How to find new friends when you move abroad

men and women sitting on concrete bench
Photo by Thoma Boehi on Pexels.com

One of the challenges of moving country is building your social networks. As much as many people have dreams of running off to a desert island to become a hermit, we can also hate to admit that we actually need people around us. Some of us come with ready-made networks – we get jobs in big corporations or in international schools and we are immediately linked in with people in the same circumstances. For others it is more difficult. For ‘trailing spouses’ who may be unable to work because of visa restrictions, or for childless people who don’t get the opportunity to meet other adults at kids birthday parties – sometimes moving abroad can be a lonely experience. So how do you find your people? Here are 3 ideas:

Use Social Media
Put a shout out in a local social media group and ask if anyone wants to hang out. Yes, it can feel a bit vulnerable but there will inevitably be someone else looking for a friend in there too. If you don’t want to do this yourself, wait until a newbie does a shout out!

Find (or start) a group around things you enjoy doing
This can be anything from joining a sports club to attending arts classes. I love reading non-fiction so set up a Non-Fiction bookclub and advertised it via social media channels. I remember sitting drinking tea and wondering if anyone would actually turn up but to my surprise and delight they did! I made some good friends who I would have usually have never met in day to day life.
What do you enjoy doing – how can you link in with others who enjoy the same thing?

Volunteer for a charity or a cause you believe in
Again, this is a common interest suggestion. Love dogs? Want to help children learn to read? By finding something you can get involved with can give you a sense of purpose (this also helps your overall wellbeing) first and foremost but it also will give you the opportunity to meet other people who care about the same issues.

What other ideas do you have? Let us know in the comments

“You’re sad because you miss your friends, hey?”

Starting a new school in a new country can be really daunting for your child and for you as a parent. Questions like, ‘will they fit in?’, ‘will they understand the curriculum?’ (or in some cases the language), ‘will they make friends?’, ‘will they get bullied?’, ‘who will they sit with at lunch?’ can swirl around and around in your head.

You have an image of who your child is. Maybe in their last school they were incredibly popular and outgoing with lots of friends, maybe they captained the sports team or won academic achievement awards. It is a mistake to think that they will drop into their new school with the same identity. They are a blank slate to their classmates and teachers – they have no sense of who your child is or was at their previous school. For some this is a blessing, a chance to start again; for others their sense of loss is immense.

Your outgoing child may become more introverted as they adjust to their new environment. You may worry that your child has changed and perhaps there is some bullying or nastiness going on. Check with their teacher, but often there isn’t – it is just there is a period of adjustment which can last, my experience up to a year. You may feel the same way yourself – that you have lost part of who you are. This is because we see ourselves reflected in the relationships we have with others. Who are we if no one knows our story?

It makes sense therefore that we hang on to the relationships and the people who know us from before. It may seem your child wants to spend all their time messaging friends from ‘back home’ rather than concentrating on building new relationships with people in their new country. You may do the same. It is like having one foot in each country. Your child may be physically in your new place but a good chunk of their heart and brain is still in the old one. We gain so much by moving abroad, but we can also lose things in the process – relationships, identities, even things as seemingly trivial as our pillows. By acknowledging what we have lost it helps us grieve the life we left behind and start to embrace our new one. If your child is homesick, simply acknowledging it with a hug can be powerful: “You’re sad because you miss your friends, hey?”

Allow them time to talk to their old friends while at the same time create opportunities for them to make new ones. Extra-curricular activities based around your child’s interests are a great way for them to meet new potential friends. Their new school should be able to inform you of the activities they provide. If they don’t have activities that suit your child’s interests check the local community – expat pages on social media can be a hive of useful information in this respect.

When I worked as a school counsellor, I asked students what advice they would give to a new student starting at an international school. One that had moved schools many times and seemed rather confident that they would be fine wherever they ended up next said:

“I spend about a week watching the other kids figuring out who ‘my people’ are and those who I need to avoid. At break or lunch one day I will approach the group who I think are nice and say “I’m new – could you tell me where the bathroom is please?” It works every time – they offer to take me and because they know I am new they talk to me and ask if I want to hang out with them”

This strategy is so simple yet so effective. By identifying who they thought they would get along with and allowing themselves to seem vulnerable they easily found new friends.

Another thing that new students worry about often is how they will navigate around the school; what happens if they get lost? Ask your child’s new school what they have in place to help support new students. They may have a buddy system where new students are paired with another child in their class, or they may have a transition program where all of the new students are placed together to help support one another. There may be a certain teacher or a place in school that your child can go to if they get lost. Letting your child know what will happen on their first day gives them a sense of security and control and gives you the opportunity to ensure they will have all of the stationary etc they need for the day.

As their parent you are their constant, their safety, their anchor. Therefore, you will get the brunt of their big emotions. They will storm in from school and hand you a big rain cloud of negativity then seemingly be fine 5 minutes later. This is called ‘emotional dumping’ and can make you feel awful. I have listened as homesick teenagers in boarding houses cry down the phone to their parents, only to wipe away their tears and are happily playing pool with their new friends 5 minutes later when their frantic parents call me to ask how they are. As parents you don’t often see how well they are doing, you are their comfort in their time of need and are left holding their big emotional rain cloud while they feel better.

