— it’s a million little things! - Paulo Coelho.
Part of most expats' experience it that it's important to make friends! And preferrably fast! However, many expats find it difficult to meet like-minded people with whom they can the share ups and downs of life - in particular, it's been proven difficult for many expats in Denmark to befriend the locals.
This blogpost on the importance of expat friendships is an addition to three other blogposts on friendships during expat life:
For many people, it's the quality of their relationships which determines the quality of their lives,
but why are friendships so important?
Well, it would be impossible to name the million little things Paulo Coelho are referring to in the above quote, but amongst other things:
It's no longer a secret that loneliness can be detrimental to physical and mental health, as well as longetivity. We are social beings primed for belonging to groups to enhance our chances of survival. As such, loneliness feels like a threat to our well-being and can be invalidating to our self-esteem, self-confidence, and can, in time, create social anxiety.
First and foremost, friends are company and someone to talk to about the joyful and the sad stuff in life.
Friends help us create a sense of belonging to a community.
With friends, we build connection based on our values, integrity, and interests.
Friends help us build and maintain self-esteem as well as self-confidence.
We rely on friends for support, encouragement, honest feedback, fun and good times, as well as advice - all in a non-judgemental way. Often, friends are like our self-chosen family!
Friends become witnesses to our lives, which provides us with a sense of stability.
Memories live for longer when we have someone to share them with.
Sharing the heavy stuff as well as a few laughs makes life less stressful.
Friends are honest with us, they challenge us, and can help us gain a different perspective on matters.
From the above list, it's not difficult to see why making friends plays such an important factor in one's satisfaction with expat life: we need people around us to thrive! And when we take ourselves away from our usual environment, we are much more susceptible to suffering from isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression - simply because we don't have our usual support network around us.
Therefore, creating a new network becomes of key importance to our well-being: both for having fun times; for having someone to witness and share our expat experiences with; but also for having someone to rely on for pratical help with all the red tape as well as having someone to lean on when the going gets tough. 'Coz it does!
Having a rosy view of expat life is not at all uncommon, but expats are faced with the same challenges as people staying in their home town forever: relationship problems, divorce, illness, death, redundency, accidents, children leaving the nest, loneliness, mental health problems etc. These are tough to navigate and work our way through regardless of where we are; but as an expat, we are confronted with the extra layer of being far away from home, of possibly not understanding the local lingo, culture, or system - as such, we are much more vulnerable and in need of having people around us.
Friendships made abroad are often life-long, very deep and meaningful relationships. They carry a significant meaning as they represent a phase of your life where you challenged yourself to start afresh in a new country - and we all know how challenging that can be! These are people who have witnessed your personal growth whilst abroad; they have seen your struggles; helped your through these; you have shared experiences no one at home can understand the significance of ... the list goes on! In many ways, you may have been each others' surrogate family.
Sadly, many expats report that it's difficult to make friends, in particular amongst the locals; but depending on the size of the pool of expats in your area, potentially also amongst the local expat community.
If you are struggling to make friends or to maintain friendships whilst living the expat dream, read the blogposts listed above to find inspiration and tips to bettering your social life. If isolation and loneliness seem to have become constant companions in your life, therapy can be helpful to alleviate the negative consequences as well as enhance your self-esteem and self-confidence to begin reaching out to people.
You can read more about therapy here!