By Micaela Crespo, Expat Lifehacks
Yes, I’ve come to terms with the fact that we cannot rely on our families to take care of simple logistic tasks. We can’t count on our expat friends and connections in our host country, since they’re probably in the same situation than us. I therefore use planning, automation and delegation to take care of these things.
And yet, I always make a small group of friends every time we move to a new place.
And that’s because there are two things that I’ll never be able to obtain from systems and planning: peace of mind and human connection.
When I became a working expat mum in the UK with dad travelling 2 weeks a month, the nights were terrifying. I would dwell in bed reeling over the things that could happen while I was alone. What would I do if anything happened during the night?
When I told a friend I made about my fears, she automatically offered to be my emergency contact and told me I could call her at any time.
This was priceless to me. I had recovered my peace of mind, and I could now sleep again. I felt less alone.
I never had to call her in the middle of the night – fortunately – but I am still extremely grateful for her availability and friendship. Other mums offered the same over time, when I told them what my life looked like.
This gave me a deep sense of human connection and community, even outside of my birth country and family.
How to make friends as an expat mum
To be honest, I’ve never made more friends than when I became an expat mum. When you become one, you have the possibility to get in contact with many other mums who need and want the same things that you do.
This gives you a common ground to start off a conversation. Your kids are a perfect icebreaker: one “how old is yours?” and you’re off to the races.
There are four things you must bear in mind when you’re making new friends as an expat:
- Start with other expats. While you can make local friends with time, starting with other expat mums like you is your best bet. They share your experience and challenges, they know you need the support and they need it too, so it’s a win-win situation. They will probably be more open to it at first. Indeed, the 2015 Expat Insider survey shows that 37% of expat women reported having more expat friends than locals.
- Start as many relationships as you can. Don’t hold back. Strike a conversation each time you can. Expat friendships are volatile in nature. Someone might move at any time, or you just might not click. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in them, only that even if you try hard, some will flourish, and some won’t. It’s only natural.
- Nurture your relationships. As I mentioned in the last point, some relationships will stick and others won’t. You shouldn’t beat yourself up. Some people are compatible, and some aren’t. However, you can be certain that none will flourish if you don’t devote time to it.
- Step out of your comfort zone. You may prefer staying in and going to bed early, but you won’t find many people if you’re always home. If you want to extend your network, you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone. Go to parks, start conversations, go to events. It may feel awkward at first, but it will pay off.
At this point you might be wondering: yes, but where do I find all these people I need to engage with? Good question! Here’s a list of all the places/strategies you can use to meet new people and hopefully found new lasting relationships:
- Work. This is an obvious one, since you’ll be spending most of your wake hours with them. Of course it only applies for working mums, but sometimes expat dads are very sociable too and may bring some colleagues home for dinner. Encourage that! It’s a great start to develop your network.
- Other friends. This may sound redundant, but sometimes your friends will have other “networks” that you can be included in. Talk to them and see if they can introduce you to them as well. Of course, you should try to give back the favour.
- Expat events. These days you can find out quite easily if there are any expat events going on in your area. You can check Internations, Meetup and/or Facebook groups where people gather according to interests and meet up regularly.
- Online communities. Similarly to the last point, you can find communities of expats (and even expat mums) online, mostly on Facebook. Online communities are a great way to share your thoughts, ask advice and bond with other mums even if they’re not geographically nearby. While you can’t go out for an afternoon coffee, they’re great for venting and reassurance. There is even a new app called Liana, where you can find people nearby that speak the same language as you, or come from your same country.
- Your kids. This has been my main source of friendmaking ever since they were born. Not only can you meet with the mums at daycare (if you take them there), but you can strike a conversation in the park, the playground or even the supermarket! Kids are an excellent way of breaking the ice. If your kids do not go to day care or school, enrol to some parent-child activities. They will be packed with other mums who share your same beliefs and habits. It could be anything from post-natal gym, baby massage, baby gym, music classes, dance classes, you name it!
Micaela Crespo started her expat adventures at the age of 17. During her expat journey she obtained a PhD in Chemical Engineering, she became a project manager, started blogging, got married and had two children. She believes all expat mums have the potential of carrying out their dreams! She created Expat Lifehacks to help expat mothers who feel overwhelmed and lost develop the confidence and strategies they need to feel fully supported and thrive.