The Way to Make Friends in a New Country

One of the most infamous aspects and struggles of relocation / immigration to another country, which worsens if the country has a completely another language for a person. To this moment, this was the case for me already twice. No friends, no relatives, no connections, nobody in a new place. I will probably do this again some day. So, today’s story is about overcoming the issue that is not even an issue if you feel you want to change something and ready to apply some motivation.

First time I faced this particular question (among a large amount of others when you move between countries) was when I moved from Belarus to Israel. For those who don’t know, Belarus is a country in Eastern Europe with a Slavic-family language that uses Cyrillic-based left-to-right alphabet, while Israel is a country in the Middle East with a Semitic-family language that uses its own right-to-left alphabet. Two opposites, nothing in common, nothing similar.

Here comes the first advice that I would give to people. Sure, if you made some decision like I did and move or at least travel a lot between countries then you already know it. To succeed you should be inspired and excited by what you’re doing, and it will work best if you’re sincerely interested in getting new cultural and other experiences and learning different languages just by the fact of it or thankful to other factors of yours. We will not get into linguistic details, although I would be happy to do this here too. It is simply far from the most important thing to notice here.

I love learning new things, and it makes sense to me being a developer, and I think it lives somewhere inside me from the moment I was born and pervades my life.

We all know about Culture Shock Stages, or Cultural Adjustment Phases, or call that curve whatever you want, but I will omit all around the curve here for brevity. So, I began going through the curve too, no doubts. If you don’t know what it means, I strongly recommend taking time to look up and read.

What helped at the first stage, I believe, is the combination of a desire to live in a new, possibly better place for myself (see “Where are you from?”) to explore another world, being passionate about traveling and learning about things and people (see “Passion is superpower”), being honest and comfortable with myself (see “Enjoy The Time Spent Alone”).

I took a Hebrew language course because it was the part of the program that I participated in. It began with another shock of the educational approach they had there but soon it became better, and I want to say it became a fun and pleasant experience. It also helped me to get a dozen of new connections, although these were all Russian-language speakers.

Here we come to the second point. People come together and create all these communities and diasporas. For those who care and who want to have it around. For me, it would mean Belarusian / Russian-speaking communities / diasporas. I do not want any of these. I do not want to speak my language all the way in a country that has everything or at least something different. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I have moved to new countries not to search for a diaspora and find myself stuck quickly, but to explore new culture, new people, new traditions, new cuisine, and everything else related, to deep dive into new exciting experiences and opportunities, to have that cultural exchange. This is what I crave for and live for. To enjoy the life and develop myself. In a broad variety of directions.

The next problem was that the Middle East is too much different. After some time, although I had this thought before, I realized it is not for me. Period. This part of looking for what do I want can be a long post on its own. The excerpt of that period of my life experience is that I liked several things but we talk about people here today, and I wanted to find new connections among both local people and other foreigners.

Soon I found some communities, speaking clubs, meetups, and events on the internet. I have always loved such things, and I began to took participation without any hesitation. Sure, it is always nervous at least at first but after a couple of events you feel better, more relaxed, and open and ready to communicate with people more confidently. The only thing left is the language barrier. This little detail. You know what, we have the English language! It allows you to not only communicate with the world but learn other languages too from native speakers step-by-step. This way I could practice Hebrew while having English and at times even Russian as a fallback. That’s how you begin to build your newer network in a place you knew nothing about (I mean, in terms of communities) before.

Nobody can find and make you new connections instead of yourself. You decide.

The story unfolds when I decided to move once again. All by myself. To Portugal. There is no need to describe why Portugal specifically but I want to emphasize once again that I knew nobody here and I even haven’t ever been to Portugal before, the closest country was Spain, which is not the same.

I chose Lisboa to start with, and I think it was a perfect choice. Lisboa has everything you can think of, and there is also a whole community of digital nomads, any kinds of meetups, events, activities, networking opportunities, etc. The fact that this became my already second big move also made it a little easier to go through and understand how thing work to know what should I do to find people.

One opportunity was to go with Russian-speaking communities for obvious reasons, the opportunity that I didn’t want but began with. The Russian-speaking surf community became the most important and impactful to me at that moment, and I’m really grateful for that. I’m still part of you, and I’m happy to see how it grew and continues to form and develop.

