Everyone needs friends, but friendships become even more important when you have left your country, your home and members of your family. The transition experienced, although exciting, is also very unsettling, so having a strong support network is vital.
However, as an expatriate, there are other friendship factors to consider, like whether you should socialise with other expats or spend time with locals.
We have taken a look at the pros and cons of both:
Expat friends (EFs as we will call them), if from your country of origin, will allow you to touch base without you actually needing to fly home. They will understand your cultural references and give you moments of solidarity when everything is feeling a bit daunting. They will also be there when you want to spend those holidays, the Thanksgivings and the St Patrick’s days, with people who understand just how important it is to eat pumpkin pie, or dance an Irish jig.
However homesickness can be made worse if you cling to the familiar. It is important to remember that this new country is your home and immersing yourself in the new experiences available to you could really help you to settle in to your new expat life, rather than clinging on to the memories and customs of home.
If you are trying to learn the language then surrounding yourself with locals will help you immensely. Even with the best intentions, when speaking to your EFs, there will always be the temptation to revert back to your mother tongue when things get difficult. Locals will also know all the idioms and complexities of the language that cannot be grasped from a book or an audio tape. Learning the language, the local way, will speed up the process and provide a cultural insight that is unrivaled by any other form of education.
On the other hand, constant translation can be very tiring so sometimes it is better to have the option of speaking in your native language. Laughing is also important for keeping life care-free and whimsical. But, while you should share humour with all of your friends, there are certain jokes which just do not translate. Instead of wearing the humour thin by trying to explain it, maybe just save these acquired witticisms for your EFs.
Hanging around with locals will give you a real insight into the culture. They will help you find out the restaurants that serve the best food, steer you away from the tourist traps, and guide you through the foreign bureaucracies.
Having said that, there is value in sharing the experience of the unknown with other expatriates. You can have a lot of fun navigating the new country together and making the mistakes and faux pas that you will look back and laugh at, later on in your friendship. It is worth pointing out that EFs will not necessarily be from your home country and so spending time with them can be even more enlightening as you experience a new world together, filtered through a myriad of cultural knowledge.
Bearing in mind the benefits of both, a balance of local and expat friends should help you get through the more difficult moments as well as enjoy the good times. Immerse yourself in the new culture, make local friends and try and speak the language, but do so with other expats, who will empathise with your situation as only other expats can do.
But, before we clock off, there is another group of people who are worth a mention - home friends. While they are far away, they should not be forgotten, so whenever you have a moment, spare a thought, an email or a phone call for your friends overseas. These are the people who will keep you connected to your home country, be there if you decide to repatriate and, importantly, remind you of your sense of self, the self before the expat.
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