Knowing how to make friends in a new country is a great skill. But knowing how to continue trying when our efforts don’t amount to any real connections is a different story.
So let’s talk about how to make friends in a new country when you’ve tried your best but you’re ready to give up.
THE SHIFT IN MINDSET YOU NEED TO KEEP TRYING
I am sure you have put in more than enough effort into making friends in this new country. I’m also sure you’ve gathered a laundry bag full of rejections, or stories of why-don’t-they-want-to-be-friends-with-me-I-did-everything-right.
I do not have any well-kept secrets to share with you to the like of if you regularly show up at bar x, your social life wishes will all come true.
But I can give you a different perspective on what it means to build a social life from scratch. Something that I feel has been sorely missing in all the advice that I have read about how to make friends in a new country.
Because the honest truth is – there is no pill you can take that will magically give you your dream social life.
All your best efforts will not work out.
You may be doing everything right. You may even make genuine connections with people. But they still won’t become regular people in your life.
Once I accepted that it’s possible to do everything right and still have no friends – I felt the pressure lift and I relaxed for the first time, perhaps ever.
But it took me years of painful internationalization (‘am I too introverted?’), trying to stand out less and fit in more, blaming the people around me, blaming myself for choosing to move to this country, blaming the weather, you name it.
It’s not a good place to be emotionally, and it certainly does not make one an attractive prospect as a new (or hell, even as an existing) friend.
LET GO OF THE PRESSURE TO MAKE FRIENDS IN A NEW COUNTRY IMMEDIATELY
One thing to understand is that no matter how long it takes, you will make friends sooner or later. The emphasis being on sooner or later.
If we let go of expectations around when it should happen, which for most would be ASAP, we instantly become more relaxed as a person.
We are then better able to enjoy the company of the people we meet without putting pressure on them to become our next best friend.
Of course it’s very hard to move to a new country and feel like you have nothing to do and no social life.
Maybe you’re even the type that enjoys the buzz of a lot of people around you.
Maybe the memory of all the friends you left behind is too upsetting in comparison to your now completely empty social calendar.
Maybe you think that you’re a failure if you don’t have a social life right this instant.
Or maybe you have not quite become friends with yourself, so now all the time you have for yourself in this new country is just magnifying the issues you know are lurking under the surface, waiting for you to pay attention to them.
Regardless of your circumstances, letting go of expectations is the key to making friends in a new country.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS IN A NEW COUNTRY WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS
I did not start to feel any sort of satisfaction with my social life until I let go of any expectations on timelines and quantity of friends.
Making new friends in a new country shouldn’t be something that we set as a goal.
People don’t become your friends because you have a goal to reach. People become your friends when things naturally work out.
Meanwhile, we have to learn to enjoy what we do have.
For instance, I’ve taught myself to feel just as socially fulfilled by brief chats or even longer conversations with random people without expecting them to become my new best friend.
I have wholly let go of seeking friends, and rather focused on having a good time with that person for however long we are in each other’s company.
Sometimes we would exchange contacts, but even that doesn’t necessarily mean that the connection will lead to a great new friendship.
Whether or not we will want to become friends will be a matter to be explored.
At the end of the day, it’s still a numbers game. I have noticed that for every 10 person I meet, there may be only one that I establish some sort of deeper connection with.
But even then, it is not guaranteed that I will meet them again or that they become a regular fixture in my life.
I’ve learned to enjoy people’s company, and let them go when the time has come. Whether that’s 10 minutes later or 2 months later.
So if your social life still looks very haphazard and unstable 1 month, 6 months, or even a year into your life abroad, it’s not that you don’t have a social life.
It just looks different than what you may be used to from before, or what you think it should be like at this point in time.
I would love to hear from you – what sort of successes or failures have you had trying to make friends in a new country?
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.