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This article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of being an expat and how to create new social networks.

Life is in constant motion—we graduate high school, immerse into college life or look for fulfilling job opportunities. While the world was suspended by a global pandemic, many offices and educational institutions turned towards remote processes.

As restrictions have loosened and we have regained our chance to travel, life has been getting back to the pre-pandemic period. Yet, the anxiety of facing people and awkward situations in real life can take a toll on everyone.

Sharing from a personal experience, after five years of working remotely, I have accepted a career change which involved moving cities and being present in the office full-time. While I’m still navigating between my new social relationships and trying to manage both my professional and personal lives, I would like to share with you the challenges and opportunities that being an expat brings. The ride is definitely rocky, but it can bring joy and help you grow as a person.

Give yourself time to adjust

Being an expatriate, or expat, is a unique and often transformative experience that involves living in a country different from one’s own. Whether driven by career opportunities, personal growth, or a sense of adventure, as I have mentioned, the life of an expat comes with a blend of challenges, chances, and a constant process of adaptation.

One of the most significant aspects of being an expat is the exposure to a new culture. Living in a foreign country allows individuals to take in diverse traditions, customs, and ways of life. This exposure fosters a broader perspective, increased cultural sensitivity, and a deeper understanding of global interconnectedness.

Adapting to a new environment can be both exciting and challenging. Everyday tasks that were once routine may become unfamiliar and require a new approach. Simple things like grocery shopping, navigating public transportation, or understanding local customs may initially pose challenges.

You need to learn how to ask for help and allow yourself to communicate with the locals. Whether it is a passer-by at a bus stop that you’re asking for directions, or someone working at a local library—start small. Allow yourself to feel at ease with the new setting and the new society you’re living in. Take your time to feel the rhythm of your new surroundings.

Learn a new language

People studying outside. Photo: pexels.com

Language barriers are another common challenge for expats. Communication becomes a bridge between the familiar and the unknown, and learning a new language can be both rewarding and frustrating. The ability to converse in the local language not only simplifies daily life but also enhances the expat’s overall experience, fostering a sense of connection with the community.

You’re absolutely right—language barriers pose a significant challenge for expats, and language courses offer a fantastic opportunity to connect with new people while improving your language skills. Here are some ways expats can utilize language courses to find acquaintances or friends:

  • Group Activities: Look for classes that incorporate group work and discussion. This offers natural opportunities to interact with classmates, practice your language, and discover shared interests. Also, opt for classes that involve regular real-time meetings. I know that joining a remote class can be tempting, but the ability to learn together with likeminded people is invaluable.
  • Find a “Study Buddy”: Partner with another student to practice outside of class, study together, or explore the city. This way, you can build connections beyond the classroom setting. Make your study sessions cosy—try new cafés or parks, or any other places that would spark your creativity and help you bond better.
  • Conversation Corners: Many language schools have dedicated spaces for informal conversation practice. Join these and engage with classmates to practice your spoken language and make friends in a relaxed environment.

Find your own community

Building a social network is crucial for expats, as it provides support, friendship, and a sense of belonging. Establishing connections with both locals and fellow expatriates can enrich one’s experience and help alleviate feelings of isolation. Expat communities often develop a unique camaraderie, as members share common experiences, triumphs, and hardships.

If you’re still hesitant about joining a language course, you can try several other ways to learn from the locals and meet new people:

  • Language Exchange Programs: Platforms like HelloTalk or Tandem connect you with native speakers for language exchange. This sparks cultural understanding, builds friendships, and helps you practice the language outside of formal settings.
  • Meetup Groups: Search for meetup groups based on your interests, hobbies, or professional background. Joining photography clubs, sports teams, or book clubs allows you to interact with locals who share your passions.
  • Volunteer Opportunities: Contributing to local charities or community initiatives is a fantastic way to meet locals, give back to the community, and gain valuable insights into the local culture. Whether it’s an animal shelter or the local blood bank—sometimes being useful can be both humbling and rewarding.
People doing volunteer work.
People doing volunteer work. Photo: pexels.com
  • Join Local Events: Attend cultural events, festivals, or workshops hosted by local organizations. This immerses you in the local culture and creates opportunities for interaction. Volunteering at local festivals and other cultural events helps you get to know the locals and broadens your horizons.

Make your educational or professional change prolific

Moving to a new place for your studies or a job brings the challenge of building a social network. Here are some strategies to help you make friends in these contexts.

What could be helpful in an academic setting:

Orientation Activities: Participate actively in orientation events organized by the university or student groups. These are specifically designed to help new students connect and make friends.

Joining Clubs and Societies: Universities offer a vast array of clubs and societies based on diverse interests. Join those that align with your hobbies, passions, or cultural background.

Living on Campus: Consider on-campus housing, especially student dormitories, if available. This creates the opportunities for spontaneous interactions with other students.

Study Groups: Form or join study groups for shared classes. This promotes collaboration, academic support, and social interaction beyond academics.

If you’re tackling a new job abroad, look for:

Company Events: Actively participate in company-organized events like team-building activities, after-work drinks, or social gatherings.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Join ERGs if offered by your employer, focused on your cultural background, interests, or professional development. These groups help you feel acknowledged and provide opportunities for networking and socializing.

Mentorship Programs: Sign up for a mentorship program offered by your company or any outside organization. This connects you with experienced colleagues who can guide you professionally and potentially become friends.

Lunch Groups: Initiate or join lunch groups with colleagues who share your interests. This allows for casual interactions beyond work and builds deeper connections. Trust me, this really works. As the new co-worker in a multicultural environment, I started to cherish the hour of free time. Yes, it is scary to sit with someone you have never talked to, but from being the shy new girl, I’ve become the board game evening organizer. It took patience and effort, but keeping your mind curious and your heart open is a good start.

Final remarks

Homesickness is a natural part of expatriate life. Missing family, friends, and the familiar surroundings of one’s home country can be emotionally challenging. Give yourself plenty of time and buy additional tissues if needed. Being an expat is a multifaceted experience that offers a blend of challenges and rewards. It involves embracing diversity, adapting to new environments, and building connections. The sudden and extreme change can be daunting, but don’t forget that you’re not alone in this. “The world is your oyster”—embrace the gifts that it is giving and make your life a memorable journey.

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Greta holds a BA in English Literature and is currently working as a Copywriter for a tech company in Vilnius, Lithuania.