The power of trust and perseverance I. – Making friends abroad

Sometimes, friendship among expatriates is not based on people’s compatible characteristics, it is rather the common adventures, that bond two people together. Article by Nóra Szűcs, PhD University Lecturer & Coach for Expats

Expat Press Magazine- Making friends abroad

Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

The issue of finding real friends and the desire to feel connected and have intimate friendships have come up several times in my coaching sessions with clients, so I think it is time to dedicate a separate article to this.

Friendships make life both easier and richer. Friends lift us up when we are down. By offering a sympathetic ear or finding the funny side of a stressful situation they help us release the stress of the day, and that heavy weight on our shoulders just falls away immediately; you know that you do not need to fight on your own, you have support.

“Everyone needs friends”

But friends are also the ones we can share our happy moments with, the ones we can hang out in a bar with for a drink, go out for a movie or try out new restaurants and cafes with, or with whom we make lifelong memories that we will tell to our grandchildren sitting next to a fireplace when we grow old.

There might be differences among us in terms of how many friends we need, or how deeply we would like to bond in our friendships (or even regarding what we mean by friendship), but having real friends is important no matter where you are, how long you stay there, or what your marital status is. Everyone needs friends.

Trust and perseverance

Building friendships is not always so easy. It requires trust. Trust and perseverance. Trust that this time everything will be alright, and if it’s not, we can handle it. And perseverance to overcome the challenges, our own comfort zones, our own fears and resistance that when something looks dangerous, unfamiliar or strange, and when everything would readily suggest that we should give up immediately, we hold on, and keep making an effort.

“beyond superficial small-talk conversations”

This is true for any new relationships, but is particularly valid for expatriate friendships. Why? Because when you live abroad you are surrounded by locals and thousands of other people from other nationalities. They have different colours, they wear different clothes, speak differently and were raised differently. None of them look like you, the similarity effect based on which we normally choose our friends simply doesn’t work. So it takes courage to go to a place, to look behind those seemingly ‘strange’ appearances and see whether there is a real gem behind them. Because once you look behind people’s outer expressions, and go beyond superficial small-talk conversations, you realise that these people’s inner life, what concerns them, their wishes, dreams, desires and everyday struggles are similar to yours.

“Friendship knows no cultures”

I, as a white, European woman, for instance, who likes wearing colourful dresses, would have been most surprised if someone had told me fifteen years ago that I would make a lifelong friendship with a big, loud Indian woman who dresses in black, gothic clothes. Yet so it happened. Friendship knows no cultures.

And sometimes, friendship among expatriates is not based on people’s compatible characteristics, it is rather the common adventures, the little struggles and hardships that bond two completely different people together. These are the situations when a person’s real personality comes to the fore, through the difficulties you experience together you realise how dearly you can trust the other person.

The nature of expatriate friendships

We all know what it is like being an expat mum in this country, we have all experienced how difficult it is to speak to a local, we have all fought together against that terrible administrative office or we were all there for each other as we tried to carry home that heavy furniture from the post office. It is a kind of companionship. Most expatriate friendships belong to this category. Our everyday difficulties thus have tremendous ‘bonding’ power, and believe it or not, they can have positive side effects such as turning two previously strange people into friends.

Goodbye is not always the end

But I suggested perseverance as a prerequisite of friendship not only because you need to keep trying to overcome your comfort zone when you would like to make friends abroad, but also because expatriate friendships have a special feature: they sometimes end unexpectedly (at least in a physical sense).

Our lives and our work sometimes take us to another country, and we have to say goodbye to the people we were surrounded by, who became almost like our second families. At this time, both those saying goodbye and those who are staying need perseverance, and need to be ready to start the whole process of making friends again.

I know that it is not so easy, and that sometimes it would be more convenient to not make any effort to forge friendships again, but we cannot be without friends. So there is only one thing we can do: get out there and trust that we will find a soulmate again, and not look at how long the friendship might possibly last.

How can you do that, and how can you overcome the potential obstacles? This is what I will discuss in the next article.


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