If you’re anything like me, a young professional working in a globally-recognised field, you’ve probably thought about uprooting your life and moving to a new country. With travel and broadening cultural horizons front of mind, moving overseas with work is a tantalising option. But there’s something that often keeps us from taking that leap of faith: fear.
We fear failure. We fear not being able to make friends or fit in. We fear the unknown.
I have been fortunate enough to live on 3 different continents in the last 4 years, with varying degrees of fulfilment and enjoyment. I now find myself in Australia and can honestly say I’m feeling well and truly settled in under a year. During my travels I’ve learned a few tactics which have helped me settle quicker, make friends faster, and which leave me feeling very content with my choice to make the move.
Ironically, I’m writing this with the pandemic-ridden globe decidedly unfit for travel. But we have to believe at some point the planet will be open for business (and travel) again, right?
In the event that it is right, and that you are considering a move internationally, here are the things I’ve learned which can help you get the most out of your new home.
1. Become a yes-(wo)man
Say “yes” to everything. Well, everything that’s not going to get you deported, at least.
I cannot stress this enough. It’s probably the single most important mindset you can adopt when you move into a new place. Take every opportunity you can to join in. By virtue of your new job and new home, you’ll be meeting a lot of people. I’ve found people typically are very welcoming when we give them the chance and show that we’re open to it. The second we say “no” to an invite, we’re (intentionally or not) signaling that we don’t want new friends. Just as you fear rejection, the person who’s just spontaneously invited you to lunch probably wasn’t planning on being rejected today either. They’re unlikely to try again.
Take every chance to grab a coffee with someone new, go for lunch, join in on team events, etc. Soon, the coffees can turn into weekends away, parties, and other fun; all another step closer to feeling settled and happy in your new home.
2. Be patient
Think about your current circle of close friends; the ones you meet up with most weekends. Did you meet them all in a week? A month? A year, even? I’d guess no! So why are you expecting a stream of friends dying to hang out with you when you’ve barely learned how to pronounce the name of the suburb you live in?
It takes time to build close relationships. It takes focus and attention on developing friendships from both sides.
Once I reminded myself of this, and the fact that not everyone you meet in life is destined to be your best friend, I was all of a sudden a lot more content with my social circle at an earlier stage. I also became a lot more comfortable in my own company. The stress of needing to make friends now was replaced with an “all in good time” mindset.
Each day, I try to focus on the interactions themselves. I want to live in the moment and enjoy the conversation, learn something new about someone or share a cool experience together. With enough positive interactions, friends tend to present themselves.
Give it a chance. You’re creating roots in an entirely new place.
Patience not your strong suit? I guess there is always Tinder.
3. Make the first move
Remember, you’re the new person on the block. Others have already got established social circles, so there’s less incentive for them to put themselves out there at first.
Sure, while we can all dream of the day we’re in a room full of people, slinging witty banter, while moonwalking through the crowd who are queuing up to be our friends (no? Just me?) that’s simply not realistic. We’re not all extroverts and moving to a new place as an introvert almost certainly makes it significantly more difficult to break into social circles.
My advice: try your absolute best to put yourself out there. You have to show people you are there to make new friends. If you’re an introvert or feeling anxious, focus on the one-on-one interactions and start small. Ask someone to grab a coffee during the day and have a quick chat. Grab lunch with someone you’ve met. Invite someone for a game of tennis (or whatever your game is).
Your invite is very likely to be returned at some point. When this happens, refer to 1 above. On the off chance your invite gets rejected (and my experience is that this hardly ever happens when you’re the newbie on the block) refer to 2 above.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
It helps if you have hobbies
In implementing the above, I’ve certainly been helped by the fact that I can play quite a few sports. I’m by no means an extreme athlete but do tend to have good enough coordination to participate. I’ve been able to join a squash club, build new friendships through golf and tennis, and hope to join in on cricket at some point in time too! All of this makes me feel a lot more a part of the community.
If you don’t play sport, it’s likely you do have other hobbies. Whether you’re a gamer, artist, musician, self-proclaimed beer pong champion or anything in between, there’s most definitely a community with similar interests out there waiting to meet you. Find out where they are and get involved! At least you’ll have something to talk about.
Of course, it is possible to build a network and make new friends without any significant hobbies, but I’ve found that my efforts seem to be propelled by the fact that I am able to get involved in these sorts of activities.
Enjoy the process
Half the fun of moving to a new place is the fact that it’s all different. Sure, it’s scary as all hell, but I believe it’s one of the best experiences a human can have in life. Figuring out the quirks of a new place, learning about new cultures, forming new habits, trying different things, and getting out of the rut you’ve been living in for the last few years. You find out a lot about yourself when you’re starting with a clean slate. What a thrill!
If you’re thinking about moving internationally, or even doing a short-term secondment, make a point of enjoying the process instead of being fixated on what you think the endgame is. The beauty of moving is not knowing what the endgame is. Be 100% present for each interaction, each wrong turn, each missed train and each time you have to navigate a language barrier. I promise your experience will be so much richer for it.