Expat Life: Loneliness and Making Friends

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Okay, it is time for some REAL TALK.  You know, all that stuff that goes on behind the seemingly perfect photos on Facebook and Instagram. The stuff in between those happy and fun Snapchat stories. The stuff we all experience but are too afraid to share, whether it is because we are afraid of judgment, afraid of looking like we don’t have it all together or because we feel like we are complaining (you’re not, by the way). 

As much as this blog serves as a place to chronicle our lives here in Germany and to share our experiences with our family and friends, it also serves as an outlet for other expats (or at least, I hope that one day it will). A place for expats to go for advice, to read about other’s experiences and to realize that they are not alone. 

Don’t get me wrong, expat life and traveling Europe is nothing short of AMAZING. The positives knock the negatives out of the water! However, it can be very lonely. Especially in the beginning, once the “honeymoon phase” wears off a bit. I am not writing this post to complain or to gain sympathy from anyone. I am simply writing this post to keep it real. Behind all of the fun travel photos and happy faces, real life still happens. Feelings still happen. Expat life is fun, exciting and adventurous!  But, it can also be hard.  And one of the things that make it hard is loneliness.

Now, it is easy to say “At least you have Justin. You are not alone.”  Yes, this is so true.  I do have Justin (and Charlie), and I am so grateful for that.  Not everyone embarks on such an adventure with a significant other and a loving dog by their side.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel loneliness, or that I shouldn’t feel loneliness.

Everyone needs friendship in their life. To have those connections and personal relationships separate from your significant other. I have always had things in my life that were independent from my relationship with Justin. To me, it has always been important to have such things and to not rely on one sole person to help create my happiness. Moving to a new country and creating friendships from scratch is not easy. Friendships are not found overnight. So, while we are truly having the time of our lives together here, I still long for friendships. Who wouldn’t?

We are so lucky to live in an age where technology can keep us so connected.  It is really easy to talk to family and friends from across the world. So easy, in fact, that it almost doesn’t feel any different sometimes. But, that same technology can also make you feel so disconnected.  It can be hard to watch your old life continuing on without you. There are days when it almost feels like that was never your life at all.

Expat life is a constant learning experience. Being forced out of your comfort zone provides tremendous opportunities for growth. You learn a lot about friendships, good and bad. You will discover your “constants.” You really already knew who these people were, but you are reminded, and it makes you love them even more.  You will have friendships that will disappoint you, and you will feel hurt. And then, you will have “surprise” friendships. Friendships that have actually grown since you left home, and you will be incredibly appreciative of those. You learn a lot about yourself as a friend too when you experience all of these feelings.

If you are like me, you may let the disappointments get you down at first. Don’t.  Focus your energy on the friendships that are making you happy. Redirect your thoughts to those that bring you joy. Find an outlet for your feelings – journal, blog, talk to one of your “constants.”

Making new friends as an adult can be difficult and awkward. Luckily, for us expats, there are many resources to help us find friends in our new countries.  However, you will not find new friends without a little work. Being active in online expat communities is a great way to connect with people, and you may find yourself making friends in the process. Meeting your new “online friend” can feel nerve-wracking and a little like a blind date, but don’t shy away from it! Do not let fear keep you from what could be a great new friendship! The introvert in me also hates networking and small talk, but attending expat events is another great way to make new friends. As awkward as it can be, you just have to put yourself out there and step outside of that comfort zone. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. And remember, we are all in the same boat looking for friendships and connections as we navigate life in a new country.

Below are some resources that we have found effective in connecting with fellow expatriates and locals:

InterNations – The largest networking site and guide for expats worldwide. There is likely an InterNations community wherever you are moving, as they are in 390 cities worldwide! InterNations helps expats to feel at home abroad, meet people and find information about their new environment. It has been our favorite way to meet people so far. There are many different interest groups you can join and events to attend. It is also full of useful advice and information on your city and expat life. You may also be surprised to meet “locals” through this site, as they have relocated to another city within their country and are looking for friends too.

