Expat Blog

Expat stories - A User's Guide, part 3

Posted by staff alexander on Jan 10, 2017 2:30:00 PM

Not long after I arrived in Stockholm, I ran into someone I knew. Well, when I say “knew,” I mean, I had been introduced to him by a mutual colleague. Once.

Expat life.jpgBut that was significantly more than I knew anyone else in Stockholm at the time, so I was pretty thrilled. I bounded up to him like an excited puppy:

“Hi! How are you? How lovely to see you! Isn’t it a beautiful summer! Have you been enjoying the lovely weather? Are you going away anywhere? It’s so sunny! And light all the time!”

It was around the time I realised I was speaking in exclamation marks, that I also realised… he was terrified. Let me repeat that we had met one time, and briefly. Several weeks previously.

I’m fairly confident he regularly wakes up in a cold sweat at the memory.

It’s part and parcel of an expat’s life that the first few months at least, will be a little bit on the quiet side, socially. Back when we were five, we could meet someone once in the sandbox and instantly proclaim them our best friend, but as adults it can be a bit more tricky.

I think one of the aspects that I found trickiest was keeping a sense of perspective. Now, if I meet someone new that I like, it’s easy to suggest swapping numbers and maybe meeting for a fika one of these days, because it’s no great drama if they’re reluctant or too busy. Back when a potential fika was a single life raft on a neverending sea of me-time, it could feel rather devastating if the person didn’t leap for joy and suggest we meet the very next day.

One of the best ways to combat this, I found, is to find an activity that will fill up at least one or two slots a week. There’s a good chance that you’ll meet some people through it - I know some of my dearest friends in Stockholm through kayaking - but even if not, just knowing that if all else fails, you are at least busy once or twice a week can stop you from accosting semi strangers and interrogating them about their summer plans. If the activity isn’t too language driven (an exercise class or running group, for example) it can also be a good chance to practice a little bit of Swedish.

It’s also important to maintain ties with friends and family at home. It can be easy to let friendships slip when you are caught up in the whirlwind of a new home and job, but booking regular Skype dates can help to make you feel as though you still have something of a social outlet - even if it is virtual!

There are plenty of expat organisations, meet ups and outings, which can be a great way of meeting others in the same boat. While it was important to me not to get stuck entirely in the expat bubble and never meet any Swedes, it can be a great relief to spend time others who are having the same ups and downs settling in as you are! Internations is one such organisation, and there are plenty of Stockholm activity groups on Meetup.

Everyone is different, but for me, it’s a bit less intimidating to sign up to events that centre around an activity I am interested in, rather than drinks mingles. I find that it’s easier to strike up a conversation around whatever we are doing rather than launch into random small talk over wine, and even if there’s no one there that I click with at least I will have enjoyed the activity.

One popular way of expanding the social circle once you have met a few possible candidates for friends, is to throw a “bring an awesome person” gathering. You invite everyone you know and task them with bringing someone great that they know. That way, there will be lots of new faces but no one is stuck on their own, and hopefully at least a few will ask to be invited next time - when they will bring their own awesome person.

Even once you get going, it can still take some time for your social diary to fill up. I remember feeling that it was all a bit one step forward-two steps back: I’d have a flurry of a fikas or drinks over a few days, then nothing for weeks on end. I think that the only thing to combat that is time and patience - and maybe a few good books or DVD boxsets!

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