An Expat's Guide to Making Friends
So you’re moving abroad? Terrified of being lonely and without friends? Don’t worry, I’ve been in exactly the same boat.
Packing up your life in boxes and heading out to start fresh in a new country can be so incredible and rewarding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely petrifying. And lonely. One thing you can’t pack in your suitcase, no matter how hard you try, is your friends. Your friends who you’ve grown up with and love so much are not coming with you, and - while they’ll always be close to your heart - you will have to try and form new friendship groups.
When moving from rainy England to cultural Vienna, I faced many hurdles along the way. However, the hardest one without question was beating the sad feeling of isolation. I missed my friends back at home, and the only social interaction I partook in my new city was skyping and facetiming the people I missed.
It took me a while, but eventually I found myself comfortable within a brilliant friendship group that made me feel so happy to be Vienna. You can do it to, and here’s how…
The first friend I made in Austria was in my first week, and in an unusual place: the registry. office We were both filling out our Meldezettel (a residence form for Vienna), and once I heard her British accent I just had to grab her. Nobody in Austria understood any of the British words that were coming out of my mouth, and I just couldn’t let a fellow English person fall through my fingers so easily.
Sammie, who I now consider a close friend, ended up being an intern for a nearby monastery, and equally thankful for a fellow British person to bounce off of. We went for drinks a week later, and both officially had our first friend abroad.
It’s not in my nature to be so forward, but if you want to make a good group of friends you have to be. Make the first move, make the plans, be aggressive… If I can do it, you can do it, get out there and show everyone what you’re made of…
Join a Language Class
Taking a language class is a perfect way to meet new people, and learn the language along the way. In your class you’ll be surrounded by people who are trying to learn the local language for one reason or another, meaning they’re most likely not from the country either. A beginner’s language class is practically an expat meet and greet.
When I moved to Vienna I joined an intensive German class, where all 12 of my classmates were from different countries. We had people from Iceland, Thailand, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Italy, Fiji, Poland - most of the people were new to the country, and we all had something in common: being terrible at German. It was a good ice breaker to say the least.
Each country will have their own expat Facebook groups, where everybody is in the same boat: lonely and in desperate need of friends. Take a leap and post on the page that you're new in the country and if anybody wants to grab coffee.
I made a large group of friends through a Facebook group specifically for Au Pairs in Vienna, where people would just post what days they were free and ask if anybody wanted to meet up. The first time I met up with anybody from the group was so scary, but by the end of the day we were all drunk and on a ferris wheel. There’s something so different about being that high up after a few drinks…
Every time I’ve had a day off of work I’ve gone straight to a Facebook page and found something to do, leading me to adventures I’d never thought I’d be apart of and to friends I never expected to make. I’m talking amusement parts, wine hiking, day trips to Slovakia, long night of the museums - there’s so much to do and so many people to do them with…
Volunteering / Through Work
If you’re living abroad, it’s safe to assume you’re earning money somehow. You’ll have a job, be looking for a job, have rich parents, or a sugar daddy (the dream). Befriending your colleagues is the perfect way to gain a good group of mates, and you’re constantly around each other so it’s most likely the friendships will happen naturally. If you don’t have anything in common or anything to talk about, you always have something to fall back on: complaining about work.
If you have spare time, volunteering is a perfect way to meet new people. There will be countless volunteering opportunities in every city, from assisting the homeless to teaching English to refuges. Each organisation will have large teams of like-minded and kind-hearted people you can get to know, and grow friendships while helping those who need it.
Say Yes to Everything
I get it, sometimes you just want to have a lazy day at home, in your pyjamas and locked away from the world. Most of the time when I have a day off I just want to stay in bed, and waste the day away by doing absolutely nothing. But if you want to make friends, this is not the way to go around it.
You need to say yes to everything, absolutely everything. Even if it’s not entirely up your ally, give it a shot and you’ll usually end up having more fun than you expected. From coffee dates to museum browsing, I’ve said yes to plenty of things I wasn’t initially too excited about, but along the way I had a great time and met new people I wouldn’t have if I had just stayed at home.
Say Hello to Your Neighbours
One of the easiest friends (or quickest enemies) to make is your neighbours. You live right next to them, probably will for a while, so there’s no harm in saying hello when you can. You’re probably going to see these people a lot, even if it’s just a quick greeting in passing, so there’s no downside to being friendly with them.
If you become friendly with your neighbour, a friendly chat and someone to rant to is only a door away, how convenient!
Listen, hear me out. If you’re single, ready to mingle, and all that cheesy stuff, dating apps are full of people wanting to gain companionship.
I downloaded Tinder as a joke to have a nosy at the people (gays) around me, and ended up chatting to a fellow British lass about how bloody annoying Brexit is. If you can manage through the inappropriate photos and god awful pickup lines, you’re likely to stumble upon a person or two who wouldn’t mind a good chat.
You never know, you might even end up falling in love (or you’re like me, and trying to tie someone down before Brexit to secure that EU passport).
Know When It’s Not Right
In any normal scenario, are you going to want to befriend every person you meet? No way in hell. Personally, I’ve met some proper assholes in my life who I’d never voluntarily talk to again.
When you’re living abroad, you seem to cling on to every person you meet; you’re just glad to have someone to chat to and grab a coffee with after being lonely for so long. Doing so, however, can lead you into friendships that don’t work out. May it be a toxic friendship, or you just don’t have much in common, you’ll spend more time trying to make it work than actually enjoying yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with letting a friendship go, even if you don’t have many. A friendship should be natural and fun, not forced and stressful.
Saying that, 99% of the people I’ve met while living abroad are people I would/have happily befriended. The expat community is full of incredibly interesting and friendly people. If one friendship doesn’t work out, I’m sure another will.
When All Else Fails, Get a Dog
Dogs are better than humans anyways…