where to learn the majority language and how to choose a good doctor. In this, they need support and encouragement.
You know what they say: ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed”. And are you not in need when you are alone, confused and don’t have any idea how to get things done in a culture totally different from your own? This is where other expats come in.
They are here to help. They know about organizations, support groups, shops and restaurants. They have the experience a new expat doesn’t yet possess. Through this, friendships are forged and maintained. After a while, the tide changes: now it’s you who can help a newcomer get settled. You know what they’ve been through and what problems to expect. So now you become the helper, but you still become friends with the new person.
As for social media, it is a great way to stay in touch with both old and new friends. It doesn’t mean that everybody on your Facebook friend list is your real friend. It doesn’t mean that friendship became meaningless. Facebook is what you make of it- and so is your stay in your new country.