Facebook – Do a search on Facebook for expat groups in your city, and you’ll likely find one. In Frankfurt, there are two groups that we have joined – EXPAT in FFM and Frankfurt Expats.  These groups are a great place to ask questions, buy/sell furniture and other items and learn about events in the city.  It is also a great place to meet friends, if you put yourself out there.

Common Interest – What types of things are you passionate about? For me, fitness is one of them. In the U.S., I had found a wonderful community through fitness, so it was natural for me to try to find that here. I found a spinning studio (Cycletic, if you are in FFM) which offers English-speaking classes. This has connected me with other expats in the area, as well as locals. It also helped me jump out of my comfort zone a bit and even start taking classes in German, giving me the confidence to take other classes in German (like Pilates). Finding friendships through common interest feels less “forced”, but it still doesn’t happen overnight. Find something you like and keep going. You will start to see many of the same faces each week, and eventually, you will strike up conversations and make friends!

Now, the next few resources are targeted towards the female expats and travelers.  Sorry, guys!

International Women’s Club – Many cities have an international women’s club, a non-profit, social and philanthropic membership-based organization of female expatriates and locals. Kind of like a Junior League! These organizations are a great resource to help integrate into the community and stay connected with a variety of activities, services, and social, sports, and hobby groups. Search for a club in your city, or maybe even start one yourself if it doesn’t exist! (If you are in Frankfurt, check out the AIWC Frankfurt).

Girl Gone International – An online community of female expats and travelers around the world, predominantly on Facebook. There is a Global group, but there are also city-specific groups. Search on Facebook to see if one exists for you. If not, reach out in the Global group to connect with others and maybe even see if YOU can start a local group!

Travelettes – Another online community of female expats and travelers on Facebook. There is a Facebook page you can follow which provides helpful articles and inspiration, as well as a Facebook group to join to connect with like-minded women.

Also, see if your alma mater has a local alumni association in your new country. Mine does not, but my alumni association has put me in touch with other alumni in Germany, and we are looking into starting something here. If something doesn’t come up in your search, don’t let it limit you. Start it yourself! There are likely others like you who are searching. You are not alone.

We are likely the happiest we have ever been here in Germany, but I think we would both tell you that the one thing missing is friendship. We ARE meeting friends and attending expat events, but it is time to put ourselves out there a little more. Friendships take effort and time. It is hard at first to navigate your new life as expats and find your new balance. Now that we are pretty settled into our permanent apartment, our next step will be to start inviting people over – my co-workers, Justin’s co-workers, our new friends we have met through the resources above. It is time to open up more and invite people into our lives.

Loneliness is a natural part of the expat experience. Most days are not lonely, but when they are, focus your time and energy on what brings you joy. Stop for a moment and reflect on this amazing experience that you are so lucky to have. Be grateful for the “constants” in your life. Look at the beauty that is around you, and remember that you are never truly alone.


15 thoughts on “Expat Life: Loneliness and Making Friends

  1. Thank you for this. Anyone that has moved away from “home” for work, school or for whatever reason has these same struggles. The loneliness is almost overwhelming at times.

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    1. You’re totally right. Moving away is never easy. The loneliness is a struggle, and it can feel very sad. While it is comforting to know that other people, like you, understand how I feel, I also wish that weren’t the case! I wasn’t sure I would publish this post, but I felt called to today. I am glad I did 🙂

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  2. Oh, man. My first six months in Germany were much harder than I had anticipated. It can absolutely be lonely and quite difficult to see everyone back home on Facebook going on without you (especially that first Thanksgiving). In my case, I was most isolated by the language. About a month after getting here, I went to a German birthday party and then cried all the way home because I felt so invisible. I couldn’t understand the conversations with all the voices talking over each other. I didn’t get any of the jokes or funny stories. I couldn’t join in on any of the discussions because I either didn’t understand them or didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say in German. I didn’t know what some of the food was or how to eat it. I had never felt so lonely and out of place in all my life. And I had my German husband there with me! So, I would definitely also recommend language courses for battling that loneliness – either private or even at the VHS. There is something very reassuring about surrounding yourself with other people who are going through similar transitions. I’m still not fluent by any means (just starting up a B2 class), but I found that once I got through B1, I felt much more connected to the culture and the people because I wasn’t such an outsider anymore.

