If you are one of the lucky ones, you still have those same friends that you met during your childhood years. The ones that you still see on a regular basis. These people have become an extension of your family. For some (myself included), we left our childhood home early on forcing us to make new friendships along the way. For many of us, this continues throughout our lives until we finally find the place we call home.
Leaving your old friends behind and trying to build new friendships is a little like getting back into the dating scene again. You have to put your best self forward to make a good impression and wait to see if your new friendship is a match. Even then, it takes time before you can relax and allow your true personality to shine. If you are fortunate, you find one that accepts the good and the bad and (in my case) if you find someone who appreciates a good sense of sarcasm then you have hit friendship lottery! So, how does this “friendship dating scene” translate when you move to a new country?
Although I had moved numerous times throughout the USA, this friend finding experience in Belgium was really quite different. My first friendships were with other internationals like myself. There was an instant connection whether you spoke the same language or not. We were all in the same, if not similar situations. We were all foreigners living in Belgium and it did not matter if you were from the European country next door or you just arrived from Asia. We all shared this experience. Having these immediate connections allowed us to socialise upon arrival and hopefully for years to come. These friendships also acted as a support group to come together and discuss our time here in Belgium. The added benefit of forming relationships with other internationals was the fantastic cultural experiences you gain without ever leaving the borders of Belgium.
Now came the harder part, trying to convince Belgians that I was friendship material. Admittedly, it took a long time before I made some local friends. I am a fairly outgoing person but I was not always brave enough to show it. Despite the fact that the majority of people I spoke with were fluent in English and generally never seemed to take issue with using it, I was embarrassed by my basic Dutch skills. I always felt like I owed it to them and myself to learn their language but grew frustrated and tired of sounding like a preschooler. I wanted to express myself in a way that reflected me but this could really only be done in English. I thought perhaps this lack of language was the reason I was unable to connect with anyone here in the local community.
I soon realised that my language skills was not necessarily the issue. I came to the conclusion that my just living in the area was not enough of an investment. It was not until I had to step out of my own shoes and see it from their perspective that I understood. I had to earn it. I have heard from others that it can be very difficult to penetrate the circle of friends that have been built here in Belgium. However, if you are able to, then you will have a friend for life. They have spent years cultivating friendships and as an outsider, it was naïve for me to think that I could just join in right away. There needs to be build up of trust and a level of commitment. They want to know you are in it for the long haul.
So, like dating, finding good friends in a foreign place can be both fun and frustrating at the same time. No matter where you land, seek out the people who share your experiences. They will be the ones to help anchor you to your new home. This will hopefully give you the courage and time to find your place among the local groups. When you do make friends within the local community, you will begin to see how the effort put forth has made it a bit brighter in your new home. If you are most fortunate, you will find a way to balance both worlds and hopefully bring them together. Now that would be the Friendship Jackpot!
Suzanne McIntyre for Talent Interlock