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Expat Living: Building Friendships

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Making friends with expats has its downfalls, but I still do it. Here's why. 

So you have landed in your new country. It’s time to make some friends or you will end up in a lot of coffee shops—alone. Going out for dinners and movies—alone. 

Making new friends can be quite the task as you get older. We assume it’s easy, but once you have responsibilities and a routine in your life, you neglect how difficult and important it can be. Other than work or school, how else does one meet new people? Many workplaces offer a happy hour, which is a good way to get personal with your coworkers. But as I discovered when I moved to the Netherlands, not all cultures like to mix work and play. 

Here's how I made new friends after moving abroad. 

Hobbies and groups

I was very involved in the arts back in Canada, so searching for theatre groups in Amsterdam was easy enough. I lucked out by meeting a great group of talented folks from assorted backgrounds. Not only was our love for drama a common denominator, but many of us are expats and understand the difficulty of making friends in foreign lands.

If you have any hobbies, sports, or other interests that you enjoy, sign up for Meetup groups and find like-minded people. I'd also urge you to do this as quickly as possible when you land, as some of these folks may have already gone through some pain points and can pass on some knowledge so you can avoid the same mistakes.

If you are specifically looking for expat friends, Facebook is the place to start. There are so many groups available at your fingertips. I was able to find a group specifically for Canadians. The great thing is that you will find people who are going through the same experience as you. They will also have similar questions and conversations going such as visa applications, looking for Canadian foods, taxes, etc. They often host group events, too, where you can meet everyone in-person.

Becoming a "yes" person also helps when it comes to making friends. Did you receive a flyer to a party or book reading? Check it out. Maybe sign-up for new classes. You can learn a new skill like salsa dancing, painting or a new language, and make connections along the way.

Pros and cons

Are there disadvantages of befriending other expats? Many move to Europe for the accessibility of travel, so making plans can be tricky.

The span of an expat in Amsterdam is not always for life, so investing in friendships when you (or they) could be leaving soon can be difficult. One of the standard first questions upon meeting someone is, "how much longer are you going to stay for?" While it seems harmless, it is one way to gauge if you are worth investing time and energy into to develop a meaningful relationship.

Either way, making new friends will be of utmost importance to your new life abroad. Yes, we can call, Skype, text, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Facebook back home, but it is not the same (especially with a time difference). Your friends and family back home may not fully understand what you are going through, no matter how sympathetic they can be. . .and it gets lonely. When the holidays roll around and everyone back in North American are munching down on turkey legs and Mom’s pie, you will then feel that void of an ocean between you.

So go out and socialize!

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Melissa Verwey

Melissa Verwey is a Canadian performer who has been residing in Amsterdam for the last year. Her career has included acting in over 20 plays, coupled with over a decade of working behind the scenes in TV and Theatre Production.

Website: www.melissaverwey.actor

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