Going abroad for an extended period of time can be frightening. You’re confronted with your own cultural differences on a daily basis, everything and everyone will likely seem alien, and you may begin to harbor ill feelings to your new country. My second month living in Thailand led to a lot of evening time on my computer. The result? I am now unnecessarily up to date on all pop culture. Someday, I promised myself, this Grandpa will rule all trivia. Because I’m fairly quiet, it was a difficult leap into a new country whose language I didn’t know and making friends while I worked there wasn’t even the first thing that crossed my mind.
But the best way to get over this period of cultural adjustment is to stop hiding in that cozy and well stocked apartment of yours and make friends. But how, you may ask. How can friends be found in a world where you can’t even speak the language?
Make the Most of Your Workplace
There are a number of ways to go about it. First, try and branch out through your workplace. Unless you have some sort of contagious disease, you’ll likely be able to meet some friendly people through your job. You should realise that social inclusion and kindness transcends language and loneliness can be temporarily alleviated simply by another person’s daily smile. Ultimately though, deeper connections will require learning the language. So learn bit by bit and immerse yourself in the local people. At some point, your new local friends will expect you to know the language well enough that you can make basic conversation.
Connect With Other Foreigners
In my case, I don’t have a workplace other than a few coffee shops I daily bless with the noise of my typing fingers. If you’re living in a new place and doing business online, try and initially fight your loneliness by connecting with other foreigners. There’s likely a good deal of people doing exactly what you’re doing, and you may find some backpackers that you can hang out with as well. Though these meetings can be fleeting connections, as most foreigners you meet will be short time tourists, they’re still great ways to connect as you’ll have someone you can relate to. And the fleeting aspect of it can be a boon too. I recently poured a beer on a backpacker’s head and never had to face any social consequences.
Find Like-minded People
You can also try and find people with similar interests. Great places to find groups of like-minded people include Meet Up and Couchsurfing. Both will allow you to make friends among fellow foreigners and travelers, as well as some local people.
Take Advantage of the Melting Pot
However, after a few months into your work, the majority of your friends really shouldn’t be fellow foreigners. If that’s the case, then you’re insulating yourself and it will make homesickness all the worse. If you don’t branch out to make friends among the local people, you’ll begin to treat your new culture with suspicion and you’ll inevitably begin to harbor some prejudice. Your goal in a new country should ideally be to broaden your horizons and assimilate different cultural opinions. Eventually your eyes will have been dipped in your new culture for long enough that you’ll be bicultural.
Become a Habitué
A really great way to create a local group of friends is to become a regular at some restaurant or coffee shop. You’ll grow closer with the employees and owners. Make sure to be kind and respectful, avoid making a mess, learn names, and greet them warmly each time. Practice your language skills whenever you see them. You can make great and dependable friends that way, and you’ll form a reliable group of people who are happy to see you each time you come by. You should be able to swing some free food out of it too. Everyone’s got to eat.
Start new Social Hobbies
You should also try and develop some social hobbies. Evening walks, fishing, writing, and other similar activities are all well and good, but the fact of the matter is that they don’t tend to involve other people. Try and develop a hobby that brings you into contact with a group. For instance, you can take dance classes, you can learn a martial art, you can join an adult sports league, or you can go on pub crawls. Volunteering is also a great way to immerse yourself in a community. You can even turn a typically solitary activity social. You can go to life drawing sessions through Meetup and turn your drawing habit into a way to make friends.
Really, the most important thing about making friends when working abroad is to just get out and about. Everyone knows Spongebob Seasons 2 and 3 are the greatest gifts to man in the history of the world, but re-watching it every night while screaming ‘My Leg’ probably won’t make you friends. Simple things like walking around downtown on typically social nights will bring you closer to making a group of friends that can help you grow as a person.