How did you feel at home in a new place?
October 21, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Bonus if you've done this in a foreign country, and/or you work from home.

Hello! We just moved to a foreign country (in Europe, but no language issues) for my partner's job. We've spent time here before, but this is the first time we've thought of the move as indefinite. My partner couldn't find work in his field in our town, and the perfect job came up here.

The problem is that I'm far from family and friends. I had a really strong community in our old town. Lots of friends (the kind you could just drop in on for a cup of coffee) and a dozen people I could call in the middle of the night if I needed them. I had a good job as well, though for boring reasons, it wasn't permanent so I would've had to change eventually. I'm working from home for the time being here, so that doesn't help. I just feel lonely and anonymous all the time - a stark contrast from my old life. And I can't help compare things here unfavorably to home (public libraries, health care, etc.) even though there's lots of things here that I can tell could make it an amazing place to live (parks, nice cafes, good schools for kids, etc.).

My partner sees I'm sad, and is willing to move back, even though it's a huge blow professionally. I'm keeping that as an option, but not until I've really, really tried to feel at home here.

The question is: how? Take classes? Meetups? Talk to strangers? Knock on my neighbors' doors? This is new to me -- any suggestions/anecdotes/encouragement would be much appreciated!
posted by EtTuHealy to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You need to have what you had back home (or the local equivalent). That means friends, a routine, a social life, hobbies. Do you have a job? Talk to people, be friendly. No job? Hobbies, go climbing or hiking or mountain biking or anything where you have contact with people.
posted by devnull at 6:48 AM on October 21, 2014

Just saw you work from home. Go and work in a cafe or co-working space sometimes. If you have a branch office, go visit. Life is what you make it.
posted by devnull at 6:55 AM on October 21, 2014

I telecommute from my partner's European town after moving away from a city that contained my family and a number of close friends, so I relate to a lot of this.

I started a new Meetup group on a topic I'm interested in because there wasn't one already in this area. Hosting kind of forces me to interact with the Meetup members more than I would if I were just visiting as a participant.

Sometimes I work in cafes, just to get a sense of having people around me.

I chat with people in the small stores near my house. I'm probably not going to be lifelong friends with the florist and the guy at the Chinese restaurant, but it's nice to feel that someone around here recognizes me.

I Skype/Google-hangout/etc a lot with friends and family back home. There's a big time zone gap, but with some ingenuity we've been able to do this anyway. Sometimes we'll watch TV together or play an online game as a focus for the hangout.

It's not a perfect set of solutions and I'd still like to make a few more good friends around here in order to really feel like I belong at the level I did in my previous home. But it's doable.
posted by shattersock at 7:00 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. Do you have any kind of neighborhood association? Library, shelter, neighborhood watch, police benevolent society...Anything at all would work. It's the absolute best and fastest way to feel more connected and meet people. And the best part is the quality of people you meet, they are usually the activist/local movers and shakers.
posted by raisingsand at 7:01 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. Don't force quick contentment; it'll take time, and you need to relax into a new place.

2. You mentioned the good things e.g. parks and nice cafes. Use these good things, regularly. Depending on the culture, you may start to recognise, and be recognised, by people in the cafes et al and be able to strike up conversations.

3. Related to 2 - get out of the house as much as possible during the daytime. I'm also in Europe and we are heading into winter. Get daytime exercise when you can; work when it is dark. It's good from a physical and mental health point of view - arguably essential in the winter - to get whatever sunshine and daylight you can on your skin. If you feel more positive, it'll be easier to make positive connections as you'll be more confident and give off good vibes.

4. As for knocking on neighbors doors; yes, but in a non-invasive way. The country and locale will affect this somewhat. Have a reason or excuse e.g. to ask a question about something local, to give the neighbor an opportunity to engage in conversation.

5. Alternately, a small, friendly and non-committal note to neighbors e.g. "Hello; myself and X have recently moved here. If you would like to pop round for [local drink] then we would be pleased to say hello."
posted by Wordshore at 7:02 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make your environment your own. You have to gauge how much time to spend on this, but I really started to feel more at home when I did something as simple as buying a little plant; painting or decorating might help you.
posted by amtho at 7:21 AM on October 21, 2014

It seems from your previous question that you might have a child? If so, shamelessly use the little one. Go to baby/toddler groups, talk to people on the playground.

