I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am a certified coach / counselor at Dutch...
ABC of expat woman's life: F - Friends & Family13 September 2011, by Dorota Klop-Sowinska
Given that the titles of my articles start with a different letter every time, I have quite a few options to choose from. Nevertheless, there is only one topic that came to my mind when I started writing this one: F - Family & Friends.
Especially when moving abroad, you need to have (or to build) a balanced social life. That is what this article is all about: healthy ties with family and friends.
Moving abroad means that you leave behind most - if not all - your relatives and friends. Those who were supporting you (and vice versa), those who saw you growing up, those who talk the same language, those who understand and share your values and beliefs. Your "basis."
Even though family members and friends will always be there for you, your relationships will evolve. I have lived in different countries and I still remember that, at the beginning, I tried to preserve my relationships; emailing friends (even more than I used to when home), going back home as often as I could.
I was trying to maintain a feeling of safety but I realise now that this was impossible; Skype will never replace face to face contact.
You cannot maintain your old life and, at the same time, build a new one. You have to invest time and effort in new relationships if you want to establish a "satisfying" life in your new country.
Research shows that a successful transition depends on one’s ability to manage psychological stress, communicate effectively, and establish interpersonal relationships.
Your new social support network
A person’s ability to cope with stress and remain (both physically and emotionally) healthy depends on a balanced social support network, which consists of:
› Family & Friends (back home)
Your "backbone." People you can always rely on in difficult times, and have shared a big part of your life with.
› Partner & his / her family
Many move to a new country for love’s sake. In the beginning you will rely on your partner for emotional support, practical information, meeting new friends etc.
However, remember that building your own network is important for you, your partner and your relationship.
People from your country who live abroad, and share the same system of values, beliefs, etc. In the beginning, they might offer you the (powerful) feeling of security but spending time only with them will slow down the integration process and increase the risk of you rejecting the new culture.
People from different cultures and backgrounds who understand what you are going through and share their own experiences, knowledge and information.
Thumbnail photo by Flickr user en.en
Befriending locals can have a positive effect on the transition / acculturation process. They can be your guide but bear in mind that making friends from this group may be a somewhat difficult task.
A "happy, balanced life" requires relationships with people from all the above mentioned groups. If you take a piece of paper and draw your own social circle (example below), what do you see? Would you consider it balanced?
How to start
› Accept the fact that your relationships with your family and friends will change. Nurture your contacts but realise that this is not the only part of your life.
› Accept the fact that you need to create a new social network. The sooner the better!
› Think of your own hobbies and with what kind of people you would like to hang out. Then find out where you could meet those people.
› Approach different groups and social clubs that match your interests and hobbies. Here are some:
- EPWN: Group for professional women
- Connecting Women: A group of English speaking expatriate women in The Hague
- AMC: American Women’s Club
› Joining specific groups and clubs will allow you to meet locals too.
I know (personal experience, international friends, clients etc.) and can guarantee that if you start meeting and talking to new people, you will feel connected and you will regain confidence.
You will realise that you are not the only one trying to adjust to a new country and believe me, the transition will be much smoother.
Do not be afraid to join a group; we all are social creatures after all!
Was / is it easy for you to make friends in your new country? What kind of difficulties did / do you encounter? Please feel free to share your own experiences.