Moving to a new city or country comes with bittersweet feelings. You leave the place in which you’ve been living for a long time (if not forever) and the people that have made of that place your home. Saying goodbye to your friends, who you’ve had for so many years, and your family, who is irreplaceable, is an inexplicably sad moment. But despite all this, stepping on that plane and knowing you’re about to face new adventures feels pretty exciting.
Then comes the most frightening part: the realization that you are starting from zero. You are moving to an unfamiliar place, without any family, friends, or anyone you know. Everything as you know it will change.
I’ve moved abroad twice: first as an exchange student, and then for work (and love). My first experience moving abroad was naturally scarier than the second time, but the first time it was easier to build a social life and friendships than the second. The different reasons for moving abroad can dictate the social experience you have… and the ease with which you can build friendships and adapt to the culture.
Living Abroad through an Exchange Program vs. Living Abroad for Work.
Going abroad as a student through exchange programs like Erasmus and UGRAD immediately connects you to a group of people who are experiencing the same thing. My first time abroad was as an exchange UGRAD student at American University in D.C. We were required to attend an orientation week, and I met all of my friends in a matter of days. That was easy!
Meeting new friends on a university happens pretty much automatically, whether it is during an orientation week, in classroom, or just around campus.. If you’re worried about making friends – don’t. You will definitely find your group of people fast.
On the other hand, moving into a city as a non-student, for a job or as an au-pair, or simply because you want something new in your life, makes creating a social life much more challenging. You might quickly meet a lot of people at work or at language courses, but you won’t necessarily connect with them, especially if you aren’t the same age or share similar interests. It’s challenging because you just don’t have a place where you automatically become part of a community.
It can be especially challenging for au pairs, because they work at home, and attend a language course a few times a week, where the only way to communicate with your classmates is the language that you’re currently learning. Communication can be slow and tedious.
But don’t worry – it’s not all depressing! Living in very international cities like Frankfurt definitely has its perks. Thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and Meetup, as well as networking events, there are many chances to find great friends and bring that social aspect into your new life. It’s nice to know that, like you, there are other hundreds of people out there who are desperately trying to find new friends!
The Country says, “Integrate, integrate, integrate!” But… is it that easy?
Tying to somehow meet people who are going through similar experiences (a.k.a. foreigners) is the easy part. What about cultural integration? Making local friends, which is the most recommendable thing to do, is even harder.
In my situation, as a 25 year-old whose college time is over and who has been living in Frankfurt for a year and a half already, it was and still is a bit hard to find local friends that are the same age, who would let me in into their already established group of friends. It’s hard to connect with them, not only because they naturally get along better with people they’ve known for years, but also because having good conversations (not small talk conversations) in a foreign language is a challenge.
If it weren’t for my boyfriend, I’d hardly have any German friends. I’ve been lucky: his friends have been open and accepting from the start. When I didn’t know German, they spoke to me in English. No problem! Now we speak to each other in German and it works well. As a result, I’ve found amazing friends.
Sadly, it’s not always like that: I’ve had friends with similar situations like mine who’ve had struggles to adapt and get involved at social events. Not everyone’s friends will switch to English, even if they are part of the conversation. It’s an awkward situation: you just stand there and smile while you are trying not to look desperately bored or offended for being excluded. On the other hand, you just can’t expect everyone at a party switch into English so you can understand, so that’s a tricky balance to maintain. And for me personally, a magnificent motivator to learn more German.
Living abroad is wonderful: you get to learn about different cultures, languages, and people. You get to learn something new every day and be surprised by the little things. It’s amazing to look back and see how far you’ve gone and how much you’ve evolved as a person. It’s wonderful to enjoy life with a certain sense of open-mindedness, or should I say…foreign-mindedness? 😉
Have you been through similar things? How did you adapt and find new friends? Tell me about your experiences!