Once upon a time, I was a stranger in a strange land.
No, I didn’t visit Earth-like the Martian in the Robert Heinlein novel, but I did live in a foreign country that seemed strange until it worked its magic on me. Despite being an expat for the first time, I quickly became enchanted with the lovely colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Learning Spanish and acculturation eventually followed.
I even had a group of interesting expat and Mexican friends… until I didn’t. And that’s when loneliness set in.
You might wonder if I’d committed some horrible faux pas that got me exiled from the group. But no, nothing like that happened. The group just disintegrated one person or one couple at a time.
That can happen in a popular expat town. People come and go. One friend, a boat captain, decided he didn’t have a great novel in him after all and went back to the sea.
Another friend moved back to the States after a breakup with his girlfriend. Other people either moved back home or to another enticing foreign location. After all, it’s a big wide world out there.
That reminds me of what the expat single women in San Miguel say about the single expat men there: “They are either married, or gay, or they’re leaving on Tuesday.”
Part of the problem for me was that I was gone a lot on business, and each time I returned home to San Miguel I knew fewer people whom I could hang out with.
One night I sat on an iron bench in the zocalo after a solitary dinner. The place was dead, dark, and depressing. I decided right then I needed to work harder at finding like-minded friends. Not only meeting them… but keeping them.
I joined two intercambios, which are groups that meet to help people learn each other’s language. The idea is that you both converse in one person’s language for a certain time period, then switch to the other language. A great method by which to learn Spanish; plus, you’ll meet interesting people.
I also joined a writer’s group where I not only made more friends, but I received valuable feedback about my writing.
This all took place in the internet’s infancy when very little information was available online. Today, a simple search will turn up more expat activities, clubs, groups, and volunteering opportunities than one person could ever take part in.
In Cuenca, Ecuador, the city I recently moved to, there are writer’s groups, political action groups, travel groups, and a group called Spanish Conversation Over Lunch. That’s just for starters.
I took a quick look online at the Atencion, San Miguel’s English-language paper, and saw listings for art classes, yoga classes, bridge groups, meditation centers, etc. Even tango classes! So, single guys, don’t sit at home and be a ‘stranger in a strange’ land. Loneliness doesn’t feel good, and it’s unhealthy.
Find activities that you enjoy and you’ll find friends that you enjoy. That will make for a much richer expat experience. And you won’t have to leave town on Tuesday!
I invite your comments and suggestions for avoiding loneliness as a single expat guy—or gal.
by: Bruce Peterson