Finding your community overseas

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Expats or locals?

When you live abroad an important element of your life is your social circle. Here are some of the advantages and drawbacks between being part of the expat community and ‘going native’.

The expat community

With other expats of your own nationality it’s great to be able to talk about what you miss from your home country and also connect with someone who has the same sense of humour as you. I always find it refreshing to be able to laugh about the problems you’re having and discuss the things you find quite curious about your new life.

But be warned! Just because you share the same nationality this doesn’t automatically mean that other expats are going to be your best friends. I remember people were very keen to introduce me to their other English friends when I was overseas – and there was quite an eclectic bunch! They ranged from quite a high-brow journalist to a glamour model.

Your kind of people

Don’t ignore expats of other nationalities! You may find you have more in common with them than those from your own country. Ultimately it’s much more important to find your kind of people– people you have things in common with, not just nationality.

The other challenge is when you solely make friends with the expat community, you may inadvertently give yourself a bad name amongst the locals. Expat networks are usually quite established and whether you know it or not, will have some kind of reputation within the local community overseas.

In some places, such as Singapore or Dubai, there’s a huge and established expat network but again it’s still about finding your kind of people. It’s easy to slip into these communities – even if you know they don’t fit you – as trying to find your feet within the native community might be more challenging. But do stop and ask yourself whether their kind of social scene is what you want to be filling your life with. Be honest. Do you want to be doing something different but lack the confidence to ‘go native’?

Going native

Finding locals to be friends with might take a bit longer, and depending on the environment you’re living in, they may be very friendly or not. Obviously there’s more of a challenge if there is a language barrier. This can make it harder to get to really know people, which is why a lot of expats are happy to hang out with other expats. But making the effort to befriend the locals comes with all sorts of rewards.

Being friendly with local people gives you an opportunity to learn not just the language, but also the culture and most certainly it will broaden your experience of your life abroad. You’ll discover cultural diversity and they’ll help you to really understand the place and probably tell you about areas you might not discover if you were just hanging with the expats.

But again it’s still about trying to find people you have things in common with and obviously if you speak the same language it makes it easier.

The downside is that they may not have the same sense of humour. It also takes longer to really get to know and understand them as you don’t share the same cultural reference points, so you have to take them on face value and find out what they’re like. It’s a good idea to rely on intuition in this instance.

A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.
William Arthur Ward

From my experience of living abroad and travelling overseas, the most common language is not necessarily verbal. You can have fun, share experiences and have a great time all without speaking in the same language.

Your life abroad

The ideal solution is to make some friends from where you are from and also make some local friends. It always seems such a waste to go somewhere and hang out purely with people where you’ve come from! Don’t let this be a wasted opportunity but at same time don’t cut yourself off completely from your own culture.

Further reading

Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here is my podcast episode about Finding Friends Overseas

How to Find New Friends As an Expat

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