Yay! I am officially a published writer. I’m so proud of this accomplishment. An article that I pitched and wrote for Global Living Magazine was published in it’s summer edition. It was a goal I’d set for myself long ago, and I finally did it.
When I was a kid, I had a best friend who lived across the street. We did everything together until a certain age, and when life started to insert differing interests and paths into our relationship – we drifted apart. It’s totally normal. We remained friends through high school, went to the same college, and today we’re friends on Facebook. I love seeing her and her family through photos and posts, but I no longer know herlike I did as a child. This was the last time I truly had a “best friend”.
Since my teen years I have been a social floater, and those tendencies are still with me today. I’ve always been one to follow the beat of my own drummer, and I have never really had another “best friend” since my childhood. Maybe this floater syndrome is what has helped me become a successful expat, I really can’t be sure.
Eight years ago, I was living in Switzerland with two very small children, I couldn’t speak French, and my husband worked nonstop. I felt so isolated. Most likely the isolation was in my own mind, but I just couldn’t figure out where I fit in. It was our first expat assignment, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what I was doing. Writing was a way for me to get my feelings out without actually having to talk to anyone!
Fast forward to today. If you talk to those who are close to me, they’ll say I’m super outgoing and that I can talk to anyone. I mean, I do frequently scare people in the grocery store queue with my impromptu conversations. I like being around people, meeting people, helping people, and generally being involved in my community. But, there is another side of me that most people aren’t really aware of – the quiet, reserved listener, who feels inadequate and unsure about herself in large social situations.
I am a self diagnosed ambivert. An ambivert is someone who is equal parts extrovert and introvert. I’m super outgoing once I get to know you, but I can be really quiet in a group of people I don’t know. I can talk up a storm about something that has great interest to me, but I hate walking into a party where I don’t know a single person and am forced into small talk. I don’t particularly like the spotlight, but if I’m really enjoying myself with those who know me well…I can get caught up and steal the show. It sounds a bit manic, right? I know. I would probably hate being my friend!
But, after four international moves, I think I have finally sussed out the best way for me to jump from country to country and make friends. By being true to myself, I am more aware of when I begin to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of new bits and pieces each expat post poses. And, I have made a conscious decision to curb making any firm commitments (i.e. volunteering, joining clubs, etc.) which allow me to tread the waters of friendship for a while. By doing this, I am giving myself the chance to observe and sort out my surroundings before taking on something or someone I’m not quite ready for yet.
Luckily, I have been extremely fortunate to find a new tribe in so many places around the world. Sometimes the tribe is small (like two or three) and sometimes it’s big. It’s all about quality, not quantity…So, I tend not to get too worried about the amount of friends I have anymore. Being content with having found a few smiling faces in the crowd to help me navigate the crazy life I live is such a relief.
I’ve even had to navigate the “new” friendship realm at home too. Our “home” is nestled in a small town where my husband grew up in Michigan. The local bar is reminiscent of the sitcom Cheers (though a lot less fancy)…where EVERYBODY knows your name and maybe your personal matters too. Being the newbie in town (and only present for a couple months out of the year), I feel like a deer in headlights. Most people are only aware of me because of the surname I inherited when I got married. This being said, I’ve been super fortunate to find friends who are low key, relaxed and fun…who also understand that I’m not always around, but wish I could be more often. It’s hard to cultivate and maintain friendships when you are only around a few months out of the year, but I’m working on it.
Since becoming an expat, I have actually started making a new kind of best friend. These aren’t the kind of friends I see everyday, nor do I even talk to them as frequently as I’d like to…but I do have a connection with them which will bond us together forever. I try to see them as much as possible…though some I have not seen in years. This being said, I know things will not have changed much between us when we reunite. These friends are my anchors around the world. They have taught me what true friendship is, and have made an imprint on my soul.
The expat life is a seriously rough ocean to navigate, and when you aren’t great at steering the social scene in general, it can be even rougher. Throw in a little anxiety, and you are brewing a perfect storm. Gosh, I’ve been there, and there is nothing quite like it.
HOW TO GO ABOUT FINDING ANCHORS:
Here are a few of my tips I use when I’m trying to figure out how to bloom in my new garden. Maybe they will work for you too.
BREAK OUT YOUR SMILE
You look your best when you smile. Even if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, a smile just might be the icebreaker you need to start talking to your potential new partner in crime.
