If you are considering moving to another country, and especially if you are single and would be going alone, the thought of making new friends there might seem daunting. It’s obviously more difficult for some people than for others, but generally speaking I’ve found that it’s actually quite a bit easier than making new friends in your home town.
I consider myself a shy person who doesn’t care much for chitchat about the weather and such, so I tend to be a bit slow to make new friends no matter where I am. However, after just returning again to a new city in the United States where I don’t have much of a social circle, I’m realizing that making friends is much more challenging than when I was living abroad all over the world.
Fish out of water tend to flock together
One of the more interesting realizations about this topic is that “breaking the ice” when you are living abroad tends to be incredibly easy. Whether you are a foreign traveler or an expat, you’ll tend to go to certain restaurants and bars that other travelers and expats go to, at least when you feel like being social.
When I was living in Bangkok I lived in a serviced apartment complex in an expat neighborhood, and many of my neighbors were fellow Westerners. I became pretty good friends with a retired postal worker from the Midwest who’d moved there with the hopes of finding a local wife. I had absolutely nothing in common with any of that, yet we bonded almost effortlessly because we were both Americans living in a sea of Thai people.
I also remember having a beer in the bar of my hotel in Siem Reap, and finding it incredibly easy to strike up a conversation with any other foreigner there, whether they were European or Australian or whatever. We always had something strong in common in that we were fish out of water, and we all take a bit of comfort in banding together to share experiences in those situations.
Fish in the water are nothing special
So here I am in another new city but this time in my home country. There are several other cities I could have moved to where I know at least a few people, but here I’m nearly starting from scratch. At least on a superficial basis, there is nothing special or interesting about me at all here.
I don’t mean to dwell on it, but once you are out of school most people aren’t looking for new friends. Their social circles expand or contract as new friends of friends arrive or depart, but very few people actually campaign to recruit all-new members. Obviously there are ways of finding people with things in common, like taking night classes or attending events you are passionate about, but it does take some work. When you are living abroad it feels like you only have to find other foreigners and you are pretty much in the group.
The good news is that starting friendships abroad is quite easy
The point of all this isn’t that making friends in your home country is difficult, it’s that it’s actually remarkably easy when you are abroad. The people you meet might not be people you have everything in common with, but that spirit of being outsiders together is a great place to start.