One of the most common issues that expats discuss in therapy is the difficulties they experience with making new friends while living in the Netherlands.

Friends & the expat status

The reason is not because these expats are unworthy of friendship – on the contrary, they are some of the most interesting and engaging people around. It has nothing to do with Holland per se, although the Dutch have been known to be difficult to befriend.

It appears that, in general, making friends as an adult is a lot more complicated than it was as a child. Throw in a new culture and a strange environment, and you have a recipe for a “lack-of-friendship” disaster.

Most expats will probably feel that they are lacking the close friendships they once had back in their homeland. In fact, a lot of adults who have not moved to a foreign country will also experience this as people move and friendships change over time, even if you stay at the same place your whole life.

Have you ever wondered why expats find it so difficult to connect with other people? Do you think that all other expats are doing just fine? If you believe the reason you are not making friends has to do with you and not with your expat status, I urge you to take a closer look.

Reasons why it is difficult for expats to develop new friendships

As an expat, you automatically face a challenge when you move here: you are forced to start over again from scratch. Below are five reasons why it is difficult for expat adults to develop new friendships:

  • Opportunities are lacking: As an expat you may not know where to begin looking for new friends. Your first priorities are probably settling into your new life, discovering your exciting but unfamiliar neighbourhood and developing your daily routines. There may not many opportunities during your day for you to meet other people. Meeting new friends takes time and most people living in the modern world do not seem to have enough. Time commitments may put your own social life on the “back-burner.” For example, if you have very young children, you may be overwhelmed by your care-taking tasks or if you are working you may be too tired at the end of the day to search for social activities outside of work.
  • Differences in culture: Being an expat means you have an obvious disadvantage from the rest of the Dutch population with regards to making new friends. Not only do you possibly experience difficulties making connections with the Dutch, but also with finding things in common with other potential friends and fellow expats.
  • Baggage brought from home: If you felt that you never fit in back home or had difficulty meeting new friends in your past, chances are you will be carrying this baggage around with you here. This negative conviction about yourself can unwittingly sabotage any attempt to make new friends while in Holland.
  • Lack of openness: At times you may find that you unintentionally shut yourself off from new possibilities purely for self-preservation. You may have learned during childhood that sometimes being too open or sharing too much left you vulnerable to emotional pain. This is quite common and a possible explanation why adults tend to be less open than youngsters.

How expats can make friends

Although meeting friends as an expat may be challenging, it does not mean that it is impossible to develop a close circle of friends. Below are five tips to help you take those first steps towards doing just that:

Join a group where meeting people is inevitable

Whether it means you become a member of a social club or a gym, joining some type of group means that you will have no choice but to come in contact with new people. There are several expat social groups in the Netherlands designed for all types of internationals from all sorts of nationalities.

From family groups to sports clubs, there is bound to be something that fits in with your personality and preference.

Make meeting friends a priority

Having a friend means having someone other than family to support you during good and bad times. If you have been putting yourself and your need for friends aside because you are busy taking care of everyone else, stop treating yourself this way.

Everyone deserves to have a healthy social life, especially the “stay-at-home” moms with young children and the corporate giants working more than 60 hours a week.

Expect little, allow more

Lower your expectations about “friendship.” This does not mean lower your standards regarding how a friend should treat you. It means that by changing your view on whom or what an ideal friend should look like or believe in, you can allow more people into your life who could become friends.

Friends serve many purposes in our lives and the more potential friends we welcome in, the greater the chances of meeting someone who may become a friend for life.

Discover what is holding you back

We all make excuses as to why we can not connect, meet the right people or develop new friendships. Maybe you tend to compare new potential friends with your current ones or even that you will not be able to fit in. Discovering what holds you back will allow you to consider the possibility that new friends may be around you.

Be open and willing to share

As an expat you have something in common with all other expats in the Netherlands: you live in a country other than your native one.

Most expats, despite where they come from, love to talk about the differences they are experiencing from their homeland and / or the daily irritants when adjusting to living abroad. Hear what people say and share what you are going through. Nothing brings people closer than sharing similar experiences.

If you still find meeting people or making friends difficult and in fact, that affects your daily life, it may be wise to seek professional guidance. Feeling alone in a world full of potential friends is not a situation you deserve to experience.

Believe me, there are plenty of expats who are in your shoes when it comes to meeting new people abroad, and they are waiting to become your friend!

Originally posted 4 July 2010 on Iamexpat