Cultivating Overseas Friendships

Continuing our series on making friendships abroad, Shaza – a regular guest blogger for Prime Recruitment – shares her perspective. Shaza has taught English in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Bali, Indonesia and is currently working in Oman.

I have a theory that there are three important “Ps” for a good living situation: people, place, and purpose. While all three help provide a meaningful existence, no matter where you live, I’ve begun to realize that the people part of the equation contains the key to success. Life without good friendships and associations can make the place and purpose lackluster and unfulfilling.

I came to this conclusion when living in Bali, Indonesia. I lived in a beautiful place and had an incredible job, but I never found good, supportive, loyal friendships to sustain me. Sure, I made acquaintances and I had colleagues I hung out with, but for some reason I didn’t find that one person who was consistently there to share the day to day struggles and joys of life with. It was the most isolating and lonely existence of my life.

Prior to Bali, I had lived in Hong Kong, Slovakia, and South Korea, and I’m currently living in Oman. Out of all of these places, Bali is the least special to me. My memories seem less lustrous and the place feels less special because there were no strong friendships to connect to my experiences.

So now, I’ve learned to prioritize friendships. Without people, I have found my overseas experiences lose their vibrancy and magic.

Luckily, in my other expat homes I’ve been incredibly fortunate to attract strong, resilient, and exceptional friendships, so I’ve reflected a lot on what I’ve done right in the past and how I can be more deliberate in cultivating friendships in my current home of Oman.

One of my dearest friends is a fellow colleague and expat. When I first spoke to him, we had a weird, slightly off kilter conversation about “reality” being a movie set where we were the lead actors. That simple, strange conversation gave us the impression that we shared unique perspectives, which lead us to a day-long exploration of nearby wadis the next weekend. It was during that trip we told our life stories and agreed there was a powerful friendship we wanted to build on, and we did.

In developing friendships overseas, here are some principles to keep in mind.

  • Be more open to forming friendships because there is a more limited pool of people. Living as an expatriate means you automatically face a smaller social scene. Multiple reasons restrict who you meet, whether it’s language barriers, class issues, security measures, or your work.
  • Do things you may not normally do at home. Because I had determined my Omani life would be different socially, I made an effort to get to know my friend, mentioned above. I’m not sure I would have been as keen to do that at home, but I challenged myself to take that initiative, and it worked.
  • Don’t be picky about age, gender, nationality, or ethnicity. Focus on the connection instead. Life overseas can lead to a wide social circle with a range of ages, nationalities, languages, etc., which adds another exciting element of diversity to your already different life experience.
  • Distinguish between social acquaintances and friends, and prioritize the friends. There will be people to hang out with, have dinner parties with, and to play tourist with, but like anywhere else, a good friend is a treasure. Since options are more limited, expats often confuse acquaintances with friendships and put too much time and effort into relationships they probably wouldn’t devote time to at home. When you find a good friend, prioritize him or her over all others.
  • Know things move quickly. All of a sudden, you’re spending every minute together and your entire social life is built around one or two people. Overall, expats tend to be transient and present to their current circumstances, so they focus hard on the people they are with at the time. Besides, those friendships are like the family you left back home and they have your back no matter what.

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