Ever wonder what is the secret to making friends while living abroad? Twenty-five years ago, Lief and I moved to Ireland. Me from Baltimore, him from Chicago. We brought my daughter and my International Living business with us.
We settled in Waterford, where we bought an old house.
Lief and I both were working full-time, leaving for the office early every morning and returning home in time for dinner each evening, leaving little opportunity for socializing.
Whatever free time we had during our first years in the country we invested in renovating our country home.
Our first friends were our tradesmen.
The general contractor for the project, Noel, the crew Noel brought on board to carry out the work, the cabinetmaker John we engaged to build our kitchen and library, the architect David who drafted plans for converting one of the barns into a guesthouse… these people became our closest friends in Waterford. We’re in contact with them all still today.
I like old houses the way that some women like new shoes. They’re my preferred preoccupation. In Noel, John, and David, I found kindred souls. We enjoyed our long days together tearing out walls and building in bookcases.
How do you like to spend your time?
Whatever your favorite hobby, you’ll find like-minded enthusiasts in your new home, if you make the effort to seek them out. This is the best way to build a new circle of friends.
In Paris, our first local friends were the parents of our children’s classmates at school. Again, we were working full-time and had little time for random hanging out, but we made time for parent-teacher meetings and other school functions.
As Kaitlin and Jackson made friends, they were invited to birthday parties and playdates and wanted to invite their new playmates over to our apartment. We made friends with the parents of our children’s friends by default and, through them, were introduced to others in our neighborhood.
When we made our third international move, to Panama, fifteen years ago, we arrived, again, with entrepreneurial agendas.
The Secret To Making Friends While Living Abroad
Our entire quarter-century overseas, Lief and I have made friends by accident.
Not so my friend Thom.
Thom and I met in Baltimore. He was an ardent solo traveler. And he made an art and a science of making friends wherever he went.
He liked music and played the six-string and carried his guitar with him everywhere. It was slung over his shoulder through airports, train stations, and hotel lobbies all over the world.
Before arriving in a new town, Thom would research local live music venues. First thing, before checking into his hotel even, he’d stop in at one, sit down at the bar, strike up a conversation with the bartender, and, soon enough, get himself invited to pull out his guitar and play a little.
My Friend Thom
Thom kept all these music-lover’s venues and contacts in his cell phone. When he made the acquaintance of a barkeep, a doorman, a club proprietor, or a fellow musician anywhere in the world, he’d ask the fellow (or lady) to type their contact details into his phone.
Thom coded entries so he could search them by location. Next time he arrived in town, he’d call up his local resources and friends.
This time when he showed up for open mic night at any of the venues where he’d already introduced himself, he’d be greeted, as he walked through the door, with a hearty, “Hey, Thom! You’re back! Did you bring your guitar?”
Cards printed with his name and cell phone number. Thom handed them out everywhere he went. Each time he gave someone one of his cards, he’d make a note on the back: “This is Thom, the guy who likes to play guitar,” or “This is Thom, the guy you met in Club Such-and-Such.”
Thom came to visit us in Ireland often. When I’d accompany him for a night out, I was shamed. He’d push open the door to Geoff’s, our favorite watering hole in Waterford, and everyone in the place, in unison, would call out, “Thom!”
No one in Geoff’s knew my name. But everyone knew Thom.
My point is that I encourage you to make a point of making friends and connecting with the community wherever in the world you decide to chase adventure.
That is the secret to making friends while living abroad and your new life will be far richer as a result.
Until next time,
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter