Starting fresh in an unknown society will not only broaden your understanding and appreciation of the globe, it will inspire you to find unique experiences and forge unforgettable relationships.
Once you’ve made the life-altering decision to pull up your stakes and head off to a new and mysterious country, you might be wondering how you will find a whole fresh group of friends. While this process should eventually happen naturally, there are a few ways to become known in a community a little faster than what smiling and nodding at your neighbors from afar will get you. By mingling with the other Expats and locals with an open mind, you are bound to discover many like-minded people that will be a certain comfort, compared to living alone in an unknown corner of the world.
Join internet groups in your new location.
This is a very simple step, that my husband and I failed to think of before heading off to Costa Rica, where we had absolutely no friends or family. After almost three months of living alone, we had made friendly with a few neighbors, but only really had each other for company and conversation.
We were fortunate to meet a few couples out one afternoon, who added us to their Facebook group. Through this collection of families online, who were all living in the area around us, we were able to glean much-needed local knowledge, receive invitations to meet-ups in town, and even share “LOLs” about the funny experiences only other Expat families in Costa Rica could understand.
The world wide web offers an endless supply of connections in any bit of the world, right at your fingertips. Take a few minutes before your travels to put a few feelers out there, so you won’t be completely alone should you need help.
Attend local events.
When we saw a flyer for an “Annual Chili Cook Off,” we figured it would make for an entertaining and spicy afternoon, and a good way to mingle with our extended neighbors. There were many happy North American seniors there, living the good life in Central America. They were laughing the day away and relishing all the spoken English around them. We, being of a younger niche in society, headed toward the playground, and were happy to chat with and befriend several other parents with small children.
In every community, there will be local events from fundraisers, to auctions, to horse / bull / craft / you-name-it shows. There will be dances and holiday fairs, and if you’re in Central or South America, plenty of town fiestas! Store up some smiles and head to one of these gatherings and you’ll be sure to make solid acquaintances.
Follow your interests.
You are a unique individual, with your own special favorite hobbies and activities. Look around your new area for things that motivate you. Hunt for a whatever class that suits you. I easily found a network of yoga and Spanish classes in my small town of Atenas. There were even Zumba classes to join! If you are spiritual or religious, there are pockets of any denomination in any place.
Where to look? Beside on the internet, you are sure to see signs for different cultural and religious gatherings on walls in your city center. Keep your eyes out for something new that you’ve always wanted to try. Chances are, there are many other adventure-seekers like you, and joining an organization that you are already interested in could be a great way to spark new friendships.
Be more outgoing.
This may be difficult for my fellow introverts out there, but it is the best way to open yourself up to others around you, and forge new connections. Here are some guidelines: greet strangers with a smile; make small talk in line or on the bus; chat with people at the market. If you are happy and friendly, people will be more likely to want to share their story, recommendations, and contact information with you. It’s worth it to get out there and look people in the eye.
Keep in mind that the person sitting next to you at the café could turn out to be your best friend.
Learn the language.
If you do not know the national language of your new country of residence, make an effort to master at least the beginner’s level. It means a lot to the locals when you (a tourist) try to speak their native tongue, as it shows that you care enough about other people to learn to say “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” and, “goodbye.”
If you truly desire to mingle in your new culture, having a solid base of the language is a great start. As your time grows in your foreign land, your speaking knowledge will rapidly improve, and so will your social ties in the community.
Gaining connections in your new environment will motivate you check out places you’d never heard of, try activities you’d never considered, and add even more interesting people to your own pool in this life. All it takes is the first step. Follow an idea like going to a charity event, and spend some time envisioning the type of person you’d like to befriend. Mostly likely, you’ll want to meet others you can relate to, so as your mother would say, “Just be yourself!”