Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Expat's Life: How To Make Friends

Childhood friend
When I moved to Seattle in 1999, having only ever lived in the house where I was born and raised in West Valley City, Utah (represent!), I had a hard time making friends. It was the first time I realized both how important friends are as well as the fact that I had no idea how one goes about making them.

Being born and raised in one place, I'd never grappled with the need to make friends because it had always just happened (plus, with no internet, my options were fairly limited). As a kid it's easy and, as you grow, when you don't have to start from scratch, you never really recognize when you're making friends. One day you just have a new person to call or hangout with. But, when you don't know anyone, and everything is new, making friends becomes a deliberate activity.

Seattle friends
In Seattle, making friends was hard. Without any experience, Mike & I faltered and failed more than once. Eventually, however, we wound up with an amazing group of friends. It took about two years before we had any real friends though, and we met those almost exclusively through our various jobs.

In 2010, when we moved to Dundee, we encountered the same conundrum. We went back to our notes from our early days in Seattle, hoping to duplicate our successes and minimize our failures, desperate for immediate results as we didn't have 11 years to cultivate friendships, as we had in Seattle. We were on an accelerated timeline and wanted friends NOW! And, looking back, we were fairly successful. We still have friends from our early days in Dundee, both from my various jobs as well as Mike's school. But, we weren't really successful until we moved to London in 2012.

London friends
In London we discovered the magic of the Yelp community and, with it, our first expat community. Since Yelp was still in its early days in London, most in the community were expats and expats, as we found, are instant friends. Additionally, I wound up working at a stellar organization with topnotch colleagues and became fast friends with most of them too. Within weeks of arriving in London we had an amazing group of friends, both locals and expats.

In New York City we attempted all the tricks we'd picked up in London and prior. Unfortunately, like we've been saying, New York City was hard and what worked for us previously wasn't really working for us there. But, since we maintained our expat skills, and expats are usually open to new experiences, I persevered and eventually discovered the HarlemGo Meetup Group.

NYC friends
Meetup is very popular in New York City and HarlemGo, though not providing us with any long-term friends, provided us with some much needed socialization. Eventually, we also wound up crafting a really good group of friends through our jobs.

When we moved to Taiwan last year we were immediately greeted by a large group of expats, instant friends, because Mike's new colleagues, native English speaking teachers, are all expats. But, we're also keen to make friends with some locals, though our inability to speak the local language is proving a difficult obstacle. Still, as expats we persevere.

Kaohsiung friends
Earlier this month, while revisiting some of our old tricks, I came across Conversation Kaohsiung, a Meetup group of mostly locals wanting to practice their language skills. This group has already proven quite fruitful as we've already gone to multiple events with them or those we've met through them. It's a very promising start.

Additionally, last week Yelp announced their expansion into Taiwan and, though the community is in its infancy, I'm optimistic that it might be able to play a similar role for us here as it did in London. We're also set to begin Chinese lessons in April, which will hopefully help us overcome that pesky language issue.

Our time in Taiwan has already been exceptional and these new developments will hopefully only add to our experience here, no doubt making it that much harder to leave when the time comes. But, if and when we do leave, making friends is no longer the obstacle it once was because of the lessons we've learned from the trials and tribulations we've faced in the past. By being open to new experiences and not afraid of trying new things, we're meeting new people from all around the world and getting to call them friends. Our friends enrich our lives exponentially. We only hope they're getting something out of it too.
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