Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making Friends as an Expat - Delhi, India

I feel like a total stalker of today's blogger, Kisha, who writes the blog, From India--with Love. I've been following her blog since earlier this year when she started making her plans to move to India. Since I am officially dying to go to India, her posts satisfy my weekly need for insights into life there. Kisha writes about an important part of expat life in this post. How do you make friends and create a community for yourself as an expat? - T

First a big thanks to Terri for inviting me to contribute to Expat Week here on her blog.

I'm originally from Toronto but moved to Delhi, India earlier this year (March 2011) to work as a paid volunteer for one year. When Terri asked me to write a post I started thinking "What could I share that might be useful or interesting to others who might be considering doing the whole expat thing?" In my 5 months away from home I feel like I've grown so much - I've perhaps experienced every possible emotion there is to experience, seen things I've never seen before (both the incredible and the heartbreaking), ate delicious food, and met the most interesting people from all around the world...so coming up with something to write has been overwhelming - but after giving it thought I decided to share this piece of advice:

Get a social life. Make friends.

This one piece of advice sounds so easy (and it is EASY) that the thought of "making new friends" initially sounds terrifying. Before moving to a new country, when you're at home, you have a set group of friends that you regularly get together with to have a good time and de-stress with. When you move to a new country, where you don't know anyone, I'm not going to lie - it's tough. On top of dealing with everything else that comes along with moving to a new country you suddenly find yourself friendless and with no social life - no one to vent to about your "tough/exhausting/amazing/etc." day. When I moved to India, for the first month, I found myself staying home every day after work not doing much and as a result not having the best time - but then I gave myself a kick in the butt and decided to get a social life and make some friends! And since that decision my experience here in Delhi has improved 10000% Having friends in your new home can greatly enrich the experience you have - regular coffee/lunch/dinner dates, parties and get-togethers, hanging out at the park listening to live music, rock climbing, site-seeing, exploring the city, shopping the bazaars and markets......these are much more fun to do when you have company - trust me!

So how do you make new friends in a country you're new to and unfamiliar with? I'll tell you this - it just takes one. Yup, you heard me - it just takes meeting one new person and then it kinda snowballs from there. Here's some suggestions:

- Ask friends and family before moving if they know anyone in the country you're moving to that they would be willing to introduce you to by email. You'd be surprised at how far reaching some peoples' connections are!

- Try Couchsurfing. Not only is it a good place to find a couch to crash on for a new days in practically every country around the world - it's also a good way to meet other expats or locals. I have a couchsurfing account and while I don't have a spare couch or bedroom to offer my profile clearly states that I'm willing to "meet up for coffee." (Note: You will get tons of sketchy emails on couchsurfing from people who think it's a dating service. Ignore them and keep control in your hands by contacting and responding to the people who seem to have the same intentions as you. Be smart and be safe!)

- Smile; look friendly. Allow me to explain, when you move to a new country it's easy to always have your guard up. In an environment you feel comfortable in - try letting it down. A few weeks ago I found myself in a favourite coffee shop. I decided to take my own advice and when someone who was clearly an expat came into the shop and ordered a drink - when our eye connected (you're eyes will ALWAYS connect with the other expat in the room!) I smiled. He said 'hi'. And thus a friendship was born. We ended up chatting over our drinks and background for the next hour. Easy peasy!

- Hang out with someone from work (either another expat or a local who you think you'll have things in common with). Invite them out for lunch or to check out a local bazaar.

- Connect with a local blogger. Since moving to Delhi I've received emails from newly arrived expats and travellers who were readers of my blog and wanted to meet for coffee - I always say yes. Now I have a new friend and so do they! ...and when I go to parties hosted by my "old" friends I always invite my "new" friends along.

So those are some suggestions for making new friends in your new country. If you have any tips or suggestions to add leave them in the comment section - I'd love some new strategies! And if any of you happen to be in Delhi - drop me a line! I'd love to hear from you :)


Mandy said...

Great post!! This is one of my biggest worries when we leave for Spain-my husband is working, I cannot since I won't have a work visa, so I won't be as exposed to other people as he'll be. I'll probably just have to remind myself to get out of the house, like you suggest!

Sounds like you're having a wonderful time in Delhi!

Hannah {Culture Connoisseur} said...

Great pieces of advice. I've found that just being where the people are will result in a friend (depending on how hospitable people there are). In many places I would just walk into the market and smile and wait for someone to invite me over for tea...it almost always happened. :)

Try Anything Once Terri said...

What great advice! I think going the friend route is a great way to ease into Couchsurfing.

Caroline said...

I love Kay's blog and I'm so glad I clicked over to yours! I just read all of your posts about your trip to Turkey and it brought back such a great flood of memories. I fell in LOVE with Istanbul last year and I'm dying to go back.. hopefully as an expat soon! :)

Try Anything Once Terri said...

Thanks, Caroline!! Much appreciated! Definitely come back! :)


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