Leaving your friends and support network behind can be one of the greatest challenges of an international relocation. But, as every expat knows, it also creates space for new friendships and the opportunity to engage with people you might not have met in your comfortable home environment. The question is: how do we make new friends?
I asked Gabrielle Yetter, an expat and an author on her tips on making new friends in a new country.
When my husband, Skip, and I moved to Phnom Penh in 2010, we left a lot of things behind: bills, house, work, schedules and cold weather.
While we’d intentionally made the move to Cambodia and quickly fallen in love with our new lifestyle, there was one thing that wasn’t easy to leave behind: friends.
My work colleagues were lovely but didn’t speak much English, making deeper relationships hard to cultivate, and my fellow volunteers had moved to other regions of the country. So I put together a plan of action which included these tools, and before long had a circle of new pals from around the world.
Through ‘non-virtual’ networking, I found out about social and business groups in Phnom Penh: the British Chamber of Commerce, Women’s International Group, American Chamber of Commerce, Phnom Penh Toastmasters – and went along to events that sounded interesting. I didn’t become a member of any, but it was another way to meet people and figure out who I might want to include in my social circle.
As a long time user of LinkedIn, I joined every group based in Cambodia and emailed members who sounded interesting or had similar backgrounds. I introduced myself, told them we were new in town and asked if they’d be open to meeting for coffee or lunch. I had replies from most people. Some didn’t pan out or we couldn’t coordinate a meeting, but some became friends. I also joined an active Yahoo Group of expats based in Cambodia where members posted about job openings, restaurants, stuff for sale and events happening around the country. Through them, I learned about a newly developing book club (where I joined and made a couple of friends), a movie club (that I attended twice before it fizzled out) and an organization needing a writer for their newsletter (I applied and got it).
Living overseas as an expat means you fit into a unique niche if you can write. In Phnom Penh (as in many cities), there are lots of print and online publications, all of which need to fill their pages. They don’t pay much, but if you can survive on a small income, write a lot of articles or want to supplement your salary, there’s usually someone who’ll buy your articles.
We found it much easier to meet people and make friends in an expat community than back home. People weren’t as wrapped up in their own circle of friends, clubs, churches or school groups. Instead, we were all in the same boat – living in a country that wasn’t our home and keen to meet like-minded individuals. Being friendly to strangers and expressing an eagerness to experience new opportunities opened a lot of doors.
I took a photography class, an Apsara dance class, a modern dance class and yoga classes. I attended a seminar on personal growth, went to the Phnom Penh TEDx conference and had regular Khmer language classes. Some of the events were one-offs, but I sometimes met someone I wanted to see again (or introduce to my husband), so I’d always get a business card and drop them a note within a day or two, suggesting coffee or a cocktail.
Being a resource.
The more visible I made myself, the more I became part of the community. And the more I became part of the community, the more I was able to offer new arrivals in Cambodia by helping them find their feet and locate jobs, opportunities or neighbourhoods to live in. People contacted me online for help when they were moving to (or visiting) Phnom Penh. In turn, I introduced newcomers to people that might be helpful for them and continued to broaden my circle.
Each of these smalls steps magnified my social interactions. I encourage you to start now, take a small step and reach out!
First published on Expat Nest.