Yeah. Nobody ever sees it coming. But the truth is, making friends as an expat is not an easy thing, no matter how sociable you are.
If, like me, you have arrived/plan to arrive in your chosen adopted homeland completely alone, barely able to communicate in the local tongue and high off the back of an enviable social life at home, there’s a good chance you’ll have found things/will find things a bit difficult to adjust to at the onset of it all. It’s a massive change, which is often regrettably underestimated.
I had a job waiting for me when I arrived in Spain, and with that a predetermined group of people who I would call friends for one year. Except most of them weren’t friends, at least to begin with. Of the fifteen or so people I worked with, I genuinely got along with two of them; we liked the same music, enjoyed going out to big gigs and festivals and shared the same sense of humour. Then there were a couple of others who I could at least have a laugh with, but with the rest it always felt forged and there seemed to be no end to the string of painfully awkward drinks-and-tapas-after-work moments. I suppose that at first my issue was getting used to having friends much older than I was. Having more or less just taken my first proper leap since University, I was completely out of my comfort zone. It was weird.
However, with enough perseverance and will power, one adapts oneself and accepts change like this. That first year in Spain was the most socially challenging of my life, but I came out the other end much more mature and independent than I had ever been before. It shaped me, and broadened my horizons. More English-speaking friends eventually came out of the woodwork and as my Spanish improved so did my confidence in actually using it on a social level, even though I essentially said the same thing in the same bar to the same people, drunk, every weekend. But still.
That’s not to say, of course, that it’s the same for everyone. Maybe you’ll fall into a solid crowd of people straight away. Maybe you’ll fall in love straight away, like Fiona and Erin did! Moving to a city certainly helps; as soon as I arrived in Granada I started to meet people from all walks of life and corners of the earth on an almost daily basis, and many of them turned out to be best friends. Now I try to maintain a strictly Spanish social life as much as I can (intercambios play a HUGE role in this), but inevitably I find it easier to get along with other, like-minded, English-speaking guiris for ease of banter and common ground etc.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter who your friends are or where they’re from; being an expat is a mutually exclusive experience and a wonderful thing to share with people who you would have otherwise never met. And no-one can truly understand that until they’ve had a crack at it themselves.
Did you struggle to adapt to the expat lifestyle? Are you struggling to adapt to the expat lifestyle? Or was it the most seamless transition you’ve ever had? Either way, let’s hear about it!