You’ve come to live abroad, and apart from your work colleagues and housemates, you probably don’t know anyone. Often, this kind of unique experience results in making different types of friends to those you have in your home country.
Many of us have a range of different friends to match the distinct sides of our personality. But, because of the transient nature of living abroad, a desire for familiarity, and being far away from your family, making new friends can take on a different significance when you move to a foreign country.
Here are five distinct types of friends that people often make when they’re living abroad.
1. The Fleeting Friend
They’ve made it clear that they’re not staying. Maybe they’ve been transferred by their company for a year. Maybe they’ve moved abroad for a break before they return to the ‘real world’. Or, maybe they’re serial movers; right now it’s Paris but next year it’ll be Amsterdam or possibly Singapore, they haven’t quite decided yet.
If you’re not planning on staying long in your chosen city either then a fleeting friend is ideal for you. Chances are you’re both young and single and can take on your new home together, making the most of what the city has to offer for the short time you’re both there. You can also travel during your free time to explore the wider area and nearby countries. And then keep in touch (or not) when you both go your separate ways.
But, if you’ve been living abroad for a few years, like me, you’ll know the pain of saying goodbye to several fleeting friends. For some, it’s enough to make a point of asking new people they meet how long they plan on staying to decide if they’re worth the time or not.
In cities like Barcelona, people come and go a lot. Foreigners often complain that it’s hard to make friends with locals. But, those who are here on a permanent basis are understandably reluctant to go to the effort of getting to know people they think will soon leave.
I’m not saying that making these types of friends aren’t worth the effort. First, they might stick around after all; I came to Barcelona with the intention to live here for a year, but I’m still here six years later with no desire to live anywhere else.
And, even if they are definitely leaving because of their job or studies, you could hit it off and remain great friends for life. These types of friends also tend to be more interested in doing different activities and exploring places as they know their stay has an expiry date. But remember to save some of your energy for making friends with people planning to stick around too.
2. The Familiar Friend
When you first move to a new country, it’s understandable to want to cling onto something familiar, whether that’s stocking up on food from your home country or seeking out friends from the same place as you.
And it’s very possible that you have a lot in common with some of the people you meet who speak your language, or those from your country. But, if that’s all there is to your friendship, then these types of friends are the classic ‘familiar friend’.
My own familiar friend, let’s call her Sarah, was introduced to me via Facebook by her sister, who was a friend of a friend. Sarah had moved to Barcelona and only knew her boyfriend. After her sister introduced us, we chatted on Facebook and then met up for a glass of wine.
At that stage, the people I knew in Barcelona weren’t close friends so I was happy to meet someone new. We hit it off and continued to meet up, usually for a glass of wine on a Saturday afternoon.
But, although we got on, it was mainly on a superficial level. I realised we didn’t have much in common and didn’t share any similar opinions or tastes. One of the main divisions between us was how we felt about Barcelona. I loved – and still love – living in Barcelona, but she hated it. She also resented having to learn Spanish, while for me it was an incentive to stay. We met up once a month or so for about three years. But it was more out of habit than anything else.
I can’t deny it isn’t great to be able to chat without needing to translate. And it’s much easier if your friends understand the references you make. But there’s much more to a friendship than that. So, if you’re feeling homesick, get your mum to send you a care package. Staying friends with someone just because you’re from the same country is a waste of everyone’s time.
3. The Flexible Friend
These are the types of friends or acquaintances you might see now and again as a result of moving in the same circles of foreign residents. Flexible friends could belong to the same Meetup group as you, be friends of friends, or maybe you’re both freelancers and met at a co-working space.
You may not have enough in common to be good friends. Or it could be that you got on well but then lost touch. However you know each other, flexible friends are a typical part of the experience of living abroad while you’re making your new city feel like home. For this reason it’s always good to make connections; after all, you could become closer friends if circumstances change.
And, it’s likely that you’ll run into each other from time to time, since being a foreign resident can often feel like living in a small village within a big city.
4. The Firm Friend
Just because you’ve left all of your friends behind doesn’t mean that you can’t make close friends living abroad. You might even find you have more in common with the types of friends you make in your new city than with your friends back home.
However, the process of making friends abroad can sometimes feel forced. While apps like Tinder have made searching for potential love matches a lot easier, using apps to find friends hasn’t really taken off. When you’re starting from scratch you have to put more effort into meeting new people. This means venturing out solo to a lot of Meetups, group language exchanges and day trips.
And if you meet someone you hit it off with, since you don’t know if you’ll see them again, next comes the awkward part of ‘asking them out’. For this reason, making friends abroad can sometimes feel like dating.
In fact, it can be more daunting to ask someone to meet up with you as a friend than asking someone out on a date. But, you need to make sure to arrange to meet again. If not, this potential firm friend could become more of a flexible friend you see from time to time.
So, if you find someone who you have lots in common with, make sure to get their number!
5. The Friend Who’s like Family
Being from the UK and living in Barcelona, I can be in the UK within two hours for around 100€. But, depending where you’re from and where you’re living, going back to see your friends and family can be a lot more difficult and expensive.
I know a girl from the UK who has lived in Dubai for over nine years. She told me how this distance impacts on the types of friends you make. She explained that, in cities like Dubai, the bonds in ‘expat’ groups are more like those shared by families. These groups of friends rely on each other and provide support for one another in the absence of friends or family nearby.
I got very close to two of the girls I lived with in Thailand for this reason. We saw each other every day for five months. And, had it been for longer, it’s likely that we would have formed an even stronger bond. It’s often necessary when you’re living far away in a very different culture. And, as a testament to this friendship, we’ve kept in touch despite all now living in different countries.
What Types of Friends Have You Made Living Abroad?
The friendships you make while living abroad can be as strong as those you have with your oldest friends. And, even if you’re only in the same city for a few months, sharing adventures in your new home with a like-minded friend will be a lot more enjoyable.
Have you experienced these types of friendships while living abroad? Or do you have any other types of friends that you would add to the list? Please share your comments below!