Getting Out of Your Expat Bubble

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

One of the things about living overseas that can be both comforting or disappointing, depending on your viewpoint, is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the bubble that is expat life. And it can be hard to find a way to break out of that bubble.

Firstly, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t WANT to break out of the bubble, especially in the early days. It is really hard to relocate overseas and one thing that will make it easier is to have friends.

Making friends with expats

For most of us, that inevitably means friends with other expats. These are the people you are most likely to meet – whether through work, your children’s school, through social events, or perhaps in your neighborhood. Not only are you likely to meet them, but they are also the ones most likely to be looking to make new friends.

 As I always tell anyone moving abroad for the first time, don’t be too upset when the locals don’t want to instantly be your best friend.

Expats share a common experience Photo by Clara Wiggins
Expats share a common experience Photo by Clara Wiggins
Just remember, most of them already have friends as well as family close by. And besides, why should they invest time in you when they know you’re likely to be moving on within a couple of years?

So don’t shun the easy bonds that are there to be made with others in the same position as you. Many of us find that our very early friendships are made with other newcomers – after all, you’re all at the same point of being excited, confused, and terrified at the newness of it all.  And what’s better than having fellow newbies to go exploring with –plus, they aren’t likely to disappear just as you get to know them.

Expanding horizons

But after a while –anything from a few months to a year or even more for some of us –-we may be looking to expand our horizons a bit. For some people this may be because they want to live more like a local, to properly experience this place they have landed in.

For others, it might just be a way of getting away from the sometimes suffocating life of being an expat, where everyone knows your business and feels the need to constantly comment on it. What do you do then?

Unless you are working, I found the best way to meet “locals” is through some sort of sport or hobby where you are all focused on the same thing. In South Africa, my husband joined a local paragliding club. As a family, we went scuba diving. Another friend joined a local art class.

These are all the sorts of things that you can do where it doesn’t really matter where you are from because you all have in common the thing that you are doing. You might find that you are included in a conversation, you might not – but hopefully, if you persist, you will break through any original barriers put up because you are not a local.

Dog walking, friend making

Another great way I found to meet people was through dog walking. Ok, admittedly in my case most of the people I met were other expats but there were also sometimes conversations with South Africans.

Our greatest success came when we took our mini schnauzer on the monthly Schnauzer Walks — and were the only foreigners. All the talk was of schnauzers, rather than of either entirely expat-related stuff or entirely locals-only type stuff. This was good, we could join in. And it really gave us some new perspectives on life in South Africa.

Canines foster companionship
Canines foster companionship

Volunteer work is also a good way to mix with locals. There are many things you can do that will be welcomed, especially if you have some proper skills that you can put to good use (teaching, accounting, fundraising, etc).

The longer you live somewhere, the easier it will be to meet people from your host country. And the more you meet them, the easier it will be to effortlessly blend in. Soon they won’t even think of you as a foreigner, you’ll just be a local with a different accent. Sadly, this is often the point you get the notice that it’s time to move back home or on to another location.

And it all begins again.

What have been some of your experiences getting to know other expats? Locals? We welcome your comments.