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    1. I know exactly how you felt! I am very lucky to have been able to keep my job with my U.S. team and work here remotely, but I do often go into our Frankfurt office. While everyone is so nice there, it can be hard sometimes to be at lunch or in the office with everyone. They’re speaking German (as they should!), but I can’t understand the stories or any of the jokes. It definitely makes you feel a bit invisible or like an outsider, so I relate to your stories. I agree learning the language is incredibly helpful. My husband and I both have private tutors right now, but I hope to also take an actual course once my tutor hours are completed. Obviously, I am very beginner right now, and I am really anxious to know more of the language and be able to have conversations with people. We’re able to do pretty well in restaurants, and everyone has been super helpful. But I can’t wait for the time when I can speak more conversationally. I have to remind myself that it takes time and German is hard, so I can’t get frustrated if I am not learning it as fast as I’d like to!

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  3. Very nice blog entry, Meghan. As you know all to well, I lived through a similar experience in Shanghai. So I know how you feel. I expect, with all that you guys have already been doing outwardly, that you are probably right at the cusp of “everything clicking”.

    Also, now that you are settled, I expect the visitor pipeline will likely start soon. It is always nice having friends and family visit when you’re overseas.

    Love you both. Will miss you at the games but will see you soon.

    Your Dad.

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    1. Thanks, Dad! I know that you definitely understand. I feel that we are at the cusp too. It will definitely be hard to be away during football season. We already miss it so much, but at least we have the technology to see the games here. Love you!

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  4. Beautiful! It took six months, and then one day friendships started clicking. Even though I no longer live in Frankfurt, they are still my best friends. Remember, ANYTHING can happen in just one day! Sending you big hugs from across the pond,
    Jess xx

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    1. Thanks, Jess! Talking to people like you who have been through this experience (and also reading your blog) really does give me hope that we will be able to build some great friendships here. I do feel like we may be at the cusp of everything clicking. I almost didn’t post this, but I am so happy that I did. It’s almost as if everything started to feel a little different after I did, if that makes any sense at all. Another friend of mine who has been an expat for quite a few years told me that she thinks of expat friendships in dog years because of the way we have to rely on each other in a foreign country. I definitely believe that, and I know once friendships start clicking, it will be like that for us too. I’m glad we’re connected, and I really appreciate your support! 🙂

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  5. Meghan! I didn’t know you were a writer! So cool. I’ll have to follow your blog now. 🙂

    PS In my single days, I lived briefly in Austria and England. I really liked the CultureShock book series to help get the feel of the locals around me.

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  6. Thank you for your article. I have been living in Mexico with my husband and two dogs. While it’s been amazing, I’ve also felt lonely so it’s nice to know my feelings are completely NORMAL 🙂 All the best.

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    1. You are so welcome! I’m glad you found it. Your feelings are definitely normal! I almost didn’t post this, but I am so happy that I did. I’ve gotten a lot of support from women around the world (including you!) and even though we’re not in the same countries, it certainly helps me feel less alone still. We’re all “connected” and understand what each other is going through, and that definitely is helpful and gives me lots of hope! 🙂

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  7. Thank you for sharing this. I have been in the Munich area for 2 months and London for 2.5 years before. You hit the nail on the head – living abroad is amazing, but even with a significant other by your side it can still be very lonely. I feel a lot of guilt when wanting to express this to others.
    Your post inspired me to sign up for some of these groups and to challenge myself to try harder when it comes to making friends. Good luck on your adventure!

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    1. Hi Erica! I am so glad the post inspired you to check out some of these groups! I hope that you are able to make some friendships through them. A friend of mine that has done two international moves as well told me that she thinks of expat friendships in dog years because of the way we have to rely on each other in a foreign country. I definitely believe that. I think once friendships start to click with us here, the bonds will grow strong quickly! I wish you the best of luck, and if you are ever in Frankfurt, please let me know! 🙂

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