The turning moment is the unexpected post about a surf social program for people looking to change something in their career or start their own project. It came through the surf community mentioned above. Who would foresee that! Such a program turned out to be a ticket to to dive into the local culture and make connections with quite a lot of local people and not only that, but to get to know the country much better, how it works, how it lives, what are various aspects of economics, labor market, history, and others. It exceeded all my expectations and changed me as a person and my life for the better.

I can say to anybody for sure to go for any good opportunity you see for yourself. I thought the same before, and I was afraid before too, I felt shy and unconfident but it is just not worth it, and as soon as you outgrow this you will find yourself in a much better state than you could imagine.

To be concise, there was a lot provided there. It lasted more than a month. We had various lectures, group sessions, coaching, mentoring, individual sessions, surfing, yoga, assistance in finding a job and/or implementing your ideas. Completely free. It took place in Nova SBE, that is a cool place I haven’t known about before, such a modern university, and the campus is large.

I have changed a lot. Someone wrote about me that I’m outgoing. For me, being not outgoing and being an introvert are two different things. I don’t know which term is better here, because I am an active person and I am interested in different events and meetups and it has always been like that, since the beginning, and yes, you can say that I was outgoing in that sense, but I still remained an introvert. And now both are just changing. I mean, I’m becoming both more outgoing and more extroverted. At some point it came to such a neutral position, ambivert, I understood it, I considered myself that way and worked on it myself, independently, and now it’s even better. It was just always difficult for me at first, I was usually not sociable at first, but then with people I spent some time with, I became sociable, that’s why this image was formed, but now the situation is changing, and it’s becoming easier for me to start with them right away, with strangers, it’s something I think is really cool and something I was afraid of, didn’t know how to do.

I always considered myself an introvert, but now the behavior is changing, and principles, and approaches, and views, and attitudes, I don’t like this word, I believe that I don’t have attitudes about myself, but some blockers may have been there and are there, but it’s getting much better and I feel like I’m getting more self-confident, and I like it.

I understood and then became sure that I became much more fluent and better in speaking English and expressing my thoughts along the way, without even noticing, and the accent became a little better, I think. When I realized this, I was shocked at myself that this happened and became a little more cool when I didn’t do it on purpose. More than anything, I think it’s about the confidence that skyrocketed with the program and connections, when we also began to just talk to each other quite a lot during breaks. And I love it! Even without actively learning Portuguese just yet, I learned a lot of new words and phrases from Portuguese speakers and began to understand some of it, so passive learning is a thing too!

My decision to join the foreign group program and everything that happened afterwards was so good, which I did not expect, did not think that it could be like that. At surfing on one of the last days, when we were in the ocean, the coach wanted to ask each of us what we consider the most important thing we got from participating in the program. I got a lot, but the most important thing I called “confidence in myself”.

I can say I learned how to find new connections and new friends by myself. I continued on my own keeping all the contacts and people I’ve met, and I made even more progress and found more good connections afterwards. Now it feels more natural to me than it ever was. I became much more of a sociable and outgoing person.

While others hesitate and all what they usually do is thinking about the question, reading something on the internet, and listening to the podcasts on the topic. I advise you to try to come out, it’s very nice afterwards! A completely new experience, the main thing is not to sit at home and wait for everything to happen by itself.

The conclusion and the moral of the story is the following. Start socializing and changing. Communicate in English. There are a lot of different events for parties, meetings, dating, communication, you just need to make a little effort, look on the Internet and go out. Without any criticism, I just know it from myself and my friends, so I wrote the main advice. If you do nothing, then nothing will happen.

I moved completely alone, there is no one here and I don’t know anyone (I didn’t know anyone when I moved). After a couple of months of getting used to it, exploring different places in the country and activities that became interesting to me, there are a bunch of multilingual acquaintances in different cities, a couple of new friends and a couple of joint communities for activities, including among the Portuguese. I even found a close person. It’s been a year since I moved Portugal, and I don’t experience any problems with loneliness. And this is even without Russian-speaking communities.

It may seem silly, but be happy! Anyone deserves to be. Enjoy life! Anyone feel the positive vibes and everything else will come by itself.


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