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Old 13.05.2009, 18:14
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Making Friends Abroad

One of the topics that comes around again and again on these fora - and there are a couple of recent threads in fact - is along the lines of “how quickly can I make friends in Switzerland”.

Here's my 0.02 on the subject.....

Inevitably moving to any new country carries with it a lot of stress; having to navigate local red tape, finding a place to live, language barriers and so on all play their part. Add to this the fact that family and friends are a long way away and moving to a new country can often be a lonely business.

Making social contact with people in the new country – expatriates or natives – can often help to sweeten the pill.

My first experience of living abroad was in The Netherlands – and the job at the time working with the European Space Agency meant I divided my time between The Netherlands and Italy. I originally moved over just before Christmas and there were quite a few social events allowing one to make some initial acquiantances. Many of the people at ESA were also expats so there was a ready base of information for newbies like myself – this was in the days before the Internet and expat forum websites.

The Dutch are like the British in many ways and I found it easy to meet people at pubs and so on and I built up a fair list of drinking buddies along the way. This was helped by there being less of a language barrier – though I did make the effort to learn the language in the end.

Eventually my trips to Frascati became long and frequent enough that it became my semi-permanent base. I found it difficult to get to know Italians – the initial language barrier was one factor though my experience was Italians tend to socialise within their own cliques and this is a difficult obstacle to climb. I tended to rely more upon the expat community in Frascati and Rome for any socialising – the Hash House Harriers was a good medium for making friends and acquaintances.

My experience in both places was with the expat community, you learn to develop friendships quickly but you accept that people move on after a year or two – particularly if they are in the armed forces or work in embassies which accounted for many friends in Rome. I kept in touch with very few such people after they or I had moved on. Indeed, whenever my wife and I go to Leiden in the Netherlands, we will generally look up her friends as any people I knew there have since departed.

Keeping in touch with people is something I do not excel at – I find as the years go by, the things you may have had in common with “old friends” tend to diminish and I dread the idea of reunions; I can imagine conversation at such events running out fairly quickly.

We have been in Basel for eight years now, and I find the lasting friendships are with locals and longtime expat residents rather than the transient expat population. If I go to an expat social event, the one thing that bores me is listening to some prat tell the audience all about his time in <insert exotic place name>. Indeed, if I visit my native country I never volunteer the information that I live overseas unless somebody asks a specific question about where Iive.

If you are here for the shortterm, (and in the initial phase of a longer stay) it is good to get to know expats through the various clubs and fora. However I find you get more out of a place if you try to get to know some locals. Often the best way is to join a local club for some interest or hobby that you follow – be it martial arts or model railways. Compared to other nationalities the Swiss are not the most outgoing – especially towards foreigners – and it does take perseverance.


Last edited by nickatbasel; 13.05.2009 at 22:56.
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