Many of us who move to a foreign country find ourselves starting our social network from scratch. We go out, try to meet new people, arrange social events, and yet… nothing. So let’s talk about how to make friends in a new country when you’ve already tried everything.
If you’re reading this post, I do not need to tell you that it’s hard to build a social life as a newcomer. You already know it. You’re probably reading this post so you can figure out if there is something you haven’t yet tried.
There is, but it does not fall under the usual advice of join a club and BOOM, now you have 10 close friends.
Unless of course your idea of friends is just having people to hang out with rather than meaningful connections. That is also perfectly fine, but not the kind friends I’m talking about in this post.
It also does not quite cut it to say that it’s just about having patience. There’s patience because you’re told to be patient where you do being patient through gritted teeth and a growing sense of bitterness.
And then there’s patience because you trust that things will ultimately work out, even if today, this week, this month, this year sucks.
What I want to talk about is the mindset that’s needed to build a social life, with the help of all the generic advice floating around on where to meet new people who you might click with.
When you’ve tried everything it doesn’t mean there’s no hope
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 received about making 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.
And it’s not your fault.
There. Let’s agree on that and get that out of the way.
Once I accepted that this is the reality of what it means to build a social life from nothing, I felt the pressure lift and I relaxed for the first time, perhaps ever.
But it took me years of painful internationalization (‘what’s wrong with me?’), trying to stand out less and fit in more, blaming the people around me, blaming myself for choosing to move to this country, blaming my ancestors, blaming my neighbor’s cat, 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.
The added benefit is that we are then also better able to enjoy whoever comes our way for however long they want to stay in our company.
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.
Go out and meet new people, yes, but also let go of expectations to make friends immediately
I did not start to feel any sort of satisfaction with my social life until I let go of any expectations on timelines.
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 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 that I see on a regular basis.
I wholly let go of seeking friends, and rather focused on having a good time with that person for however long we were in each other’s company.
Sometimes I would ask for their social media contacts, and sometimes they would ask for mine. But even in exchanging contacts, I would not immediately after bombard them with invitations.
I wasn’t playing it cool, or trying to protect myself from further rejection. I simply wasn’t forcing it with someone that I didn’t yet know.
But how do you then get to know people in a new country?
I’ve had best success by staying true to my personality. For someone that is incredibly adaptable, knowing and honoring my preferences has not always been easy. Especially when I have set myself up for failure by expecting friendships to happen on my timeline.
For instance, I’m not a sports person, so I’d never suggest going for a game of tennis. I’m also not super keen on organized group activities, which means that 100% of the advice out there has not been helpful for me.
But I enjoy theatre, exploring new restaurants and long conversations. However, these can be a little too personal and intimidating for some people if you only have each other to talk to at first.
For me, what has worked best is inviting people over for parties (Eurovision viewing, anyone?), dinners, or board games. Mostly because I love hosting and that’s where I shine, even though I can go through bouts of intense introversion as well.
I would typically invite any and everyone I have met over a certain period of time whenever I felt like it.
But how to make friends if the people you invite don’t show up?
Well, that has happened to me also. As heartbreaking it has been, it was also valuable information in that it showed me who was perhaps not so keen on exploring a friendship.
Unless of course they had a valid explanation for their absence, in which case I kept inviting them at least two more times until I let things go.
Sometimes the people you invite may be shy, so I also always insist that people can bring their friends or partners. That often works in everyone’s favor. I get to meet more people, and they get to feel a bit more comfortable in a new social setting.
At the end of the day, though, 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.
I would love to hear from you – what sort of successes or failures have you had trying to make friends in a new country?