One of the hardest things about upping stakes and pitching your tent somewhere new is the social aspect. You’ve likely spent a lifetime putting together a social fabric wherever you currently call home, and it’s a great loss to have to leave friends and family behind when you go.
You’ll stay in touch, of course, and your loved ones will always be in your life. But you won’t be able to see them as often, and even if you talk to them frequently right after your move, you’ll likely begin to drift apart as you devote more attention to building your new life.
The upshot of this shift, though, is that you get to make new friends in your new home.
Not to say it’s easy. Making friends is so easy when school and work force you into meeting new people… without these things, you really have to force yourself into social scenarios.
I know plenty of extroverts who can’t walk down a street without making a new acquaintance. When I was a kid, my grandparents would often vacation with my mother and I, and while the girls in the group toured some church or museum, my grandfather would take up residence on a bench. Inevitably, we’d come out and he’d be in the center of a group of lively folks, chatting up a storm. He used to make friends everywhere he went, even if he was only there a few minutes.
My father-in-law is a man cut from my grandfather’s cloth… he can’t help but chat with anyone within 10 feet of himself and it’s a pleasure to watch.
If you’re one of these people, congratulations—you’ve got it easy!
I, on the other hand, tend to be more introverted. Every social interaction I have is fraught with stress and I have to really psych myself up for every potential encounter with new or not-so-well-known people. I dread strangers talking to me on the street… for no particular reason, it always causes anxiety. I like having friends, but making them is another story.
For those of you more like me, setting up a new social network is no small challenge and it will take effort. No gain without pain.
The best ways to force yourself into it is to plunge yourself into spheres of interest…
Whatever it is in the world you enjoy, pursue it. Acquaintances and eventual friends can’t help but follow. Join clubs, do sports, take classes, visit galleries, attend openings, and just generally get out there.
Over the years, some ways I’ve launched myself into friend-making have included ballroom dancing, horse riding, language classes, fitness groups, and, most recently, pregnancy and mommy groups.
And even if no lifelong friends come out of one or any of what you try, you’re at least making yourself a part of a community, which goes a long way toward making you feel like you’re integrating into your new home.
If such structured activities aren’t really your thing, then invite some potential friends to join in what you like to do best. Invite someone to see a museum exhibit with you, out to a new restaurant or to a wine tasting, to check out a beach you’ve never been to before, or to walk a part of town you’ve always wanted to stroll.
Volunteering is another great way to make like-minded friends. Many expats like to give back in their new home, donating their time to whatever cause is most needed locally, whether it’s to help kids, the homeless, single mothers, the disabled, the elderly, or the sick. You can get into these on your own, but if you join expat clubs, many have causes they encourage members to support.
I’ve heard of groups that do just about anything you can think of… building playgrounds at orphanages and schools, knitting hats for newborns, driving meals to those who can’t get out, beach clean ups, soup kitchens, and so much more.
Animals are another pet project for many who see the lack of infrastructure for dealing with strays in other parts of the world. Many places have wildlife rescue operations, spay and neuter services, or other animal-oriented programs that need help.
But you can also volunteer to help in businesses or at organizations that you support. In Paris, I’ve joined the American Library and would be volunteering there already if my due date didn’t prevent me from making the commitment they like to see. Many national parks offer volunteer programs, as well as art foundations.
Think outside the box a little and you’re sure to find something that appeals to you.
In some ways, you could say that finding new friends abroad can be easier than it is at home—you’re not already entrenched in a routine, so setting up these new social outlets is far more turn-key.
Another great way to try to make new friends is to put in some time before you move… and we try to help you do just this at the events we host. Every conference we hold is a golden opportunity to meet others with the same ideas and goals as you, and we try to give attendees as many chances as possible to rub elbows via happy hours and coffee breaks. We even host an annual singles event at our Retire Overseas Conference every year (details for our 2020 Retire Overseas Conference coming around the new year) for those hoping to find love in their new life overseas.
For our upcoming Panama conference, we’ve set up an event devoted entirely to friend-making, complete with games and icebreakers to get the ball rolling. The conference itself begins Wednesday (Jan. 22), but Tuesday evening, we invite all the attendees to get together on the Golden Tower Hotel’s terrace for some fun and conversation. We’ve even arranged for a 10% discount on food and drinks.
Just don’t overdo it on the social lubrication—you’ll have a busy few days ahead of you…