If your child is having difficulties, a good strategy is to ask them to think of solutions instead of sweeping in and trying to fix everything yourself as tempting as that is. This teaches them that they have the resources within themselves to problem solve and be okay. Sometimes though things don’t resolve themselves easily and you and your child need some extra help – this can particularly be the case if you are both going through similar things like acute homesickness. Counselling can help process your emotions and find strategies to feel better. If you are struggling, please get in touch.

First Aid for Youth Mental Health

I am excited to announce I will be delivering the FAA Level 2 in First Aid for Youth Mental Health on Sunday 29th May 2022. This is wholly online and can be accessed by anyone within South East Asia as it will be held 9am – 5pm Singapore time (GMT+8). The course covers how to identify mental health conditions in young people, the impact of drugs and alcohol, self injury and eating disorders, what to do if you think a young person is suicidal and how to have supportive conversations with young people around their mental health. Price includes e-book.

For more information and to sign up please click here.

How much is too much stress?

While a little bit of stress may be good for us to get working well, too much and we’re tipping into anxiety, panic then burnout. Too much stress and we lose motivation, it’s more difficult to concentrate and to remember things.
Sometimes when we’re stressedout we keep jabbing at the thing we’re trying to do. We get frustrated and angry, and we can’t get anything done properly.

At this point you need to

STOP.

Breathe.

Go do something else for a time. Then come back to it. If it’s your life overall that is stressful, try to find some time in your day where you can do something mindful or fun. This helps reduce your stress levels, and allow your brain to start processing properly. When I tell students this they sometimes say

“I don’t have time!!!”

But you do. Because by taking time out here and there and giving your brain some recovery time. You’ll actually be able to think more clearly, work will become easier and you’ll increase your memory and concentration.

For example, did you know that just 1 hour of gardening each week has been shown to reduce anxiety? Just this small amount of time each week can have amazing benefits.

What mindful activities do you do to relieve stress?

Self Care Planning

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The idea that we need to care for ourselves is not new but many of us still neglect it. Why? I think it’s because when times are good, like our physical health, we don’t take much notice of our mental and emotional health. We just potter on.

On the flipside some of us roll our eyes at the idea of self care while actually practising it. Self Care doesn’t have to mean sitting meditating every day, for example it doesn’t do it for me, but exercise where I can immersed in the moment does. For some spiritual self care will be about prayer, for others walking in the woods with their dogs will rejuvenate their spirit.

It also depends on how you are doing overall. If your emotional weather is generally sunny at the moment, self care is putting routines in place that can help you when your storms come. If you’re in the midst of a mental health crisis your self care routine may be as simple as focusing on ensuring you have eaten & had a shower. Something which isn’t as simple as it sounds when you are not doing okay.

Your support system is also really important to acknowledge – who can you turn to if the going gets tough, or to have fun with this week? Your support system doesn’t have to be IRL it could be friends online, helpline numbers or support services. There is always support out there, no matter how alone you feel.

So choose to take some small steps today to invest in your emotional wellbeing – it would be great to hear how you look after yourself in the comments!

When someone has crossed a line

If you feel uncomfortable, upset or angry when someone does something, chances are your boundaries – the actions you will tolerate towards yourself – have been violated. Some of us don’t want to challenge that person because we hate conflict. Some of us think that if we show them we are unhappy they will understand and not do it again. It doesn’t work. You need to be explicit and here is how:

For example:

I felt uncomfortable when you criticised me in front of my friends.

I would like you to talk to me in private if you need to tell me something.

If you continue to criticise me in public I will no longer be friends with you.

OR if you no longer want to be friends: to protect myself I will no longer ask you to come out with me.

How does your behaviour affect your relationships?

One of the main issues I work with as a counsellor is relationships and how people can become closer to the ones they love. Often they have gotten into patterns of controlling behaviour and seem to think if only the other person could change their behaviour then they would be happy. But relationships are not one sided and no-one has a magic control wand that makes other people do what they want them to do. So just as no-one can control you, you can’t control anyone else. The only persons behaviour you can control is your own. That is not to say people don’t try to – they will bribe, threaten, nag, criticise and punish to attempt to get people to do what they want. This doesn’t bring people together though, it tends to pull them apart. I may be going out on a limb here but I’m pretty certain you don’t like anyone trying to control you.

William Glasser in Choice Theory talks about 7 Deadly Habits: deadly because they are likely to kill any relationship, whether that be romantic or friendship. He also talks about 7 Caring or Connecting Habits which will bring people closer together. Both are below:

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People are often quick to tell you what the other person has done, or not done. They get frustrated and possibly angered at the other person. Reminding them that the only behaviour they can control is their own, I always ask:

  • What do you want from your relationship? Do you want to stay together?
  • What are the main problems in your relationship?
  • What are you doing that are sustaining these problems?
  • What is going well in your relationship?
  • What is one thing this week you could do in terms of your behaviour that will bring you closer to the relationship you want?

Most people can think of at least one thing they can do. It could be as simple as eating together without playing on their phone, or asking how their day was. If you are in a rut with your relationship, give these a go. Reflect and make a small change today.