How to socialize in another country?
If you’re just about to move to a new country for a long-term assignment, you should be aware of the challenges you are about to face. Fortunately, the tremendous paperwork with visas, flights and accommodation can be managed by Clearmove’s unique software. Unfortunately, even the most amazing software in the world can’t help you with one of the toughest challenges: socialization.
The biggest downside of living abroad is the absence of a well-established network of people around you. This is your home now and you ought to build an actual life here. There needs to be a degree of fearlessness, and a strong enough mentality to be able to handle the loneliness you are going to experience at times. It’s easy to say “just be active and open”, yet that’s not that helpful to hear, let alone apply. So, here are some tips to socialize in a foreign country.
Meeting with humans who share your cultural habits is a great way to reduce the shock of living in a foreign country during the first months. However, it is important to not overdo it if you don’t want to hang out only in a small group of people from your home country. Of course, who you make friends with is up to you, but you’ll comprehend more if you meet people not just from your native environment.
There are several ways to do this: embassy’s announcements, Facebook groups e.g. “Expats in Malaysia”, “Montenegro expat community” etc, colleagues’ parties, and talking to friends of their friends. In some countries or regions, foreigners are rare and noticeable. For example, if you are European in rural China, people will spot immediately that you’re not local, and you may notice other foreigners pretty quickly too.
Language does matter
A language barrier can often add to loneliness, so the key to start a new relationship is to understand each other. You may be lucky enough to be a native speaker of a popular language such as English or Spanish, but you can’t rely on that to successfully integrate and meet people. During the first days learning basics such as “hello” and “thank you” will be appreciated and at least get you some smiles. People will value the effort, therefore, you will stand out and sometimes even get better treatment.
Besides, learning a new language not only benefits you directly (as you can use words to share information and understand what is happening around you) but also helps you understand the logic of the country because language helps shape culture. For example, the Vietnamese language has ten ways to say “you” depending on the hierarchy of age, gender and family relationship. If you learn this, you’ll be able to understand the intricacies of relationships between people who surround you. Oh, and know the age of someone without asking. Some languages take formal and informal modes of address very importantly (Slavic languages particularly), some are very literal whereas others allow more for interpretation. For example, in English stressing one word changes the entire meaning of the sentence whereas other languages may not allow for this ambiguity. Basically, learning a language helps you understand not just communication but the entire culture of your new home.
The majority of friends you had in your “previous” life didn’t appear out of nowhere. Mutual interest is usually something that joins us in groups as a human species. Open up your interests and participate in those activities that you enjoy; and do not think that you necessarily need to have proficiency in it. Sometimes a foreign language is not even needed, you just need to have something in common to start a brief talk.
What can it be? Sports activities, games clubs, a choir or band, painting, yoga classes, dancing, and so on and so forth. Participating in group activities can help you self-identify through uneasy times in the new country and bond with like-minded people. After all, clubs are inherently social. The more you get involved, the more likely you are to find acquaintances that can turn into friends.
Carpe diem: grab every chance
Even if you were a complete introvert in your home country, you have to leave your comfort zone if you are willing to have friends in your new location. Maybe your colleagues or neighbors asked you to go out, why not take the offer. Try not to reject any opportunity. You might not particularly like them as a person, but what if they bring you to a party with other people you might actually be really into?
Also going out with your colleagues will help you both to strengthen your relationship, and find out about the best spots in town. Perhaps you will be shown some typical bars for ex-pats or restaurants with weekly meetings where foreigners usually hang out. You can always come back there alone.
Be friendly to locals
It is an obvious thing to say, but with an extended meaning. Try to communicate with everyone and make friends even if you feel like a black sheep in a less-visited county. A good example might be living in rural Asian areas, where Europeans or Americans are so rare that they are worth taking pictures with. Practicing English skills is another reason you might be a great interest to a complete stranger. So why not give to locals what they want and try to benefit from it as well? At the end of the day, a friendly neighbor can always help you deal with a landlord or explain how to pay electricity bills – isn’t that great support already?
From offering native inhabitants to practice their language skills they might be looking to benefit from your friendships in the same way that you’re looking to benefit from theirs. Ultimately, your homesickness can be reduced as you integrate with the locals.
Certainly, following all of the tips may be overwhelming, especially if you are a closed person. However, the best way to get over the awkwardness is to try many times. Of course, every country, town, and experience is unique so these tips may not always work 100 percent or apply to your situation. But we hope to have given you some tools to make integration a little bit easier.
Moving to another country is tough. But perhaps you now realize you’re not alone in your worry about socialization. At least, with Clearmove this will be your only worry.