How to connect and form friendships as an expat – Top Tips

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Author: Ann Grandchamp, Mental Health Editor

An expat is a person who lives outside his or her own country. Pretty simple and basic, as definitions go. Most expats don’t plan on living in their host country long term. They are usually there for work, for a limited amount of time. Sometimes however, the situation can become more permanent. We can fall in love with a city, a village, a people, a country.

That’s what happened to my husband and I. We moved to New Zealand in 2005 and were planning on staying only 2 years. In the end, we stayed 13 years and became citizens. Others decide to stay forever as they fully embrace their host country and want to become a part of it.

Wherever you are on that spectrum, emotions are sure to run high at some times.

When you arrive in the country, you may feel lost. Very alone. Have big emotions and feel like you’re on a roller coaster. Or you may charge ahead, meeting people and making new friends.

As a third culture kid, aka a child who grows up in a culture different from the one in which his or her parents grew up, I’ve done a lot of coming and going. Of making new friends and saying goodbye. For most of my life it was like being uprooted and transplanted – a very painful experience. My latest move in 2017 was different however. In 2016 I underwent a major mindset change which transformed my experience as I came back to Switzerland and felt like an expat in my home country. But before I share my top tips to prepare ahead of time and to make new connections and friends when you arrive in a new country, here is Carolyn’s experience:

From Carolyn, in Switzerland for a year now

My family and I relocated to Switzerland from Singapore in August 2020.  It has been a tough year in terms of making new friendships and connecting since we arrived in the middle of the pandemic with many of the restrictions still in place.  A knock-on effect of this a year on and I can pretty much sum up that not a lot has changed unfortunately…

To this, I am unable to offer any tips for those new to Switzerland except to just be gentle and kind as it takes time to settle, to find your groove and “family” so to speak… Thanks to the expat groups on social media, I have found relief in knowing lots of other women are in the same boat.  One of my comforts has been Swiss nature and I am aware that there are plenty of online groups who organise get-togethers and other activities.

Outside of this, I try to maintain connection with friends, family and clients through my work as a Yoga Teacher, Women’s Circle and Self-Care facilitator.  Even though my offerings are taught online, I am hugely grateful for the “virtual” connections which continue to play a huge part in my social, health and wellbeing. 

Tips from Ann, your Mental Health Editor

Going into an international move and settling into a new place with a plan is a game changer. If you leave everything to chance things will probably be more difficult. So here are my top tips to help you connect and form friendships as an expat:

Work on your mindset

  • know yourself and how you like to socialise. What do I mean by that? There’s no point going to big gatherings if you’re an introvert. If your thing is big parties, then look out for those. If you’re more of the 1:1 over coffee type, then focus on those.
  • visualise how things will happen in a positive way. Imagine the best case scenario of arriving in a new place, meeting new people in exactly the way that you would like, and forming friendships that are exactly what you need. Put lots of details and use the present tense, as if it was happening now. Visualisation is a powerful tool.
  • choose what state you want to be in and adapt your body language accordingly. If you want to feel confident, adopt a confidant body posture. If you want to project openness and friendliness, put a smile on your face and open your body towards others.
  • decide that things will go well. Yep. It’s that easy. When failure isn’t an option, everythings seems easier and you will focus on the positive outcomes a lot more. As a result you will feel a lot happier and satisfied.
  • be open-minded. What does that mean to you? Another way to see it is to choose to be open. Open to others, open to difference, open to difficulties to communicate, open to jump over barriers, open to cultural differences and many more.
  • believe that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You are where you are for a purpose. Who can you encourage? Who can you bless? Who can you become friends with? What an exciting perspective!
  • don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It’s okay to be scared. Being scared usually means you are about to do something really really brave.

Remember this:

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Oscar Wilde

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My Swiss Story: How to connect and form friendships as an expat

Be intentional

With your mindset in the right place now, make that plan: how do you want to connect with others? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Start conversations with the people you meet or bump into: neighbours (always a good place to start), outside the school, at the school bus stop, at the train station, in public transport, at the supermarket checkout and so on. Look for oppotunities and you will find them. You never know when or where you might meet your next best friend.
  • Join local clubs, gyms, mum groups, etc. As much as you can, meet people in the flesh. Virtual connections are better than nothing and will help increase those good hormones, but face to face meet ups are even better.
  • Join virtual groups on social media: groups linked with your hobbies or interests, local groups, expat hangouts or community groups.
  • Volunteer or find a job: I know many people who made precious friendships through volunteering.

Focus on quality over quantity

Unless you’re a social butterfly and what you want is to have heaps of connections, it’s probably a good idea to aim for fewer friends who are true friends. When you find that you “click” with someone, invest time and energy meeting up and getting to know each other. 1 or 2 good friends is better than 10 acquaintances. You will feel less lonely and the time you spend with them will enhance your life more.

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My Swiss Story: How to connect and form friendships as an expat

Identify your new real friends from the fake ones

Some people are just interested in themselves and when you take a moment to pause to think about it, it’s very clear that they’re only out for themselves.  As a Lightning Process practitioner and business owner, I’ve had a few people who have tried to use friendships as a way of picking my brain for their own businesses as well as “coaching” them. Learn to identify the users and how to draw the line.

Seeing my friends is supposed to be my time to shut off my brain and relax; not work for someone who is trying to use me.  Real friends are interested in you beyond your work. Learn to cut ties.

Most friendships take a while to develop

You do not become best friends with someone overnight.  Some friendships move slowly.  You see each other periodically over some months and do more things together.  Other friendships progress rapidly.  You meet each other and immediately start doing things together.  I find that a lot of expats and locals tend to be more skeptical as a whole about new friendships, so keep in mind that it can take months to really cement friendships.

The important part of making friends in a new community is to just put yourself out there. It is unlikely that you’ll have an instant connection with every person you meet, but one acquaintance often leads to more, and you never know at which chance-encounter you could meet your new BFF. So, get to know your community and let the people there get to know you. 

Enjoy putting these tips into practice. And do let us know what your tips are!

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Ann Grandchamp, Lightning Process® practitioner,
Advanced Master NLP practitioner, Life Coach

If you…

  • have fatigue, anxiety, depression, burnout, or ongoing chronic health issues,
  • struggle with meditation and other healing solutions but would love the same benefits and more,
  • feel that your healing is prevented by sympathetic nervous system over-sensitisation,
  • want to live a healthier, happier, and more harmonious life,

then the Lightning Process® may very well be the solution you’ve been looking for.

To learn more, please click on the link below.

For some Swiss Travel inspo, make sure to download our free ebook – 21 Hidden Gems of Switzerland

To read posts from October, click here

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