This is how I built a very good support network when I lived in England (the Children's Centres often run things, though I met my support group through someone who had friends who had met through antenatal classes. Locally-run toddler classes also helped me meet a few people).

When I moved again to another country (European, but language issues), my toddler once again helped me build a good support network. This time, I found a contact who had written on an expat page that she was looking for English-speaking friends with kids, and then expanded from there.

Both moves were initially very hard (especially this most recent one), so don't worry if it takes time. The important thing is to put yourself out there, try online groups (like Facebook groups or expat pages), and don't be afraid to put yourself out there in a 'hi, I've just moved, you seem interesting, like to come over for a cup of tea?' sort of way.

Also, if you're not familiar with the local culture, factor that in - even without a language barrier, the differences in culture can be huge. I found watching popular culture on the TV and having some sort of locally based job helped a lot with that (I worked part time in a pub when I first moved to the UK and it really helped me understand how people interacted).

Good luck, chin up, and feel free to send me a message if you want to talk to some one who has been there.
posted by brambory at 7:26 AM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've moved quite a bit and I'm outgoing but being an old man makes me less and less likely to be as unguarded as I once was. A lot of people use the internet, unabashedly, to meetup and just to hang around. I don't know if that's for you but I've been to more than a few meetups and I've never had anything but a great time. There are a lot of gatherings designed around common interests as well.

If you are more comfortable being somewhere with a purpose raisingsand has it. You meet the best people in the whole world volunteering.
posted by vapidave at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2014

How long have you been there? Homesickness hits crazily bad at around 3 months until about 6 months to 12 months for most expats I've spoken to. It can hit surprisingly & scarily hard at other times too. Just getting through that is a big step in feeling more settled.

Things that worked for me moving from a small town in Australia where i knew everyone and had a network of contacts to the a large town in Midwest USA where I knew no one but my husband.

Get in a routine. Go to a coffee shop say every weekday morning, get a coffee sit & read the paper, get your face known & start saying Hi to the other regulars. Depending on the country you are in people can take a little longer to thaw to strangers but keep being polite & friendly.

Get involved in something. Do you have hobbies? Areas of interest outside of work? Volunteer. Being a volunteer tour guide can be a great way to get to know a little about the history of where you are. Join a gym. Have kids get involved at school or join activities, kids are perfect friend making tools.

Get on Amazon & get things shipped to you that remind you of home. Just being able to get Vegemite for my morning toast and the brand of coffee I liked made me feel a little more settled.

Do you hate all the libraries or just your local branch? If your doctor sucks find another one. I hated all US dentists when I got here, I got nothing but rude money grasping charge you for rinsing & spitting assholes when I first moved here. Took me 4 goes to find a dentist that felt right. Be willing to shop around to find the things/services that do make you feel comfortable. I shop at a particular grocery store because it feels more like the ones at I was used to, I use a certain mechanic because he understood my Australian words for car parts without correcting me. These are small things but make it easier to feel less "other" & like an outsider.
posted by wwax at 7:33 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this a few times now, both in countries where I spoke the language and those where I did not. It took me a couple of tries to figure out how to manage in a way that made me happy. I work from home, am not in school, and moved solo, so I have had to work for all of my social connections.

Things that worked for me:

1. Couchsurfing - not hosting or surfing (though those are good) but going to meetups.
2. Taking classes. I took dance classes, language classes, and aerial acrobatics classes.
3. Working from a coffee shop once a week.
4. Join groups. For me, it was roller derby and acroyoga.
5. Host a dinnerparty - this is harder, but a great way to make more lasting connections with people. Met a few nice people doing the above things? Invite them to dinner. Throwing and american Thanksgiving is an awesome way to do this.
6. Find or start a games night.
7. Expat groups on Facebook. Great for venting, chatting, feeling like you are not the only one who misses pumpkin pie, etc.
posted by Nothing at 8:17 AM on October 21, 2014

Find a few things you actively enjoy, and try to build a routine around them. E.g. a great local cafe that you can hole up in with your laptop for a few hours. A park to spend your lunch break in. The details are up to you, but day to day existence is much better when there's something you actively like to look forward to everyday.

