Coping with loneliness can be one of the biggest challenges when living abroad.
On average I get one email a week from an expat who is struggling with loneliness. Sometimes they’re asking for advice. Other times, they just need to share their story. Having lived abroad four times – first in S. Korea, then in Thailand (2 different cities), U.S.A. and now Germany (2 different cities) I have found a few different things that have worked well for me.
<h3.#1 Tip for Coping with Loneliness when Living Abroad: Join a Group/Club/Team
I’m a big fan of groups and clubs since they bring people together with common interests. In Bangkok I belonged to a ruby team, even though I had never played before. In S. Korea I joined a local gym. In Munich I joined two hiking clubs, a book club, a badminton group and Internations – a community for expats. Being an active member of a group is a great way to meet people. You’ll see the same people on a regular basis. That increases your chance of developing meaningful friendships when living abroad.
What if there is no group/club/team I’m interested in?
Create one through Meetup.com or Facebook Groups. It just takes a few minutes and is free to do. You can create a group for whatever your interests. Whether it be around cultural events, hiking in the Alps, sporting events or bringing coffee lovers together . Chances are if you feel there is no group that meets your interests in your area you are not the only one.
Alternatively, you can join an online group. I do think it’s better to connect with people in your area if possible though. There are online book clubs and groups for almost every activity under the sun. I’m a member of a couple of travel blogging groups. The fellow travel bloggers I have “met” through these groups have provided with me with a sense of connection. That’s been especially helpful on days when I’m feeling particularly lonely.
2. Connect with Other Expats Through Blogs/Expat Facebook Groups
There’s no shortage of expat blogs and Facebook groups devoted to expats living in the same location. By reading through a few posts it should become fairly clear to you whether you have anything in common with that person. If you find that you relate to someone, contact them to see if they’re interested in meeting. I met a good friend in Munich this way and was grateful that she reached out. In a Facebook group you may find that there’s already an established event that you can attend.
3. Make the First Move
Having lived in Calgary for the last 9 years, I had gotten lazy without realizing it. I already had an established circle of friends and made no efforts to find new ones. After moving to Stuttgart it soon became apparent that invitations wouldn’t be rolling in. OK, let’s be honest – nonexistent.
I knew that I would have to make the first move. Despite that being out of my comfort zone. I started by initiating a once a week lunch after German class with my fellow classmates. This was a nice opportunity to get to know them better. I started extending invitations to people I had met through various events. Before long I was organizing day trips to explore the region with a couple of girls. They became friends in the process. Although none of us live in Stuttgart any longer, we’re still in touch.
I held a Christmas party that ended up having people from 6 different nationalities. In Munich, whenever I find an interesting event, I invite someone to attend with me. It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes it’s a flashback to dating. Some encounters will be awkward. you will have to deal with rejection. Nobody likes being rejected -even if it’s a potential friend. But like dating, making new friends is a numbers game. The more invites you give out, the more that are likely to be accepted. You’re also likely to receive more in return.
4. Take a Class
Language classes are good for meeting other expats. They’re also useful for trying to learn a language. Exercise classes are good for meeting locals. I’ve done both. It’s important to me that I have both expat and German friends. Don’t let the language scare you off of an exercise class. I’ve done a variety of exercise classes in German. While I haven’t understood every word, a lot of the communication is visual. You just do what the instructor is doing. I’ve also found my fellow classmates to be extremely helpful once they realize I don’t understand everything. Next up is a cooking class in German! Yikes – stay tuned!
5. Set Social Goals for Yourself
I find that setting goals for myself is incredibly helpful when living abroad. Some of my goals have included things like: invite one new person a week to something (make the first move), sign up for a yoga class (in German), and sign up for an activity with expats at least once a week. It sounds silly, but by setting goals for yourself it’s a good check to see how proactive you’re being to absolve your loneliness. I’ve found when I’m feeling really lonely that I often haven’t done anything about it recently. Having measurable goals is a good kick in the pants.
6. Don’t Call Home Too Often
This might seem like strange advice. From my observations, expats who spend a couple of hours a day talking with people from home seem lonelier than people who spend less time connecting with people from home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely important to maintain those connections from home. But if you’re spending 2 hours a day doing it, then you’re not out meeting new people. You’ll never truly feel settled in your new country. It’s a fine balance.
7. Further Reading on Expat Life
Whenever I’m struggling with something I read up on it. Be sure to check out How to Live the Good Life Abroad, in which I share my top 5 tips for expat living and my #1 Tip for Being Happy When Living Abroad. It may surprise you.
If you’re an expat living in Munich, be sure to check out How to Thrive as an Expat in Munich.