THE ROLLERCOASTER OF EXPAT FRIENDSHIPS


One day you wake up and it’s the morning of your new life, in a new place.

When you decided to move the time flew by and suddenly, today you are already here and it seems like there wasn’t enough time for anything: goodbyes, packing up belongings in the old house, reorganising them in the new one.

In the end maybe it’s just luck that everything flows so fast because the more time we have at our disposal the more we delay or find other things to do.

When I moved to Zurich I spent my first days stress-free, with my husband and my daughter on vacation exploring the city.

Then he went back to work, she went back at school… AND ME?

I was at an impasse asking myself: and now what do I do?

The life of an expat is never boring that’s for sure, so it’s easy to find an answer to that question in an endless list of things to do: the house is not perfectly set up yet and you still have to recover your belongings; everyday a new document comes from the municipal office, the school, the insurance company and all of them are in a language that you don’t yet comprehend.

So, in order to understand that tomorrow your son will be on a field trip and you can read the list of things he needs you acquire a scanner, a PC and what will become your best friend for the coming months: Google Translate.

These first periods are full of activities, thoughts and excitement because everything you encounter is new, to be discovered and learned. Then comes the moment when things to do are not enough for you, you feel that you are being boxed into a corner and the moment to go out and meet new people has arrived.

This is not an easy moment and, based on your background and your nature, the experience can be approached in different ways: some people embark fearlessly, for others this is a supreme effort.

I waited a bit, goodbyes had consumed the dose of enthusiasm I naturally have towards relationships. I’m lucky, I received a lot of love and many displays of affection when I told people we were moving, but at the same time these goodbyes, the experiences shared and states of mind of people around us required a lot of my energy to deal with.

So, when I came here, I felt the need to take it easy.

For the first time in my life I didn’t throw myself at people in order to feel shored up, rather I felt the need to proceed one step at a time.

New relationships are vital for anyone who’s moved and, above all, for someone who left a steady job and took on the responsibility of creating a new life and a new balance for her family.

Maybe you don’t want them, maybe they frighten you a bit, but you can’t do without them. You need a tribe that isn’t just made up of friends who are hundreds miles away, or phone calls via Skype with your family.

To me this experience, still ongoing, of creating and being a part of a new tribe has been and still is, according to different periods, like a tour on a rollercoaster! Ups and downs, unexpected breakthroughs and unforeseen beauty.

THE FIRST APPROACH

‘What does it take to say hello to another mum outside the school and have a little talk with her?’ you may think. Actually more than I expected.

One preschool class, 10 nationalities, and a mix of different approaches never seen before. Some say hello? Some do it but then go away? Some look at you as an invader if you try to go further with the conversation? Some welcome you and feel immediately familiar to you?

It doesn’t depend on you, for sure introducing yourself with a big smile has a better impact rather than remaining alone at the corner, but it depends on different customs and cultures that have to co-exist in the same space. This is interesting but requires an effort to understand how to be yourself in a language that is not yours and, at the same time, respect how the others are.

There are good days and others where you would give anything for it to be easy and to be able to talk a while with some friends you have known for years!

THE COFFEE PHASE

The coffee phase is another one of those things you can either love or hate depending on your mood – those that save your life from one side and consume you from another. It’s like the 10 miles a day you walk with the stroller as a new mum rather than stay 10 hours at home alone with the baby. These things are good and sometimes they wear you down but you can’t make it right without them!

So, the coffee phase arrives, once you‘ve established the first relations, and at the right moment someone proposes the first invitation: ‘How about meeting up one of these morning for a coffee?’

All my gratitude is for these moments and those people who invited me first. They have been a gift for me, a taste of home, that moment when you stop greeting someone and start knowing them. Often whoever invites you first is someone who has had a path similar to yours, who kknows what it means to be new and to have a head full of mixed feelings.

ROLLERCOASTERS

After many coffees, talks and shared stories come the rollercoasters.
I think that relationships in general are made of ups and downs, good periods and others more difficult but all this is amplified in a life of an expat.

You realise that everything you took for granted in relationships and friendships is only your personal and cultural idea. The way I say hello to you if we meet again, if I invite you to my house, if I want to know your family, all of these are not concepts that rely simply on the fact that we like each other and get along.

They depend on different customs, privacies and thoughts for which an act that means ‘candor’ to you for another person is ‘rudeness’, what is natural ‘confidence’ to you is ‘intrusiveness’ for someone else.

Sometimes it has been hard for me, as I act with my heart and quickly get attached to people, to understand and accept that this person in front of me doesn’t want to move to a level of more confidence and directness that are fundamental to me.

This opened me to a new concept of diversity that has always intrigued me and that today pushes me to deepen my role as a coach by training as an Intercultural Trainer too. But, as a first-time expat and mum, sometimes this made me feel very lonely.

RETIRING TO THE CAVE

There’s excitement, effort, a desire to learn and be in new company, which are the first and most important pieces of the new puzzle but for me there were also phases of tiredness, where everything seemed too much and anyone, even with a simple phrase, could hurt me.

So I retired to my cave, to shelter a bit, to recover my energy. It felt strange to me, but it was the moment that made me reflect about what I really wanted to find in thepeople who were close and important to me.

Retiring into the cave, as long as it doesn’t become isolation, can help us to start again in our relationships with more balance and awareness. I think that creating a new tribe, especially for those who often change city or country, is a full time job and that, as everything, suffers from our state of mind in that moment.

Here are a few tips for anyone who is facing this exactly situation:

GET OUT AND MEET NEW PEOPLE

You can be the most outgoing person in the world, have 200 things to do, feel powerful and independent but, if you recently moved to a new place, you need to connect with new people: alone we can’t figure it out and enjoy our life to the full.

UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU

Sometimes we are so anxious to socialise or escape from feelings of inner discomfort that we meet a lot of people, spinning around like a crazy top from one appointment to another. And then we end up tired and with that uncomfortable feeling in the stomach that is impossible to ignore.

We are not meant to have hundreds of friends and big communities, you need to understand what makes you feel good: few trusted friends? A big group for nights out together?

INDULGE IN FEELING TIRED

When the moment comes and you feel lonely, simply indulge in being tired. Take a step back for a while, it’s healthy and it can help you to consider better what you need.

SEEK IN THE RIGHT PLACE

It’s true that school is the first meeting point, if we have kids, but it’s also true that we have different options available for where to find people with the same or similar interests: a sport, a creative workshop, a class about a topic you both are interested in, volunteering, a professional association. These are all good options for meeting people who share passions and values similar to yours.

All my gratitude is for those who, during these years, with small gestures, smiley faces, invitations, crying and laughter shared made me, and still make me, feel at home.

 


 

If after the excitement of the first months you feel without direction and exhausted you can contact me for a FREE DISCOVERY SESSION, where you will find clarity about:

  • where you are know and how you feel
  • what is that is not working
  • where you would like to go

If interested write to giada.varvello@gmail.com

We can meet in my office in Zürich or talk via Skype if you live elsewhere!

 

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