Step-by-Step Guide to Making Expat Friends in a New Country


I live in a rather large town in Northern Ethiopia. Even though it is a substantial size there is little to no Western influence (or Westerners for that matter). It is the kind of place that if you see a foreigner crossing the street, you should yell at them to figure out if they are passing through or live there. I don’t need expat friends, but the trouble is the language situation—stay tuned for my "How to (Almost) Learn a New Language" post —since my proficiency at the local language is embarrassingly low, and I need to be able to talk to people in my native tongue. (It’s a lot to ask, I know!)English speaking friends proved to be way more challenging than my husband and I ever expected. Even though we didn’t know anyone when we moved to this town, I figured that we would make friends fast. That was a very false assumption. Almost a year into our Ethiopia adventure, I still had no friends.If you are in a similar place, don’t lose heart. I have put together this simple step-by-step guide to making expat friends where there are no friends.Step 1: Emotional Breakdown. This is an important step for you to understand your need for friends. Sit on the front porch of your home while your husband works on the car and cry about not having any friends that speak your native tongue. Then complain and cry about a million other things that might seem to be unrelated to your male counterpart but are intricately related to you and your lack of friends.Step 2: Go to the Gym. Exercise is critical to getting your endorphins back up and turning the tide of an emotional breakdown.Step 3: Get Straight to the Point. When you see a woman that looks like she might speak English standing in the locker room, don’t worry about a “hello” or “how are you?” These might be wasted words if she is just a visiting tourist. Get straight to the point, “Do you live here?” You don’t have to ask if she speaks English because it will be apparent in her response.Step 4: Invite Her Over for Dinner. If you discover that she speaks English and lives in your town, immediately ask for her number and invite her over for dinner THAT night. You don’t want her to slip away. When she can’t come for dinner that night, invite her over the NEXT night. Do all this as casually as possible.Step 5: Play it Cool. Upon exiting the locker room, pop onto the treadmill with a skip in your step, knowing that you have just found your new best friend. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know anything about her. Then, excitedly yell at your husband from across the gym, “Babe, I made a friend in the locker room.” Remember how uncool you are acting when he makes a signal for you to be quieter with his index finger over his lips.Step 6: Dinner. Make your best meal for her. Get out the white linens and candles. Act like the Queen of England is coming to your home for a meal because there is a lot riding on the line with this new best friend.Step 7: Learn More About Your New Best Friend. Since you are already best friends, be sure to get a few basic facts straight. Where is she from? What is her work? And most importantly, how much longer will she be living in your town?Step 8: Initiate, Initiate. Proceed to invite your friend for an activity every day for the next week and soon realize that she has a life outside of you.I must confess these are real-life events that happened to me as a tried to make friends. The funniest part is that six months later this girl was somehow still friends with me and all my un-coolness. I confessed to her about how excited and desperate I had been for a friend the day we met; I told her about crying on the porch and being so excited to find her in the locker room at the gym. I was surprised to hear that she had been as desperate as I was for a friend. Our locker room encounter was truly a miracle.Have you made friends with someone in an unexpected way?  Share your story below?