QUEUE UP SOME QUESTIONS
If you aren’t great at small talk, prepare a few general questions and stash them in your back pocket for emergency use. Most people love to talk about themselves, so if you aren’t ready to tell your life story to the next stranger you meet, pull out one of your fool proof questions to get them talking. It will give you some time to regroup. And, if you are an over-talker, asking a question will give the other person the opportunity to actually do some talking, and to give you a well deserved oxygen break.
GO SPEED DATING
Try everyone on for size. Chances are the first person you meet will not end up being your best friend. Think of it like when you go clothes shopping and bring fifteen different items into the dressing room. For every fifteen pairs of jeans you try, one might work. So, don’t be disappointed when you aren’t trotting around town with a new posse after day one.
Try different clubs, attend school meetings, try a class at the gym, join the neighborhood book club. It doesn’t mean you have to commit to anything, it just opens you up to more opportunities to meet people and find out what’s available in your area.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You want to attract people who like you for you. Finding friends who interest you is hard enough…don’t make them peel an onion to find out who you really are!
So here’s my theory:
I think we’re all a bit nervous about social pressures when we reach a new destination. The question of “Will it be easy to make friends?” is always in the back of my mind. It worries me, then I stress out about it, and then I think about my anchors scattered around the globe. They won’t let me sink. They are there to listen to my concerns, give me guidance from afar, and lift me up with their friendship so that I can sail into my new life with confidence. So, continue on a path of finding anchors, tug on them when you need them – they are the ones we can rely on when we need a little help from sinking.
“Great things never come from comfort zones.” – Unknown
Dear First Time Expat Me,
You are in for a real roller coaster ride, sister. Shit is about to get real, and you have no idea how real it will be.
I am so excited for you! You have decided to take the plunge and move to another country…it is going to be an eye opening experience. You have made the conscious decision to give the expat life a go. You have had the hard conversations with your spouse or partner, your parents, your kids, and your friends. And, your answer is still…”I want to be an expat”.
You are about to give up everything you know as normal. EVERYTHING. Your favorite thai takeout place, your favorite brand of dryer sheets, your local barista who knows what you want before you open your mouth, and your hairstylist…you might miss your hairstylist most of all. So, make sure you absorb those last minute indulgences…binge eat the prawn chili pad thai, pack a few boxes of dryer sheets, savor every last sip of your coffee, and get your hair done one last time.
I’m not trying to scare you, but I am trying to explain to you how your life will be a hell of a lot different. In fact, it will never be the same again. Aww, does that sound scary…well it should…but I hope it sounds intriguing as well. Don’t you feel a sense of adventure on your doorstep? If you don’t get a ball of excitement in your gut when you talk about your upcoming change…I suggest you try to tread lightly because expressing negative behavior and thoughts is like shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve taken your first step.
I don’t think you want to make deep sinking footsteps into the expat world filled with doubt and bad juju. Sure, you might not be moving to a place you ever thought you would move to in a million years, but you can’t say it doesn’t have the possibility for enjoyment…and maybe even more happiness than you could ever imagine.
Imagine if Steve Jobs had said to himself…”Self, you’re right…I’m going to fail. I’ll do it…but I’ve no faith in it working, and I’m going to be unhappy trying the entire time.” He probably would have never revolutionized the way technology has changed peoples lives over the past 30 years…and then how would you be able to communicate across oceans face to face? Huh?
I don’t think you will allow yourself to discover the full potential of what your expat life has to offer if you start the journey with set limitations or ultimatums. I think it creates an invisible barrier to really engage in the life you could live, if you only had the cojones (AKA balls) to dive head first into the deep end. It takes a really brave person to be an expat. Did you know that? Do you realize how big of a leap of faith you are taking in yourself? You need to see your own potential, and then own it like a boss.
I also believe limitations and ultimatums can seriously hinder your relationship with your partner or spouse. They are already worried about the idea of moving with you to what feels like Mars, so if you place your bets by doubling down on failure before you try…there’s gonna be resentment on both sides. You are both faced with different challenges daily. One of you might be faced with things that drive you batshit crazy…you can’t even get the easiest of tasks completed without four attempts. And, one of you is learning to work in a new environment and new role. You need to support each other, and be in it together.
So, here’s my theory…Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway. Being an expat is kinda like being a bull rider. Bull riders have 8 seconds to make shit happen, and most don’t make it that long. Chances to experience life abroad is uncommon and unrealistic for most people to even comprehend. So, take this awesome opportunity by the horns, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride. Try to keep an open mind and heart because negativity will only make things harder on you than they already seem. Believe me when I say, this shit is not going to be easy…But, I really hope you see your potential to BLOOM.