There are plenty of Anglophone expat groups in Europe - Germany for example has Toytown Germany - and it will only take a little rudimentary googling to find out when the next meet up is. You can also reach out to your existing network back home and ask if they know anyone in your city they'd be willing to connect you with. Ask your partner to invite you to a post-work drinks session with his colleagues, so you can meet them and their partners. You could also propose a metafilter meet up. The key here is aggressive socialising.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2014

If you follow sports, the NFL in particular, many teams have backers groups (example) around the world that gather to watch games. It's a good way to connect with other people from your area living in the same city, which can make your new locale feel a bit more like home.
posted by troika at 8:30 AM on October 21, 2014

I moved to Japan for 2 years (with no language ability) to teach English, and one of the most helpful things the JET organization provided me was this chart. I knew I was going to experience some euphoria, some depression, and some doldrums (and some periods of almost feeling normal!), and referring to the chart helped me not to spiral out.
I was in a very rural area, no friends or even near-by English-speaking JETs. But I worked hard to make that place my home (and now that I'm back in the States, I really feel natsukashii for that little cottage). Here' were my main strategies:

• Firstly, I reframed the whole experience as a kind of retreat. I was there too, to learn about myself and to learn about the culture I was living in. The lack of friends was sometimes surprisingly refreshing.

• I nested - I made time to decorate with things that reminded me of home,my own art, and lots of interesting stuff from regional craftsfolk.

• I took long exploratory walks where I knew I would both get lost and then get found.

• I threw myself into learning the language.

• I also threw myself into studying ceramics. Was really lucky to make friends with a master potter and his wife, so was able to not only learn a craft, but also learn a lot about Japanese home life and culture.

• I did The Artist's Way. It instilled some much-needed discipline in me (the daily 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling), and induced one of my most artistically creative periods.

• I was lucky enough to have my own car, so I explored a lot. I also "accidentally" started a pilgrimage, which basically was like Shinto geocaching - I had to collect 33 calligraphic stamps from regional temples. Again, a great way to force myself to go to places I probably wouldn't have otherwise. Met really interesting people, saw really mind-blowing stuff. Like a mummified monk in lotus position. Like Miyazaki-esque ancient trees and moss-covered cliffs topped with shrines that were almost indistinguishable from the natural environment around it.

• I participated in a neighboring town's international club. It was a group of mostly retired folks, but some of those cats were wild, and 10 years later, I'm still in contact with some of them. Great way to meet friends.

• Oh yeah, and I occasionally would host really big sleep-over parties for regional JETs who came from other towns sometimes 3 hours away. It was a pressure cooker of camaraderie.

Don't get me wrong, I spent a lot of time in a sad place, but I think that can be ok for some periods of time. You just don't want to get stuck there. I think the hardest part for me was becoming almost instantly illiterate. I couldn't read labels at the grocery store, I couldn't go to the library. I relied heavily on ordering books, but this functional illiteracy freed me from my reading habit so I could pursue art and just absorb my surroundings.

Good luck!
posted by ikahime at 8:49 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Where are you? (That might help with specific suggestions). One thing you could try is offering free or cheap English lessons. Anyone I've ever tutored while abroad has ended up a friend. In most cities, it's also easy to meet expats once you connect with one or two (try a bar, or search online for a local English-language paper for clues).
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:50 AM on October 21, 2014

I moved from London to Vancouver, six years ago now - but I left EVERONE behind and it was hard at first.

I joined a book club on Craigslist... something I would NEVER have done back home.
I also realized I had to jump on ANYONE I spoke to and clicked with... I couldn't wait around, I had to be the one to make the first move.
I would accept ALL plans even if it wasn't really my scene and I eventually found my own groove.

Working from home does present some challenges because a lot of my good friends ended up being people I worked with, but you also have to be patient.

