Cultivating Local Friendships

Following on from Shaza’s previous blog “Cultivating Overseas Friendships” she now explores another perspective in the form of local friendships.

Meeting local friends can take a lot of effort when living in a country culturally and linguistically different to your own. They can also seem somewhat intimidating, but they’re worth it. Local friendships build a strong foundation and foster a deeper understanding of places.

Throughout my expatriate existence, I have highly prized local friendships and cultivated them in order to have an inside perspective on the local culture. I’ve learnt how external society operates and have been able to formulate my own opinions while establishing what adjustments I should make so I can be more culturally appropriate. For example, my best friend here in Oman is a well travelled, interesting Omani woman who moved into my office. Right away I also knew she and I would get on well because we had similar attitudes.

Things to help foster local friendships include:
  • Saying ‘yes’ and committing to invites, and being true to your word. When an older woman approached me at a Korean bathhouse and asked me to meet up for coffee, it began a weekly commitment for dinner and drinks. I always kept my word if I said yes to her and I committed to keeping those appointments. Several Koreans I knew complained that Westerners did not keep their commitments and would often cancel plans, or not even show up to appointments, which left them sad and confused and ultimately made them give up trying.
  • Delving and asking questions, without monopolizing the conversation. Some nationalities tend to be more verbally expressive than others. Stay aware of how much each person is talking and sharing and try to solicit equal engagement. This requires more active awareness with cultures that tend to be more reserved and tend to monitor their interactions because of privilege and hierarchy.
  • Listening at a deep level. My Korean friend’s English language skills were limited but we both understood each other because we listened to each other beyond words.
  • Learning to be indirect. At times it’s important to be indirect because of societal taboo topics you can’t discuss openly, or gender or status issues that restrict open conversation. There are ways to talk around these issues and it can be empowering to learn to navigate those tricky situations with local friends.

Applying these principles can help you build great friendships that add the vibrancy and magic of people to your life abroad.

For more from Shaza on cultivating friendships abroad, see her blog.

Shaza is a regular contributor to the Prime Recruitment blog. Read more of her articles at