Making friends as an expat
When you get a job in hometown or the place you went to uni, you’ve already got friends there. Sometimes you move to a new city for work and friends already live there. In the UK, loads of people move to London when they graduate, so they all already know each other. We moved to Leeds during Kris’ PhD and his best mates from home were living there already. Often you meet people at work who become real mates after a work night out reveals a shared interest in doing shots and dancing to 80s hits, or you both have kids the same age.
When you move abroad it can be different. A lot of the time you know no one in the city you are moving to. It can be a bit daunting and lonely at the start. We first living in Bangkok after our TEFL training and lots of people we trained with lived around there too. At the weekends we all stayed in the city, hung out and explored. We even travelled with them after we finished, to see the temples at Angkor in Cambodia with James from London, and to Hanoi in Vietnam with Kirsten and Naomi from Australia, Erica from America and Sophia from New Zealand.
If you are going to teach abroad, this is a great reason to train in the country you want to work in. A group of people will all be in the same boat as you – new to the city and wanting to explore and have fun.
Friends of friends (of friends)
The internet is a marvellous thing. It allows us to keep in touch with people from all over the world who we maybe worked with, studied with, met in a pub or on the road. And those friends have friends too. And they have friends….One way to meet people in a new place is to be introduced by a friend on Facebook or similar. If you are moving abroad, ask friends if they know anyone living there. Ask to be introduced. Who knows, you may really hit it off.
You will also meet people at work. It can be a bit intimidating when you start in a school because it seems like everyone already knows each other. Thing is, everyone was new once and they all remember what it was like, so they are likely to be welcoming. In Saigon, both schools we were in had over 50 teachers so there was a wide range of people to get to know. Big schools often have social events and some even have a person in charge of organising nights out.
The school in Haiphong was really small with less than ten teachers, but there were very few foreigners so everyone hung out together. It was the sort of place where when you saw another foreigner you stopped to say hello. We met one friend in a bar when he was sitting alone at another table. Our very good friend Maddi we met after meeting her work colleague in the street taking photos and inviting her to meet us in a bar. After work on Sunday was always a big night and you could find a big group of us taking up all the tables outside Giang guitar bar.
Sometimes schools are small and not so sociable, perhaps because the staff are older and more settled. It’s also more difficult if you are freelance or working in businesses so you don’t see other teachers.In these situations, there are other ways to meet friends. Meetup is a fabulous website. Its tag line is ‘meet your people’ and it’s excellent for that. If you search for a city, you will find many groups with different themes – sports like volleyball or yoga, IT and programming, book clubs, wine societies, lots of food and drink meetups. It’s a bit like clubs and societies at university. People set groups up based on what they are interested in and then other people join.
We first started using it in Shanghai and went to lots of food and drinks events as well as to a 3D art museum with a load of people. In Odessa, we met lots of friends through the Ukraine Expats Hangout group – which included a lot of Ukrainians too. Here in Bangkok, we go to Bangkok Afterwork every month. On the first Thursday of the month, a couple of guys organise an event in a bar with 250 baht entry including a free drink and sometimes food. Everyone wears name badges so it’s easy to just wander around and introduce yourself to people. We’ve met some cool people through it so far. It also gets us to bars we wouldn’t normally visit.
You can even use it at home. Our friend Tony organises regular bike rides and picnics in his hometown of Chicago. Check it out.
Couchsurfing is another fun way to meet new people. It’s the well-known website where people offer space in their house or flat to travellers for free. It’s a good way to get to know the culture and people in a place you visit. But you don’t have to stay with people or have people stay with you. Groups in cities also organise events for travellers and locals to get to know each other. We met people in Odessa that way. There are lots of people organising trips to festivals, live music interesting bars. In Bangkok, there are two weekly gatherings, one in a bar on a Wednesday night and one in a hostel in Khoa San road on Fridays.
We’ve never actually been to any of these, but Internations are in most big cities with an expat population. They organise various types of events. You can sign up for free and go to the events, but if you pay for membership you get cheaper entry and access to advice and information.
One for the ladies, Girls Gone International is a magazine and website for women living abroad. There are groups in many cities that organise events for women to get together. This is another one we haven’t been to (even with the hair, Kris wouldn’t really get in) but there’s quite an active group in Bangkok which looks fun.
Known as ‘the drinking club with a running problem, the Hash House Harriers started as an expat event back in 1938, in Malaysia. It’s a running club, but with a huge social element. On a hash, people in front (the hares) lay a trail, which the rest (the hounds) follow. They lay false trails, short cuts and backtracks as well, to keep it interesting. At the end, there is usually drink and food, and some traditions, like drinking songs and chants, and ‘penalties’ for late arrivals etc. You don’t really need to run to take part. Some walk, children go, babies are pushed in pushchairs.
We did one in Odessa. The hash there isn’t very often, but they do them occasionally. We ran around following marks from the city, ending up in a bar on the beach. Kris and I came in last, after getting very lost. As punishment, we had to drink some beer. Terrible. Was fun.
There are many expat groups for various cities on the Internet, including several on Facebook and people often organise nights out and meetings through them. Some are formal events in nice bars or restaurants, some are informal gatherings. Expats in Bangkok group do, and the Bangkok Hangouts group has lots of people talking about things they want to go to and want people to go along with.
Another way you can meet people is by getting involved in a local volunteering group. There’re lots working with rescue animals, teaching English to poor children or fundraising for schools and orphanages. We’ve never done it, mainly because we rarely have the time to dedicate to it, but it’s a serious option with the added benefit of doing something useful for the country you have chosen to live in.
Whichever way you try, you’ll find the expat world to be a welcoming place. People are always arriving and moving on, so people will want to meet and get to know new people. Sometimes you have to push yourself a little out of your comfort zone and take yourself along to an event where you know no one, and walk up and introduce yourself to someone new. It feels weird at first to say to a new person you’ve been chatting to “do you want to swap numbers, or make friends on Facebook” but once you get one or two positive responses it gets easy. Enjoy it!
The photos from this blog are not our own. We got them through the website Unsplash. Has some lovely stock photos.
How did you meet new people when you moved abroad? Post a comment so we can share ideas with others.
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