The value of feeling at home

Home isn’t always a place as much as a state of mind, one of comfort and belonging that can often come to us through the quality of the friends that we have there.

It’s a sense of having someone to call and go out with for lunch, a drink or night out to the movies.  A friend we can turn to for advice, which can be anything from a good hairdresser to issues with a local utility company.

Home is, knowing that when the brown stuff hits the fan that there is someone around who gives a damn.  That’s home, it goes beyond a comfortable house, job and furniture.

Why that feeling is even more important abroad

meet localsWhen you’re moving abroad as a newbie or veteran expat, there is the initial honeymoon period that wears off. Once the newness of a place wears off you are left with the reality of everyday life.

Surviving your first year abroad can be a challenge.

Everyday life, even when abroad can become a monotonous humdrum of work and chores. The only difference will be that you will be doing your shopping, washing and working out in a different language. Surrounded by unknown faces.

Once the novelty of a place wears off, we get homesick. But it’s not for a place, but for the ‘sense of belonging’.

If you’ve just arrived at a new city and have only been there a few weeks or months, you may not yet have met other people.

We know that admitting you want to make friends sounds, naff…

In reality, most of the population are friends with the people they grew up with.

Which is why if you are not living in a big expat culture the idea of forcing yourself to go and make friends can be difficult.  Even if you are in a city with a big expat culture, just meeting other foreigners is not a local experience.

While it’s great to meet others having the same experience as you, it is good to meet locals too.  They’ll give you an honest perspective of living in your new country.

How to meet locals when living abroad
Queensday Amsterdam a mix of Argentine, Swedish, Dutch and Polish friends

How do we go about meeting new people

Sure, for some people meeting people comes naturally. In your 20s you might just go out to a bar and clubbing and know everyone by the end of the night.

As we get a little older, we might have to force ourselves to go out and make an effort. We may need to put it on our to-do list, and heavens forbid even have an action plan of steps that we need to take.

Be prepared that it may even take longer than expected.

Let’s be really honest and even brutal

It’s a perk and the downside of getting older, but honesty comes with that as does wisdom.  Fact: you don’t have to like everyone you met.

It is ok, after having a coffee with someone you’ve met, to not meet up with them again.

Let’s put in the extra effort and meeting people that we get on with fabulously, and soon skyrocket to the top of people that we want to spend time with.

Even if we have to force ourselves to get up and out to meet these people, on numerous occasions, for weeks or months in a row.

While meeting friends in pubs and bars, can be the easy route, however, these can be here today gone tomorrow type of friends.  There are many other opportunities to meet locals in a new city.

How and where to meet locals

Here are a few ways that we can meet new people abroad with similar interests and find common ground that is a good starting point on the road to friendship.

  1. One way is finding work abroad, through an interesting job assignment. Work is always a great way to meet colleagues and clients.
  2. Stay somewhere unique and local
  3. Attend a language exchange, if you’ve moved somewhere new where they speak a different language this is a great way for you to practice the language. Then to return the favour by helping someone else learn your language. Find an exchange through conversation exchange or language exchange.
  4. Volunteer, at a smaller local non-for-profit. The more local the organisation the better as it will not only benefit the community more, there is also less likely to be a cost involved. You will also have more opportunity to meet others in the local community.
  5. Learn something new. Do a workshop in anything that tickles your fancy or that you’re curious about forever.  Whether it’s learning local cooking in Thailand, a natural dying and weaving course in Laos.
  6. Go to Community events, programs or talks – given by local libraries or community centres.
  7. Join a local walking /bike clubs.
  8. Visit local markets and spend some time talking to the stall holders and creatives – they love a conversation and if you take the time you’ll find their full of stories, insights, and tips.
  9. Share a passion or mutual interest and then find a shop/studio where you can discuss and learn more. Be it Music, Gardening, Art, Books, Sport etc. etc. The list is endless.
  10. Find and join a local community garden
  11. Sign up and join Meetup, Internations, Toastmasters who all hold gatherings for people on a particular subject or in a particular city.
making friends abroad
Friends all go and visit another friend abroad

What do we need to do next

Meeting new people can be awkward, in the beginning, it will feel akin to dating. It’s rare to just ask someone you’ve just met for a coffee. Back home we rarely do that, or it’s a polite thing to say, but not followed up on.

Yet, when we are somewhere new we need to ride out the discomfort and go out for those coffees, lunches or accept invitations to other events that we’ll be invited too.

We need to keep in mind that:

Strangers are just friends that we haven’t met yet

What may sound like a dull night out could potentially be that one night that we click with someone who shares our vibe. There is nothing like meeting kindred spirits, and getting to know new people – once the awkwardness has passed.

Meeting people as an expat
Nothing beats a real conversation

Feeling at home and becoming a local

On top of making actionable plans, also dare yourself to attempt small conversations with people everywhere. You’ll find that Locals love discussing their country and advising you. Be kind and let them.

You’ll learn more from the gentleman on the park bench, or the lady in the bakery than you’ll pick up in a lifetime of books.

It’s the people we meet, their stories that touch our lives, they welcome us and help to transform a foreign shore into a place that we can call home.


Making friends abroad
Another goodbye – see you soon party…

Big gratitude for the two additional photos by:

Camels by Kawtar CHERKAOUI on Unsplash

Girls in the sunset by Marion Michele on Unsplash


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