Thursday, 18 November 2010

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Tiffany Jansen

This week we explored whether expats have a tendency to be cliquey and had some strong responses on Twitter from fellow expats. As our second report found, expats tend to stick with other expats, and a lot of the response we had resonated with this. Worse still, the report also found that Europe is the hardest region to make friends. So what should you do to make that first step to venture out and start making friends from your local country?

Today’s guest blogger, Tiffany Jansen shares some of her thoughts on how to…

Befriend the Natives

Like most expats, as soon as I moved to the Netherlands, I began to seek out fellow expats and internationals. I joined an international women’s club, began Dutch language classes where I met others in my situation, and used my husband’s networks to locate other expats. My efforts produced some amazing relationships and I am so grateful that I took the time to reach out in that way.

But the longer I stayed in the Netherlands, the more I realized that something was missing. I had absolutely no Dutch friends. Of course I socialize on a regular basis with my Dutch husband’s friends and they always welcomed me with open arms. Yet the fact remains that they are my husband’s friends. I felt so dependent on him as it was during that first year, and the idea of him being the sole supplier of my Dutch contacts made me feel positively helpless.

Towards the end of my first year in the Netherlands, I decided to set out to make some Dutch friends of my own. I had several reasons for wanting to do this other than regaining a sense of independence. The two most important of those were a) to help me with my mastery of the Dutch language, which I knew was an integral part of the integration process, and b) to help me feel more at home in my new country by making me feel more rooted and giving me a sense of belonging.

My first “big break” occurred when I stumbled upon Divina Close Harmony through a fellow American and international women’s club member. Also a performer, she had found the vocal group in order to continue to nourish her love of singing and performing here in the Netherlands. Knowing that the group was an all-Dutch one -- save my newfound fluent-in-Dutch American friend – gave me some pause, but I decided to give it a shot. Divina allowed me to meet with like-minded Dutch women who share my passion, do something I enjoy, and practice my Dutch.

The next step was taking advantage of the Dutch-partner program offered by the municipality I live in. After completing an intake interview, I was paired up with a native Dutch-speaking volunteer. The idea is to meet once every two weeks over the period of six months to spend time together… speaking Dutch. My partner and I still meet up regularly almost a year later.

I’ve found that befriending the Dutch is no easy task. As friendly as the Dutch are, many expats have found that they tend to keep their friends from school or university and don’t usually feel the need to expand beyond that. Sure, they gather acquaintances from work and other social activities, but friendship is a level not too quickly or easily attained.

When I get discouraged, my husband always reminds me of his friend Inge. Inge was a former colleague of his whom he introduced to his circle of friends. It took her two full years of persistence to become a part of that circle. She’s now married to one of them and, when you see the group together, you’d never guess that there was a time when she wasn’t a part of that group and that’s if you’re a native Dutch speaker.

As a non-fluent Dutch speaker, in my case there is always going to be someone communicating in a language other than their native one. Language barriers and the inability to fully express yourself in another language can make making friends in your new country a far cry from a picnic.

Even so, only one year into Mission: Befriend the Natives and I’m already seeing results. Some days are better than others, but I’ve come to realize that making friends with the locals is a crucial part of feeling at home in your new country.

About the author

Tiffany and her dog moved to the Netherlands in 2008. Like so many expats in the Netherlands, Tiffany’s move was a result of being swept off her feet by a Dutchie. Tiffany writes about her dutchification adventures at Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland and teaches theater and musical theater workshops at Little Broadway. Follow her on Twitter @clogsandtulips


  1. This post really spoke to me! I moved to Belgium in '07 for love, and my relationship did not survive that 1st year of being dependent on my partner for everything. Kudos to you for figuring it all out! I figured out how to create an integrated social circle only after moving to Spain. Instead of meeting friends through hobbies and shared passions, I use my classes! I teach English and get to know my students pretty well. At least 5 former students have become great friends, introduced me to their friends and so on... Great post!

  2. The friend barrier is harder to crack in some cultures than others, but I agree with you absolutely that it's well worth the effort. I too have made lifelong friendships with other expats, but we need those local friends to keep us grounded in the culture in which we're living. They strip away some of the artificiality of expat life and make it seem more like "real life." They allow us to blur the boundary between belonging and "just passing through." I wish I'd managed to forge a deeper connection with more of the wonderful local people I met when I lived overseas, but the ones I did befriend enriched my life long after I left.

  3. An excellent piece. I think all our would-be expat clients should read this before signing that contract!

  4. Right on! I found a very similar dynamic when we lived in Argentina but once we did manage to make a few Argentine friends (about a year or two later), we now have them as friends many, many years later. So persistence really does pay off and Tiffany -- you did a great job, seeking out the opportunities to make Dutch friends. Great tool box for others looking to do the same!

  5. I second ieishah's suggestion of teaching or coaching English as a great way to meet the locals. Even if you're not a professional teacher (I wasn't) you can volunteer to lead a conversation group. I did this on our first expat posting in Azerbaijan and 10 years later I'm still in touch with my former students. As a result I know I had a much deeper and richer experience than many of my expat friends who stayed in "the bubble."

  6. This is a little different experience than what Tiffany experiences in terms with making friends.

    I am, by definition an expat here in NYC.

    Over the past year, I've been making more and more globally-minded friends some local some expat but all have a common bond of being Third Culture Kids. This is helped by the fact that the meetup group here is alive and very active. In addition to frequent meetups, some formal and some informal. I also like to combine my passions all together here and my social events tend to reflect my different sets of friends meeting each other, sometimes for the very first time.


Have your say here



Related Posts with Thumbnails