Many expats find that it takes them quite a long time to adjust to the rhythms and challenges of being in a new country. A sizable portion of them may never achieve a cosmopolitan outlook or a mastery of the native culture. By any standard, this can be quite an unfortunate way to spend time abroad, especially given that so many people have their lives defined by their time overseas.
The key to mastering your host country’s culture and being happy in it goes well beyond just competency at work or school. In most cases, it comes down to the quality of the friends you make. Here are some reasons expats should do their best to make friends overseas.
1. Friends will help you get better adjusted
Moving cities within the same state can be stressful enough, let alone moving to an entirely different country. Even when the host culture is similar to your own, there will always be some things about your host country that won’t be immediately obvious to you.
They can be as mundane as figuring out what to do when you get sick (international insurance from Now Health International should take care of that) or how you can file your taxes properly in your new home. Finding that first job can be a lot less daunting if you found it through someone you know.
Friends, whether they’re long-time expats, locals, or fellow newbies, can go a long way into helping these everyday experiences be less confusing and easier to deal with. Without friends, contextualizing all your new experiences can be a painful, and occasionally embarrassing process.
2. Local friends will help you understand your host culture better
Having friends who are fellow expats is important, but you should make every effort to make friends with locals whenever possible, especially at work and in school. Even if you’re not normally predisposed to getting to know people, it pays to give an extra bit of effort when befriending locals, as they definitely know more about the ins and outs of the place than most expats.
Having a group of local friends allows you to learn more about local customs and values in a more controlled, safer environment. After all, it’s better to commit a faux pas among friends who understand that you mean well than in front of those who may think less of you because of one misunderstanding. You’ll also typically learn the local language and culture much faster, especially if you befriend someone who is passionate about their own country.
3. The expat life generally isn’t kind to loners
Culture shock is definitely a real and very serious phenomenon that affects expats universally. Those who lack a support network of friends whom they can relate their problems to will have a much harder time abroad, and they may even fail to assimilate or gain mastery of the local culture even after decades in the country.
Without friends to help you through the confusing times that you will most definitely encounter during your time as an expat, you may feel continuous unease and confusion at otherwise mundane situations. This can lead to antisocial behavior and further isolation from others, which can cause you to miss out on opportunities and make it difficult to work and study.
4. Friendships can be critical to maintaining your mental health
The feeling of loneliness and isolation can often lead to depression, which brings with it a whole host of different physical and mental health issues. It’s absolutely normal to be depressed, especially if you’re staying in a foreign country for extended periods of time. However, even with proper intervention by qualified psychiatrists, it may be hard to effectively manage your depression if you are not able to count on any friends to help you through your episodes.
While friends are no substitute for proper self-care, they are an indispensable part of it for most well-adjusted human beings. Given that you’ll be facing a lot of personal and professional challenges during your stay abroad, it’s always great to have people whom you look forward to spending time with after a rough day.
If you’re looking to meet people in your new city, check out our article on Making Friends in Buenos Aires … Or Any City.
If you’re looking to meet a romantic interest in Paris, then this article on Dating in Paris 101: How (and Where) to Snag a Date in a Bar is for you!
Good luck and enjoy your new friends!