ABC of expat woman's life: F - Friends & Family

13 September 2011, by
(5)

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.

Evolving relationships

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.

Compatriots

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.

Internationals

People from different cultures and backgrounds who understand what you are going through and share their own experiences, knowledge and information.

social circles graph
Thumbnail photo by Flickr user en.en

Locals

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.
 

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Comments arranged by date (Total 5 comments)  
ElizeMeijer
September 13 2011, 11:22AM

When I moved here, I stayed with family I never met, and was lucky enough to find a job right away. That helped me to settle in, and meet people.

The most difficult part is to stay in touch with the friends i left behind when i moved. Thank goodness for internet

amyjaye
September 13 2011, 11:30AM

I felt that I had abandon certain people in my life, although they were not dependent on me. I felt selfish. I also felt that I was creating a much needed distance emotionally from some of my family and friends who wanted to control my life. The internet has allowed me to keep in touch with people I miss, but sometimes it just makes me miss them more because I want to do activities out in public with them like shopping ect. I have made many good friends here, but most are not with Dutch people. This is a huge generalization so no need to tell me there are good Dutch people, cause I know there must be some, but the Dutch people I have come to know are very arrogant, proud, rude and stuck in their own ways. Before I came I heard a lot of positive about the Dutch people, now I think they not so kind, or accepting as I expected.

amyjaye
September 13 2011, 12:41PM

Actually I have meet lots of nice Dutch people now that I think about it, I think I am just cranky about some people's attitudes. It is the truth that it is difficult being an expat and I should try to not take on a negative attitude.

C
DoSoCoach
September 13 2011, 04:29PM

yes, I hear from a lot from my international friends and clients that they have problems with making friends with Dutchies. Myself, after many years I finally have some good Dutch friends. Some of them are really close. I guess most of us internationals have more international friends as we are all in 'the same boat', looking to meet new people as we left so many of our dear friends behind. The Dutch people might have this urge to make new friends to a lower extent, as they already made their life-time lasting friendships during high-school, studies, work etc. However I do believe that it is important to keep on trying to make friends with 'locals'. They as no-one else know their own country, rules, history etc. So they can be your guide. Good luck ;-)

iliana
October 12 2011, 11:34PM

What I like most about Dorota's alphabet articles is that at the end of each one she gives you a tip or two on the topic she is addressing. If you'd like to know how I make my friends (I have lived abroad for 12 years now) you can read my post http://insego.com/profiles/blogs/making-friends-yet-again. Looking at the Social Support Network diagram, I have to agree that a partner ( if local) and partner's family could ease so much the process of getting familiar and used to a new culture. As for making friends with the locals - call me lucky, but my experience has been quite positive. I have some single Dutch friends, I have been at BBQs with my neighbors (all families), I go ocasionally to the monthly neighborhood 'borrel'...Before moving to the Netherlands I read The Undutchables and Xenophobe's guide to the Dutch - they are not everything, but gave me a taste how to 'navigate' in the 'new world' :)

 
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About the Author
C
Dorota Klop-Sowinska

I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am a certified coach / counselor at Dutch...

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