Global Connections: Six Ways to Make Friends in a New Country


Global Connections

Six Ways to Make Friends in a New Country

By Gabrielle Yetter

Published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 20 | Sept/Oct 2015

Every day, at 7:40am, I’d hop into the back of the tuktuk (a motorcycle with a cabin attached to the rear) and head off for work. Zipping along the streets of Phnom Penh, I’d smile at tiny brown-eyed children along the dusty road and chuckle as a couple of chickens flew out from underneath a shiny SUV. Warm wind blew through my hair and my new world felt joyful and filled with richness.

There was just one thing missing: Friends.

I had plenty of enriching, rewarding experiences through travel, dining out and meandering through the country, but the absence of friends left an important void. So I put together a plan of action and used these six tools to create a fuller life for myself:

Networking. Through ‘non virtual’ networking, I found out about social and business groups in Phnom Penh: the British Chamber of Commerce, Women’s International Group, American Chamber of Commerce, Phnom Penh Toastmasters – and went along to events that sounded interesting. I didn’t become a member of any, but it was another way to meet people and figure out who I might want to include in my social circle.

friends4Social media. As a long time user of LinkedIn, I joined every group that was based in Cambodia. I skimmed the listings of every member in each group and, through LinkedIn, emailed those who sounded interesting or had similar backgrounds. I introduced myself, told them we were new in town and asked if they’d be open to meeting for coffee or lunch. I had replies from most people. Some didn’t pan out or we couldn’t coordinate a meeting, but some became friends. I also posted queries or information when I had something to share. One was for a volunteer position that I wasn’t able to do myself. I had a response from a woman in the U.S., built a relationship with her online, provided her with information about the city, offered to meet her at the airport and ended up becoming online – and then actual – friends when she landed the post. I found an active Yahoo Group of expats based in Cambodia where members posted about job openings, restaurants, stuff for sale and events happening around the country. Through them, I learned about a newly developing book club (where I joined and made a couple of friends), a movie club (that I attended twice before it fizzled out) and an organization needing a writer for their newsletter (I applied and got it).

Writing. Living overseas as an expat means you fit into a unique niche if you can write. In Phnom Penh (as in many cities), there are several print and online publications, all of which need to fill their pages. They don’t pay much, but if you can survive on a small income, write a lot of articles or want to supplement your salary, there’s usually someone who’ll buy your articles. I had plenty of time on my hands, so I wrote restaurant reviews, personality profiles, human interest stories and travel pieces that provided me a way of meeting interesting people and learning more about the country where I lived. I offered my services to most of the local publications and also became a resource for volunteer organizations needing an English-speaking writer. As a result, I developed relationships and made a name for myself and was hired to write two books during my three years in Cambodia.

READ MORE from this issue of Global Living Magazine

Personal contact. We found it much easier to meet people and make friends in an expat community than back home. People weren’t as wrapped up in their own circle of friends, clubs, churches or school groups. Instead, we were all in the same boat – living in a country that wasn’t our home and keen to meet like-minded individuals. Social outings were made much faster than back home and relationships formed quickly. I made friends with other expats by chatting to strangers in coffee shops, taking classes or just connecting through our similar way of life. We also expanded our social circle by inviting people to our home for dinner and asking them to bring along a friend or four. Being friendly to strangers and expressing an eagerness to experience new opportunities opened a lot of doors.

friends3Taking classes. I attended a few classes or seminars and sometimes met someone who became a friend. I took a photography class, an apsara dance class, a modern dance class and yoga classes. I attended a seminar on personal growth, went to the Phnom Penh TedX conference and had regular Khmer language classes. Some of the events were one-offs, but I sometimes met someone I wanted to see again (or introduce to my husband), so I’d always get a business card and drop them a note within a day or two, suggesting coffee or a cocktail.

Being a resource. The more visible I made myself, the more I became part of the community. And the more I became part of the community, the more I was able to offer new arrivals in Cambodia by helping them find their feet and locate jobs, opportunities or neighborhoods to live in. People contacted me online for help when they were moving to (or visiting) Phnom Penh. In turn, I introduced newcomers to people that might be helpful for them, and continued to broaden my circle.

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[Image: © Gabrielle Yetter] 

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