I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior and how people react, act, think, and feel. It’s a puzzle. Even now. I’ve met so many people and I’ve worked with so many people, but still amazes me how we react under given circumstances or under given situations or emotions, including making friends as an expat.

Unfolding people’s characters and personalities is like a Pandora’s box.

But it’s not just the ‘what’ that piques my interest; it’s the ‘how.’ How do we react to different circumstances? How do we act and behave, especially in the unique context of expat life?

The more I meet people and work with them, the more I’m amazed by the intricacies of human behavior. Each person’s character and personality waiting to be discovered.

But is it that easy when it comes to finding friends and making meaningful connections as an expat?

 

The Loneliness of Expatriate Life

Expat loneliness is a common companion to life abroad.

While living abroad can be exciting, the process of making friends as an expat and building relationships requires effort. It takes time to find connection.

It’s important to recognize that you are a unique and exciting addition to any community.

 

 
Culture, Language, and Friendship The Expat's Dilemma - Expat Loneliness and making friends as an expat
 
 

 

Look Beyond First Impressions

In my earlier years as a psychologist, I thought I could quickly assess and encapsulate people’s personalities. First impressions often led me to believe I had someone figured out.

However, with time and experience, I realized that these initial judgments were often inaccurate.

I’ve learned that even as a psychologist, I need to challenge my own assumptions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of confirmation bias, imposing traits or characteristics on someone based on limited information. But this approach limits the beauty of getting to know people for who they truly are.

You have first impressions and you think, ‘I can tell that you are like that from what I see’.

But then the more you know them the more surprised you are of how wrong you were or how mislead you were because you were having a bad day.

There is so much more than what I can get from a first impression.

 

 

Making friends as an expat and building relationships

For expatriates like myself, making friends as an expat and building relationships comes with unique challenges.

Living in a foreign country with different languages and cultures can amplify misunderstandings and snap judgments.

We tend to bring our biases with us, categorizing people based on our preconceived notions of who we like and dislike.

But, we have to give them more chances disregarding them as friends.

Why?

Because when we meet new people as adults, as expats, as foreigners, there are so many more layers.

I always encourage my clients to give people more chances, especially in an expat context.

The person you meet might be nervous, struggling with language barriers, or simply having an off day. The beauty of expat life lies in discovering the richness of personalities beyond these initial biases.

Studies show that chemistry is not always an instant thing.

Building friendships can be particularly challenging for expats. It’s not always this instant spark, it can grow over time, influenced by personality and shared experiences.

The key is to give relationships time to develop. Sometimes, what you find attractive or interesting in someone only becomes apparent after multiple interactions.

By resisting snap judgments and biases, you may unlock the potential for meaningful connections.

 

 
Culture, Language, and Friendship_ The Expat's Dilemma - expat friendships

 

Culture and Language: A Complex Mix for Building Relationships

Living in a foreign country involves adapting not only to a new culture but also, in many cases, a different language.

It’s a common misconception that sharing a language eliminates cultural shock. But as an expat, you soon discover the profound differences in perspectives, values, and approaches to life.

For example, while Spain and Latin American countries may share the Spanish language, their world views and cultural norms can be vastly different.

It’s why it is essential to remain open to these differences and take the time to understand and appreciate them.

 

 
Culture, Language, and Friendship_ The Expat's Dilemma - Pinterest

 

How can you find meaningful connections as an expat?

As you can see, it can be challenging to find meaningful relationships as an expat, but they come down to a few things:

1. Challenge Your Confirmation Bias:

Actively work to overcome confirmation bias and avoid making snap judgments about people based on first impressions. Give them a chance to reveal their true selves.

2. Give Second Chances:

Be patient and willing to offer multiple opportunities to build connections. Understand that it takes time to truly get to know someone, especially in the expat community.
 

3. Embrace Cultural Differences:

Appreciate and respect the cultural diversity you encounter when living abroad, even in countries that share the same language. Be open to learning and integrating into the local culture.
 

4. Seek Common Ground:

When dealing with language and cultural barriers, focus on finding shared interests and experiences as a foundation for making friends as an expat and building relationships. Common ground can bridge differences and lead to meaningful connections.

The expat journey is a rich tapestry of cultural exploration, self-discovery, and the breaking of preconceived notions.

By resisting confirmation bias, embracing cultural differences, and giving people a chance to reveal their true selves, you can find the beauty in forming meaningful connections in your life abroad.

Find out more about my methods and approach here.

Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my Workshop here

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By your side,

Gabriela

If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international​ life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need.

She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 400 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading.

Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.