Building a social life as a new arrival

Building new friendships as an adult can be difficult, and being a new arrival in a foreign country only adds to the difficulty. Ironically, this is also the time when you have a real need to meet people and make new friends. As a new arrival, you have left your support network of friends and family behind. Establishing friendships in your local area becomes crucial in order to have a successful stay in your new environment.

Couples with kids often find that they have a natural way of getting to know people as they meet other parents and bond around their kids’ friendships. Also, arriving as a couple, you have each other to rely on. But for a single person without kids, there aren’t many natural ways of meeting people, except for perhaps at work. So what do you do if you are single and newly arrived in a foreign country? How do you strike out on your own without a support network to help you?

There are three conditions, identified by sociologists in the 1950’s, that are considered crucial to making close friends:

  • Proximity – you need to be near each other.
  • Unplanned reactions – chance that you run into each other by accident.
  • Privacy – you’re in situations where you can confide in one another.

There are few situations where all three of these are present at the same time. So, according to sociologists, if you want to build an environment conducive to making friends, you will have to be deliberate.

The good news these days is that there are many avenues for meeting people. The Internet makes it easy to find out if there are groups from your native country in the area, for example. There are a number of dating apps for those looking for a partner, and online sites such as are great if you want to meet locals who share your interests — be it hiking, playing scrabble or wine tasting.

Thinking back on my own single-and-looking-to-meet-new-people days, in the dark ages before Internet life, I can only conclude that there are so many ways to connect with people today that perhaps the biggest problem is figuring out which ‘way to go’ and then building up the courage to do it.

However, for many new arrivals there are barriers other than the question of ‘where do I go?’ to overcome. There are language issues, cultural traditions and social cues to learn about. These can be major hurdles, as can the fact that many view their overseas assignment as temporary and thus feel there is no point in putting the effort into making new friends. Also, as a newcomer it’s easy to get so immersed in work that you feel you don’t have the time or energy to engage with people outside of the office.

As someone who has always been shy in new social settings and a little hesitant to just ‘dive in’ I can appreciate how hard it is to meet and get to know new people. I can’t remember any instances however, where I have regretted venturing out — be it to go to a party, to join a tennis team or take a class. Sure, I have gone to parties and I have felt awkward and not had all that much fun. And yes, I have taken classes that have been so-so and dropped them after a few weeks. Most of the time though, something good has come out of these ventures. So, if my experience tells me anything, it is that you have nothing to lose by trying!

By: Felicia Shermis

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