Experiencing loneliness when living abroad? You’re not alone. Many ex-pats struggle with meeting new friends and experiencing the ex-pat blues until they do.
Living abroad is an amazing experience, but it also comes with its challenges too, including loneliness. I get several emails a week from ex-pats who share their struggles with me about how lonely they are. Sometimes they’re asking for advice. Other times, they just need to share their stories. There are some things you can do if you’re feeling lonely when living abroad.
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 get it. Feeling lonely is one of the biggest challenges you have when you move to a new city, let alone a foreign country.
I’ve experimented over the years and have found a few different things that have helped me to meet friends and feel less lonely while living in a foreign country so I’m sharing them with you in hopes that they’ll help you too!
#1 Tip for Dealing 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 rugby team, even though I had never played before. It was a great way to connect with other ex-pats. I found that having a social circle helps lessen the feeling of being alone.
In S. Korea I joined a local gym. In Munich, I joined two hiking clubs, a book club, and a badminton group, found several groups for ex-pats and have regular meetings with fellow entrepreneurs.
Being an active member of a group is an excellent way to meet people. You’ll see the same people on a regular basis. This increases your chance of developing close friendships when living abroad. It also goes a long way in banishing your feelings of loneliness.
It’s important to join groups around activities that you’re generally interested in so that you’ll meet like-minded people And even better passionate about, something that drives you – it’s a potent combination to beat those ex-pat blues.
If you’re only mildly interested in reading, then being part of a book club is going to quickly begin to feel more like a chore, rather than something you look forward to.
What if there is no group/club/team of interest?
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, bringing coffee lovers together, or finding other entrepreneurs to co-work with at cute cafes.
Chances are if you’re interested in a topic, you’re not the only one. Other people will be interested too. If there’s something you miss from home, like Thanksgiving, or a game or food that’s popular in your country, chances are other ex-pats do too.
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 me with a sense of connection.
These connections have been especially helpful on days when I’m feeling particularly lonely or having a challenging time.
2. Connect with Other Expats Through Blogs/Expat Facebook Groups When You Feel Lonely
There’s no shortage of ex-pat blogs and Facebook groups devoted to ex-pats 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.
Related Reading: How to Celebrate Christmas When Living Abroad
3. Make the First Move to Cope with Loneliness
Having lived in Calgary for the last nine years, I had gotten lazy without realizing it. I already had an established circle of friends. And I made no efforts to find new ones. After moving to Stuttgart, it soon became apparent that invitations wouldn’t be rolling in. OK, non-existent.
I knew that I would have to make the first move. Despite being out of my comfort zone, I started by initiating a once-a-week lunch after German class with my classmates. It was nice to get to know them better outside of class.
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. We became friends in the process. Although none of us are 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, like a great hike, 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 which sucks.
But like dating, making new friends is a numbers game. The more invites you to give, the more they are likely to be accepted. You’re also likely to receive more in return.
Related Reading: Hike the Last 100 km of the Camino & Meet People
4. Take a Class to Help Cope with Loneliness
Language classes are good for meeting other ex-pats. 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 ex-pat and German friends.
Don’t let the language scare you off of an exercise class. I’ve done a variety of classes in German. While I haven’t understood every word, a lot of communication is visual.
You just do what the instructor is doing. I’ve also found my classmates to be extremely helpful once they realize I don’t understand everything. By joining a class you’re bound to meet like-minded people.
So if you love hiking in winter, then consider taking an avalanche training course. Not only will you meet people with similar interests, but it could save your life.
Related Reading: Hiking for Beginners: How to Choose the Perfect Trail
5. Set Social Goals for Yourself to Cope with Loneliness
I find that setting goals for myself are incredibly helpful when living abroad. Some of my goals have included things like: inviting one new person a week to something (make the first move), signing up for a yoga class (in German), and signing up for an activity at least once a week.
It sounds silly, but setting goals for yourself, it’s a good check to see how proactive you’re being. I’ve found when I’m feeling lonely that I often haven’t done anything about it recently. Having measurable goals is a good kick in the pants.
Related Reading: 20 Best Hikes in Europe with Incredible Views
6. Don’t Call Home Too Often When You’re Feeling Lonely
This might seem like strange advice. But from my observations, ex-pats who spend a couple of hours a day talking with family and close friends from home seem lonelier than those who spend less time connecting with people from home.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s imperative 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 delicate balance.
7. Get a Different Perspective by Taking a Guided Tour
Sometimes you need to get out of town for a fresh perspective on where you’re currently living, especially if it’s around the holidays, say Christmas and everyone you know has plans – except for you.
Consider doing a group guided tour, like our Dana to Petra Hiking Tour in Jordan. We offer it multiple times a year, including over the Christmas break.
That way, you’ll meet new people, have a fun adventure to look forward to instead of dreading the holidays, and get to travel to a new place.
8. Hit the Hiking Trails
The combination of fresh air, being in nature, and exercise is the ultimate concoction to lift your spirits. In fact, doctors in Scotland are giving nature prescriptions to help with all sorts of ailments including depression and anxiety. See How Hiking Makes You Happier for an exercise to elevate your hike even more.
You can either go with a group or go by yourself and revel in the adventure of exploring outside your city. Taking time for yourself will help you feel better so that when you do meet new people, you’ll be so positive that everyone will want to be around you. You may find yourself with more invitations than you can handle from all your new friends.