When I moved to the United States 17 years ago, I was really excited. I had always wanted to live here, and finally my dream was coming true. After a honeymoon phase when I enjoyed the novelty of the adventure, I started to realize that my dream came with a high price. My friends and family were far and I barely knew anyone in the city I lived in. I started to miss my old life, and its familiarity.
If you too relocated, you probably stay in touch regularly with your family and friends back home, but it often leaves you with a bittersweet feeling. Having this short moment of connection with them makes you even more aware of the physical distance that separates you.
After experiencing several moves abroad and throughout the United States I noticed that what helped me the most to fit in was to develop a new support system locally.
In some places it would happen fairly naturally, either because I was working, studying, or living in a city with a strong expat community. Other places, I had to be a lot more proactive and really put myself out there to meet new people. Not an easy task for an introvert.
In addition, as you get older, it can be more difficult to make friends, and it leaves you feeling more isolated. And you may have less opportunities to make friends, especially if you're a mom with barely any personal time.
Adjusting to a new city or country requires efforts, action and often pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
Here are a few tips to help you:
1- Find other expats
It could help to feel more understood. Seeking out expat communities may help you ease out in your culture of origin by seeing it through an expat's eyes. Join a book club, a Meetup group, volunteer.
2- Don't put all your eggs in the same basket
Although it can be helpful to meet other expats to start with since you may have more in common, there's no telling how long your new friends will live here. Make new friends that are locals too. To help you grow roots, join groups revolving around one of your interests. If you love fly fishing, hiking, or painting, or if you're a new mom, it will be easier to connect with people who share the same passion. Take a yoga class, a cooking class, join a gym.
3- If you can't find your tribe, build it
As I started in my practice, I wanted to connect with colleagues in my area and build a network. However, all the groups that already existed offered time to meet that didn't work with my responsibilities and availability. I finally decided to create my own group around a shared interest and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not the only therapist with similar constraints. With apps like Meetup, it's incredibly easy to find like-minded people.
4- Get to know your neighborhood....
Spend time exploring your new neighborhood. Find your go-to supermarket, hardware store, drugstore... There's something really rewarding and meaningful when the barista at your local coffee shop remembers your name and your order. It feels like you've passed a milestone of integration. Pay attention to these small milestones and appreciate them.
Take your kids to a nearby playground regularly. It will be good for you and for them. You'll get to meet other parents, who are often also hungry for more adult conversations. You'll also get a lot of useful information from people who are more familiar with your area.
5- ... And your neighbors
Have an open house for breakfast or a happy hour on Friday after work. You'll be glad to have built these relationships when you're expecting an important package or when you have to work late and your dog needs to be fed. Additionally, people tend to build friendships more easily with people who live closer.
6- Set some achievable goals
If you're a social butterfly, these tips should be simple to follow. Meeting new people is energizing for you and it feels usually easy and natural. On the other hand, if you're more timid or uncomfortable when meeting new people, it's OK to take it slow and set small but realistic goals.
Adjusting after relocating takes time and work. If you've experienced several long-distance moves, you probably know that by now. Be kind to yourself, and remember that you're not alone in this situation.
7- Seek help
Isolation is the most common issue for people relocating. If you need some motivation to get out there, share some of your goals with a friend or family member who will support you and check on your progress. If you're still struggling with meeting new people after that, connect with a coach or a therapist to get more professional support.
About the author: Valerie Abitbol, LMFT, owner of Flow Counseling, PLLC is a counselor and therapist in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in helping her clients decrease stress and anxiety and process grief and trauma in order to create a peaceful and balanced life. Valerie provides counseling to adults and couples to help them heal, succeed, and grow happiness.