I'm being realistic here when I say it took me two years probably to feel PROPERLY at home, but now I couldn't imagine living anywhere else!
posted by JenThePro at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've just done this now for the third time!

One thing that I do is seriously limit travel back to "home" or wherever feels like home. I just sit tight for 4-6 months.... Get used to things, feel the feelings... Going back, or planning trips back, always impacts on my ability to start putting down roots.

I also make friends native to the new place. Expat groups can be transient, negative, and keep me feeling like an outsider. They are fab, don't get me wrong.... But I've never felt at home until I had local friends.
posted by catspajammies at 9:12 AM on October 21, 2014

Others have covered how to build a community, but when I moved to London and was working from home, it was really important to me to feel that the city was my own.

We got our flat in a lively bit of Central London, so I never felt isolated during the day. I made myself take advantage of cultural offerings, eg going to talks and lunchtime concerts, and I kept a tab on local issues. I explored the city with and without my husband, really wandering the streets, so I now know it better than many who have lived here all their lives.

Feeling that the city is yours will help you avoid the disastrous cycle of constantly comparing it, to its disadvantage, to wherever you come from.
posted by tavegyl at 10:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

It takes a full year, even if you're moving within the states. And the year doesn't start until you've unpacked.

While living abroad is a fantastic adventure, getting familiar TV can really help. Hello HULU and Chromecast!

I always re-read my favorite books. That makes my house a home.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been expatriated from the US for 17 years, and have lived in both the UK and Ireland.

My advice is as follows:

-- Stop comparing things to the US. Firstly, because it doesn't matter what it's like in the US; you don't live in the US. Second, it can be helpful to look upon your first year as an anthropological field trip: you are there to observe, and to learn, and not to judge.

-- Contrary to other people, I suggest not enmeshing yourself in an expat community if you've relocated to a Western country. I do not believe it helps you to acclimate, and in my personal experience expat events are giant bitch fests (see above).

-- Figure out the minimum you need to make you feel like you're grounded in your neighbourhood. For me, that was knowing my butcher, my veg stall guy and the ladies at my local bakery. For you it may be adopting a local pub, or chatting at the corner shop or whatever.

-- At a low point shortly after I moved, I read that the average happy person has 20 social interactions a day. After that I made a serious effort to do that things got better.

-- Find something and join it. Stitch n Bitch or a class or something. Meet new people and be generous with coffee invitations and social media connections. To this end, get business or personal cards you can hand out. Hand them out!

-- Make a mental note each day of three nice things. Oyster cards: awesome! Sausage rolls: awesome! The Guardian: awesome!

It's hard but I think it's less difficult if you're firmly facing forward rather than facing backward, clinging to the past.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:23 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The concept of radical acceptance can help with the adjustment. This is your life, you chose it, you chose to live in this place. The sooner you accept all that comes with these choices the faster you will feel like you belong.

Find your own words to remind yourself to accept your choices and their consequences and you will begin to be more at peace.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:10 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've done this a few times. I agree with previous posters who say to avoid relying too much on the expat community, because in my experience the expats that go to expat events can be unhappy and not engaged in local life.

Since there's no language issue, you've got a great opportunity to go native and get local friends. The challenge is that you have to really go out there and get them. What has worked for me:

- Get a desk in a sociable coworking space, and attend their evening events. It will give you the social options of a job without the office politics, plus get you out of the house. Most coworking places have a range of options from a part-time flexible spot to 24-hour access to your own desk. If there's a "chatty" room and a "quiet" room, choose the chatty one.

- Join as many Meetup groups as even remotely appeal to you, and require yourself to go to one meetup per week. If someone you meet at such a group seems interesting, don't hesitate to suggest that you get together for coffee some time, and get their contact information.

- Also search Facebook for groups related to your interests. For example, I've found hiking and biking groups there that aren't on Meetup.

- Take classes and keep your ears tuned for any mention of going out afterward or setting up a group to continue after the class ends, or suggest it yourself. For example, I took a photography class that morphed into a group of people that regularly went out to take pictures, which morphed into a purely social group.

All of this can feel like work at first but it quickly pays off. Good luck!
posted by ceiba at 4:15 PM on October 21, 2014

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