Uprooting your life and moving to another country is always challenging. This is especially true if you have an established circle of friends and family or a career you love. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to build relationships with people who have backgrounds utterly different from yours, and it can also be hard to find a proper job abroad.
In fact, according to Eurostat, the 2020 EU unemployment rate for people ages 20 to 64 was 13.9 percent for those born outside the EU, 8.1 percent for anyone born in another EU member state, and 6.1 percent for the native population. On top of these numbers, about 40 percent of expatriate relocations fail because of problems adjusting.
I have firsthand experience with the challenges of trying to put down roots and become successful in a new country. I moved to Israel in 2017 to complete my doctoral studies at Ariel University. This is where I started my first business, an agritech company. Despite my relative success, after three years, I moved to Latvia in March 2020.
Due to the pandemic, the borders were closed, and I couldn’t return to Israel. These circumstances forced me to start building a new life, business and network in a new place. Through my experiences, I’ve developed a few strategies for building new relationships abroad without losing yourself in the process.
1. Be respectful of your new country’s lifestyle
Moving to a new country is about more than just a change in surroundings. It’s often a complete change in lifestyle and even a change in pace. For example, if you move from the bustling, business-oriented environments of New York City or Moscow to the more sedate regions of the Midwest or Munich, it will likely be quite a culture shock.
Be sure to prepare yourself for this in advance. Nobody appreciates newcomers complaining about how different their way of life is! Do as much research as you can before the big move. Subscribe to local lifestyle bloggers, seek out local Facebook or LinkedIn groups to participate in, and see if any of your friends or colleagues have experienced living in your destination.
Sites like Expat.com can also be great resources to connect with others and find lots of useful information about your new home country before you arrive.
If possible, it’s also a great idea to visit your new location. This lets you experience the pace of life and connect with locals on a personal level before you move. Apps like Couchsurfing let you stay with trusted, verified locals who are friendly and eager to meet new people. Other apps like Nearify help you discover fun things to do based on your interests, and it even offers a personalized daily list of things you might be interested in doing.
2. Learn how to communicate effectively with locals
Obviously, if you’re moving somewhere with a new language, you should make an effort to learn language basics before you move. However, it’s also important to understand how body language and communication style may differ in your new country. The National Center For Cultural Competence website is an excellent resource for this.
For example, I’m from a Nordic European culture. To me, a smile is a gesture of trust, and asking how someone is doing is a sign of genuine interest. I was unfamiliar with the American culture of small talk and friendly openness regardless of the degree of trust. This was very different and a bit difficult for me! Before I moved to Israel, I had difficulty connecting with locals because of this difference.
When possible, learn as much as you can about the culture of communication in a country beforehand. Immerse yourself in cultural studies and communication theory so that you can connect with people more quickly. Even simply using guides like this WikiHow on communication etiquette can help you think differently about communicating in an unfamiliar culture.
Sites like Udemy offer free and budget-friendly courses on communication, culture and language, so they’re worth checking out before you move!
3. Don’t feel compelled to jump at every opportunity for connection
When you’re in a new place, it can be tempting to cling to every opportunity you get to meet people, regardless of whether it’s your “scene” or not. Remember that you don’t have to do this!
It can be helpful to think about this ahead of time. Ask yourself what kinds of people you would like to connect with and what your goals are when building a new network. For example, if you’re not into music festivals, then don’t force yourself to go “meet new people.” You’ll end up meeting people who do enjoy these types of events, and you probably won’t want to continue the friendship.
Instead, think of it as if you were at home. For professional purposes, seek out online and offline events that align with your business goals, such as entrepreneur events or venture fund conferences. Sites like Meetup.com are great for this. In your personal network, you’re likely to find lasting connections in places like expat meetups, socializing with friends of friends, or honing your language skills with partners from platforms like Tandem.
4. Remember to give yourself time
You don’t have to immediately start networking and finding friends as soon as you move. In fact, it’s normal to take many months to simply adjust to such a new style of living. Remember that it often takes years to develop genuine, meaningful friendships, so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. “Culture shock” is a real thing that all expats experience! Research shows that 68 percent of expats find that moving abroad is more difficult than expected.
This is especially true if you have difficulty meeting people or striking up conversations with strangers under normal circumstances. Allow yourself to take as long as you need to get comfortable in your new surroundings. Putting extra stress on yourself will only make it harder to connect with people when you’re ready.
5. Connect with yourself first
If you’re full of turmoil and anxiety, you can’t form lasting friendships with new people. Stabilize your inner state first with mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and habit tracking. Apps like Balance, Habitbull and Daily Yoga can help to set you on the right track to staying centered and calm, even when your new life feels like too much.
Learning how to connect with your inner self will make building connections with others that much easier. You’ll find that like-minded people who are in tune with your own goals and mindset cross your path more often.
Remember that it’s also okay not to be okay! You’ll feel overwhelmed and homesick sometimes, and that’s normal. These are the times that I like to do something comfortable and familiar until the feeling passes. Be kind to yourself!