Problems, we all have them. Living the expat life may seem glorious, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our problems. One of my personal problems has been where do we begin with our social life, or to put it more correctly, where do we find our social life? Where do we find our local friends?! I have joked with other expats saying that our husbands have it easy. They go off to work within the first week of arriving in the new host country while us “poor” wives are stuck navigating the new city without any friends. Or vice versa, where the wives go off to work and the husbands are left to figure out the basics. In any case, the first lesson that should be taught to any new expat is to find and join a club. Of course I can only write this now confidently because when we initially moved to Oslo I didn’t have a clue.
I thought I could easily stay sociable via the internet. I could Skype with friends back home. I can ask things on forums when it came to local questions, such as where do I find baking soda? But as easy as it may be to sit at home all day and staying connected to some world via the internet, I didn’t move to another country to be a hermit. I also didn’t find it enjoyable while I was having my happy hour Skype, the other end would be just waking up or vice versa. I needed local friends but I didn’t know where to find them.
Being an introvert definitely doesn’t help my problem and when we moved to Oslo where winters are a bit harsh, becoming a hermit was possible. Choosing not to hibernate, I pushed myself to meet some stranger in a cafe to discuss creating a book club. At the same time I signed up for Norwegian lessons where I met some fantastic people. From there I felt more comfortable going to other club meetings, such as the American Women’s Club, Internations and the International Club Oslo Norway, or better known as ICON. Initially I needed a hand to hold. But I don’t know what I was so scared of. The people that I met through these clubs have definitely impacted our lives for the better.
By no means do I want to neglect our supportive family and friends back “home”, but being an expat you are in a whole new role in a new environment. It is almost like you lose bits of your old identity. Your old reality is miles away and you don’t know how to relate to that any longer. Your new reality sometimes is so scary and you need an immediate friend to pick you up. Without questioning, these new expat friends suddenly step into your life. You make bonds so quickly that it doesn’t bother you that you have only known them for a couple of weeks or months. They are truly a friendship in its own little category. (Yes, I think friendships can be categorized…childhood friendships, work friendships, Facebook friend…)
So, clearly my problem has not been having these expat friends but rather pushing myself out of the house to find them! I keep saying that technology is great but to a limitation. Answers on forums may be short. It is much better to go out to the hosted coffee morning and get many different answers, short or long! I can sit here at home to catch up with all the films and shows, or I can venture out and find that cinemas serve wine (not in Qatar, in Norway and Denmark). I have learned that expats are a wealth of information, and half of the time have been in some similar situation and are happy to help. There is no greater feeling when you do feel lost and you have that expat friend who knows the answer. Whether that is literally being lost on some road or when you simply want to bake chocolate chip cookies and can’t find any chocolate chips in what seems the whole country. An expat friend will know the way.
Now in our third big move and trying to water my own grass, I immediately joined the Doha Mums group and the American Women’s Club upon arriving in Doha. I can not say enough good things about these clubs. They are so well organized, so informative, and so caring. The best website and technology cannot replace the human element. And yes, expats are only human so we can not escape problems. But we are lucky to have an immediate understanding community. It is a blessing in disguise. We would not be where we are today had we not have that supportive expat community. Thank you clubs and thank you expat friends!