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Making Friends in a Foreign Country

Emily McGee has lived in five U.S. states and four countries, including Ghana, South Africa and most recently, Kenya. Although she's learned a lot while living overseas, the importance of having and maintaining friendships is a lesson that stands out.

"No matter where you live, the relationships you have with other people have a huge impact on your quality of life," says McGee, who started a blog in 2012, called One Trailing Spouse, about her life as an expat.

Indeed, friendships have been proven to positively impact one's health and happiness. For instance, researchers at Flinders University in South Australia followed nearly 1,500 senior citizens for 10 years and found that the people with the most friends outlived those with the fewest.[1]

“If you maintain a consistent routine where you see the same people over and over again, you’ll become a fixture [in those people’s lives], and natural relationships may develop.”

— Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore

"Friends are an essential nutrient," says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making and Keeping Friends When You're Not a Kid Anymore. "They're not a luxury. They're really important to your emotional and physical health."

Here are a few suggestions on surpassing cultural differences and meeting expat friends, as well as friends who are native to a foreign country.

1. Learn the Foreign Language

McGee recommends enrolling in a language course that's taught by a local language teacher. "Oftentimes, language teachers are networked into a community of locals who are interested in meeting people from other countries," she says.

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If an expat takes a language course or joins clubs to meet others, he or she can use a trusted online foreign exchange service to wire money transfers for international payments. When an expat signs up for email market-rate alerts, he or she will be alerted when a preferred exchange rate is available and can then convert a larger amount of funds in order to save on money transfers.

2. Establish a Routine

The easiest way to make friends is organically, says Paul, especially by having repeat encounters with the same people. "Maybe you get to know the person at the post office or the woman who serves you your coffee," she explains. "If you maintain a consistent routine where you see the same people over and over again, you'll become a fixture [in those people's lives], and natural relationships may develop."

3. Pursue Your Passions

Expats can meet people by doing things they love. Someone who loves biking, for instance, might join a cycling club, while someone who likes baking might take a cooking class.

"Differences that exist because you come from another country will fall away because you have a shared passion," Paul says.

4. Open Your Web Browser

Although virtual connections aren't a substitute for real ones, social networks can be a good way to get the friendship ball rolling. For example, expats can use LinkedIn and Facebook to find mutual friends who can make introductions, and also use sites like Meetup to discover local communities worth joining.

It's also important for expats to do their homework on the local culture before making new friends. For instance, in some countries it's taboo to have friends of the opposite sex, McGee says, while in other countries friends are expected to freely share material goods with one another.

"Be aware of the customs in the country you're in so you don't inadvertently do something that will be misconstrued," Paul says.

[1] "Effect of Social Networks on 10-Year Survival in Very Old Australians: The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging," 2005, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

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