So you’ve packed up your bags, your life, your family and moved abroad. All your support networks have stayed in the home country. You know no-one at the new location. You feel lonely and isolated. Expat Isolation has hit. Your partner is off to work everyday, so has interaction with others but still is not gaining friends to relax with. It’s tough starting anew in a new place. So how can you come out of this common problem?
Here are my 8 simple steps to curing expat isolation. I never say they are easy, but anyone can do it.
1. Accept every single invite you get in the first months.
Yes, this is the hard one, as those first months are so busy with logistics and tiredness reigns. But if you do not accept those first invites from people near you, you may find they do not come again. So no matter how tired you are, make that extra effort and step out the door and put on your interested face. These first contacts may not be more than acquaintances at the end of your stay but they will be the first important step out of expat isolation.
2. Leave the comfort zone of your own house and get out there and meet people, especially your neighbours.
Rather than waiting on the invites, you must also take the lead and step out of your front door to meet people. When do the bins go out in your street? Try and time doing this when your neighbours do, as these little impromptu conversations can pave the way for a drink invite at your place or theirs. If people don’t see you they will not know you are there. In many cultures it is more down to you to make the first move rather than others knocking on your door. Take a walk around your block, and if someone else is out gardening or mending something, stop and say hello and talk to them. Just simple things like “Hello, I have just moved here and live in that house there (pointing). Isn’t this a great place to live? What are your favourite things that you would recommend for me to do or go?”. People everywhere in the world love talking about where they are living. It is a great conversation opener. Use it!
3. Join a Club
If you have set hobbies or sports you enjoy, joining a local club is the best way to meet others with similar interests. Look for posters at town halls, community centres, swimming pools, schools and gyms. Often clubs will run a teaching schedule that falls in line with the school year, so sign up for memberships may be best at this time. But if you miss do not let that stop you, as most people who run clubs are always welcoming to new members.
4. Teach others about your culture / language.
If you are somewhere where your language is different from the local one, teaching others who are interested is another great way to build friendships. Informal language exchanges happen worldwide, where you meet for a coffee and speak half the time in one language then switch to the other. having a good command of English will make you a much wanted ‘conversation companion’. Then you have a local who you can ask the best things to do, where to eat, local customs etc.
5. Learn the language
Learning a new language can be tough, but it has to be done to make the most of your new location. There will be group classes where you can learn and meet others in the same situation as yourself. Start by focusing on conversational classes rather than the writing and reading. To cure Expat Isolation you need to be able to communicate in person. If a class is not as you want, switch. There are many different teaching methods and teachers out there and it’s important to find the one that works for you. I found that two 2 hour lessons a week worked well for me spaced Monday and Thursday. This allowed my brain to get into the ‘foreign’ mode and also have time between lessons to do any homework. Two hours at the start is tough, but as you progress the time goes faster, and you will be amazed at the improvements you will make.
6. Start a new Hobby
No matter what your age, you’re never too old to learn something new. You may be surprised and find a hobby you never thought you’d enjoy. If you’re near the sea, try kayaking, swimming or snorkelling. If there are mountains nearby, start with easy hikes or trails. Take an art or jewellery making class or a photography club where you will not only meet new people but capture your new region to share with others. If you’re used to the gym, try yoga or Pilates instead. You’re bound to meet people and learn a new skill at the same time.
7. Use the internet for local contacts
The world has changed greatly in the last 10 years. There are many social avenues to be found online that link with real life events. This is a great way to meet new people. Look at sites such as www.meetup.com, and also within Yahoo groups or Facebook groups, search your town or region for groups. There are expat groups to be found in most areas now. getting to know people a little first through comments online can help ease the initial meetings. BUT do not just stay ONLINE - you must get out there and attend the EVENTS that these groups set up. These are people who have linked up because they WANT to meet new people, so will greet you with a friendly smile when you do.
8. And yes, it is good to talk with old friends over the internet.
There is no doubt, we all need those moments of just re-connecting with the friends and family that we left behind. They will want to know how you are doing, and it will be good for you just to let out all the weird an wonderful things that have occurred since your arrival. Just don’t focus too much time on this. You need to make your life in the new location to stop Expat Isolation.
If you need a helping hand through this process, why not take my Social Success Expat Academy model where over 30 days I will coach you through the steps and help you find the avenues at your location that will cure you of Expat Isolation. Contact me if you have questions and check out the course at http://jumpoverseas.com/academy/
“Expat Isolation is a reality at the start of any international assignment, make sure that you make it disappear as fast as possible. Use my tips on how to cure expat isolation.” – Susanna, owner Jump Overseas.