“The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” – Henry David Thoreau
This is the beautiful thing about friendships in foreign cultures. Though learning language is important, it isn’t essential to friendship. You’ll be surprised how much you can connect without it. You’ll make friends through gestures, kindness, and generosity, and you will discover the true meaning of friendship.
As someone who has traveled extensively and lived in foreign cultures, one of the first things I do when relocating is seek friends. I usually arrive speaking very little of the local language, but I try my best to meet people and start sharing.
The great thing is, this is often an easy task – even easier than you might find at home.
When you’re in a foreign land, the locals are naturally drawn to you. You are the “monkey” after all; most people will find you interesting. Take advantage of this and accept any friendly invitation that comes your way.
Why Make Foreign Friends?
Not only will being friendly with the locals help you integrate in practical ways (i.e., assistance with language, housing, shopping, etc.), but having local friends will help you understand the culture, the habits, values and norms, and the ins and outs of society.
Moreover, some of the people you meet in foreign lands will be in your life forever. Foreign friendships are oftentimes the strongest bonds you’ll make. Knowing people deeply from all corners of the world will remind you that, despite cultural differences, human beings are largely the same.
Who Should I Befriend?
Your colleagues, your Kung Fu master, your language partner, your teacher, your student, your cab driver, your roommate. There is no beginning and no end to who you can and will befriend abroad.
Whether circumstances put you together or you bonded spontaneously, these friendships may be fleeting or lasting. But either way, you’ll likely both benefit from the experience.
You’ll also befriend fellow expats. They’re in the same position as you are, so they can offer you resources and advice on how to best integrate.
However, depending on their perspective and how long they’ve lived in the host country, they may also have the baggage of cynicism and bad experiences. It might be wise to take anything negative they may say about your host with a grain of salt.
It would also be wise not to flock to only “your own.” While fellow expats can and will offer you some comfort from home, some commissary when things get tough, and a helping hand when need be, you won’t truly know the culture unless you mix with it.
How Do I Make Friends?
“Nihao, how are you today? I eally want to try Beijing duck. Would you like to go to dinner sometime?”
“Bonjour, sorry for my French. I’m working on it. Could you practice with me? I’ll buy you a coffee.”
“Privyet, ochen priyatno. I’m new to Ukraine. Would you mind showing me around Kyiv?”
Believe it or not, making friends is as simple as the above interactions. Invitations to grab dinner, practice language, or be a personal tour guide around the city are almost never declined. This is because local people want to show you the best side of themselves, their culture, and the beauties of their country. Take advantage of friendships in a positive way, give back, share, and integrate with ease.