Today on the blog we have a guest post from Kata Pongrácz, who is a wellness coach and does not shy away from calling herself a black belt expat when it comes to building a community. As part of our expat living series, I thought it would be a pleasure to have her on our website and offer our readers her experiences and also her words of wisdom.
Saying goes, and there is truth to it, “practice makes perfect”.
I practiced finding friends and being a help wherever I can and by looking for helping others, I landed in a community that supports me to the end.
Well, by no means am I perfect, but I do have a good idea about “finding your way” in a new place!
My best tricks to ensure a Happy life when abroad
Most often we think that the distance of the move is a good indicator of how difficult/easy it is going to be living “there”. However, in my experience, finding your sweet spot and liking your ex-pat lives is 50% planning, 30 % luck, and 20% fine-tuning.
Learning about Independence in your early years
I moved out properly from my childhood home around the age of 21. I had moved only 20 minutes away, but life was vastly different. For the first time in my life, I had no safety net – this meant paying attention to the “basics”; buying, cooking, cleaning, paying bills etc. I am sure we all experience this, some earlier and some later. Being alone and surviving, both mentally and physically and at the end of the day being absolutely comfortable with just your own self.
Stable connections – Finding friends
Not long after my baby steps out from my childhood home came my toddler jump. I became somewhat of a trailing spouse: I moved to another country-Malta- to be with someone. I think the comparison with a toddler is very appropriate here, as I moved to a place where I did not speak the language and with someone, who I had known for 3 months. It was as well planned and thought through as a toddler would do it. Luckily, my toddler approach stayed with me, and without any thought to the language barrier, I straight up joined a sports club and offered to train the kids there, since that was the one thing I was good at.
We also had a social circle from my partner’s side, but I always thought that it was important to have your own circle.
Planning or Just plain Luck – Finding the right house
The future brought on the next move: a big city, London. The thing with this city is that no one here was a native, people were polite, open, and friendly most of the time, and they were usually up for some small talk.
We didn’t know the first thing about our new city and to be honest, the city is so big, that finding a good neighborhood was a titanic task! It wasn’t smooth, but after we narrowed it down to the neighborhood we wanted to live around, it took only about a month to finally find a place where we started to unbox. Things we considered: right distance from work, friends that lived around, public transport, supermarkets, advice from colleagues and of course our own budget.
Finding Local Support
Later on in life, we went back and forth between the UK and Hungary whilst having our first baby. New challenges arose, a new baby and no help around, there was no luxury of having grandparents around.
We adapted, we needed to adjust our social circles – we couldn’t be the couple going for pub quizzes and late-night theatre. Our lives were revolving around our firstborn. The feeling of loneliness can creep in, but finding local support groups or programs (some of which are online too) was a savior! It gave me a sense of belonging.
While joining a random meet-up can be a petrifying experience, believe me when I say this, the people on the other side are also feeling the same feelings. Some are scared, some are awkward and some are intimidated, if you’re willing to make the first move you are promoting yourself as a local hero.
Your first move could be as easy as, saying: “Hi, my name is this and that is my child and looks like yours is the same age, what’s your name?” And that’s it. Chances are that you got a new friend/acquaintance there and then. And then, as a “group”, you can bring in more and more members into the chat. Remember, it is always easier for a group to approach someone, than for an individual to try to join a group.
Don’t be Picky
This is one of my biggest learnings, we implement this as a family now. Whenever we move to a new place, there is no time to be picky. We speak with as many people as possible and then find our connections. It could be like a date, awkward, in the sense, “is there going to be a next time?”. But if you think about it, there is really nothing much to lose! Connects could happen in the simplest of the places, like the playground or through the school that your children go to.
The Old fashioned way
And one last thing: It might feel odd to visit your new neighbors with a tray of biscuits to introduce yourself. Or to write a card to everyone in your building ( or the floor your flat is on) for Christmas, but creating an open and approachable atmosphere around you will generate returns and help you build your community.
One thing that comes to my mind when I think of my childhood- and also something that I have wanted for my children is having the kids and parents from the neighborhood having fun together. The feeling of community, that we have someone to turn to if need be, and that we have a sense of “belonging”. That is priceless for me! I call myself a black belt ex-pat after living in 5 countries; and I absolutely love the community I have built here, not just for myself but for the people around me!
Kata has lived the ex-pat life for over 10 years now and so far lived in 5 countries in Europe. Now, based in Switzerland, she lives with her family in a small village close to Zurich.
Kata fills in a leading role in her company, PTwithKP as a trainer, nutritionist, and wellness coach. She helps ex-pat mothers to feel strong, energized, and happy in their bodies, and confident regardless of their location. By identifying their health and wellness goals, her clients achieve more freedom to enjoy their lives through personalized nutrition, exercise, and continuous coaching.
Have you downloaded our free ebook – 21 Hidden Gems of Switzerland? If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to download it while planning your next Swiss Getaway.
To read posts from October, click here