From the beginning of our lives we learn about the importance of choosing good friends. We learn a diverse set of rituals that have a moment and place in time to be performed to make our social endeavors successful and ideal.
We treat friendship as a gift that should only be given after an extended period of cautious interaction during which you try to make sure that you know about the other person’s likes and dislikes, personality, hobbies, family, origins, studies, profession. All these variables need to satisfy your mental check list of approval to your pool of candidates for the position to be filled. If the subject passes the first hurdle they may or may not be invited to your household; one of the higher echelons in the friendship hierarchy. Certainly friendship is not a singular category. Friends can be broken down into various classes, e.g. BFF, besties, football buddies, work friends.
However, when you decide to live abroad, especially alone, you find that it will be very tedious to create friends by this traditional protracted process. You are going to have a very lonely, joyless life.
I immigrated to Stuttgart (Germany) as a single woman, with only an engineering degree and a few Euros to my name, in search for a better life. I found myself in this situation right away. Here in this city of the luxurious automobile industry the most common things to find are German cars, men and engineers.
You find a lot of people complaining about the city. Promises to leave are made all the time. Some of my friends fulfilled these promises, but when they leave, it is even more common, that they terribly miss it. Does this sound odd?
I made my own hypothesis. The city is indeed unwelcoming. The local population really has little interest in making new friendships with the crowds of people coming and going, most of them looking for jobs. This cold atmosphere has an effect on the newcomers. They start to despise their new home, but they also band together in order to avoid solitude and depression at home.
Despite the lack of background variety (remember that this city is all cars and engineers) Stuttgart has one of the most active expat/immigrant communities. Besides the activities from several countries’ associations there are a lot of activities organized using social media like Facebook where you can find groups for:
Stuttgart Expat Meetups
Tuesday Night dinners
Expat mom meetings
Sell and buy
Knitting and Crochet
The newcomers are in a situation where they feel the need to make friendships fast. Everyone is eager to make friends and meet new people, so we skip some steps of the traditional friendship dance.
Skipping steps can lead to bad falls. I got hurt a couple of times. One of those times my father told me that I should know people better before inviting them over to my house and I felt very guilty and dumb because I misjudged people.
Later I realized that I knew my best friend in Germany for less than 6 months (and he was and still is my best friend). How can you be expected to have longer relationships with people if you’re there for less than a year?
It’s never going to be like home where you know some of your friends for over 10 years, it doesn’t have to be. This means that you must keep positive and keep on trying.
Expats and future expats need to realize sooner or later that the adventure is not only the change of geographic location but also the breaking of many boundaries that were created during those years where they were in their safe bubble at home. They are going to go out of home, with a soul full of hope and courage to go out and mingle and construct a network of future friendships, some more successful than others.
What we can know for sure is that outside home we are going to find people. We need to find people. A kaleidoscope of people!