Making friends as an expat is justifiably one of the hardest things you will experience living abroad. Settling into a new country is already challenging by itself, let alone building meaningful friendships. Don’t worry though, you will not be destined to stay at home forever, binging Netflix on Friday nights. These 5 expat stories on friendship will give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to others.
Ioana relocated to Budapest with her husband and dog 8 months ago. She received a promising job offer that she couldn’t resist. At first, she struggled to make friends as an expat. Her colleagues didn’t want to move past the courteous office small talk. She would receive tons of recommendations for restaurants and events from her fellow workers, yet none of them offered to accompany her.
Eventually, Ioana’s luck turned. She and her spouse met a lovely Colombian expat couple during a work event. They immediately hit it off and started planning a dinner double date for the following weekend. Culinary discussions and recipe exchanges are great ways to connect with people who come from different cultures. Since that time, Ioana has made further improvements in the friends department.
At one occasion, the couple’s Jack Russel became tangled in the leash of a passing Pumi during their walk. The incident inevitably sparked up a friendly conversation between the pet owners while they tried to separate the two dogs.
Animals are perfect ice breakers as most of us love them. Thanks to her furry friend, Ioana had a great excuse to suggest a repeat play date, so now they all go together to the park.
After such positive experiences, she feels more confident to put herself out there. She also set up her profile on several online networking sites, such as Internations and Meetups. They often organise events with different themes and activities, so you can pick the one you like.
Ioana’s advice to newcomers on how to make friends as an expat in Hungary is to stay away from controversial topics. Politics, religion, and LGBTQ-related subjects can generate more heat than paprika among Hungarians. Also, be open for work events even if the last thing you want to see on a Friday evening is the smug face of your boss. Give yourself a pep talk and fixate on the free buffet. Who knows? You might even meet your new bestie at the canapés!
If you had asked Tarek back then to place Hungary on the map, he would have been greatly baffled. Until a sunny spring day 15 years ago, he wasn’t even aware of the existence of this tiny country in the heart of Eastern Europe. Everything changed when he met his Hungarian girlfriend who made him taste his first goulash. Fast forward a couple of years, Tarek’s commitment to delicious Hungarian food turned out to be stronger than his relationship. Nevertheless, he had really warmed to Budapest over the years, so he decided to stay after the breakup.
In order to make friends as an expat, Tarek joined several sports clubs. As much as his work schedule allowed him, he tried to keep a full calendar. Each day he would go to play tennis or practise pilates and yoga. If there is a place you can attend weekly, you will get close to people pretty quickly. Soon enough, you will be meeting up for beers and movies outside of your initial group.
According to Tarek, many newcomers make the mistake of getting stuck in an expat bubble. However, if you truly want to immerse yourself into society, you have to go the extra mile and learn some basic Hungarian phrases.
Hit up Hungarian 101 podcasts on YouTube. Even if your pronunciation fails, locals will appreciate your effort, and you can all have a good laugh (hopefully, not at your expense). Study your host country’s history and cuisine before your arrival. This way, you can show the locals that you actually have an interest in their culture.
There are so many opportunities to dive into your new community. The key is to put yourself out there and in a position to meet new people you may not otherwise run into. You will be surprised by what might happen!
Four years ago, Hazel took a big leap and came to pursue her Master’s degree in Budapest. She says that the integration process went pretty smoothly as her university offered various networking opportunities for non-Hungarians. She considers herself lucky as she was surrounded by many people around her own age at university. It was inevitable that she would become close with some of them, sooner or later. Hazel also joined several expat groups and online communities on Facebook.
Online platforms provided a great place for her to share her questions and worries, or to find solutions to bureaucracy and language-related issues. There, she could also blow off steam and occasionally engage in a rant when expat life became overwhelming.
She asserts that these pages were true lifesavers. Not only did Hazel make several lifelong friends here, but she also met her boyfriend. Dating a Hungarian person is a huge plus when it comes to socialising. On the other hand, as an independent young woman, she also ventured on numerous sightseeing trips by herself. During these adventures, she always came across some cool people – locals, backpackers, or other exchange students.
Hazel’s advice for foreigners on how to make friends as an expat in Hungary is to adapt to the culture. Don’t expect a Welcoming Committee and the same ‘over-the-top’ friendliness like Americans have. Hungarians seem to have a hard shell at first. However, most of them turn out to be really loyal and caring as your friendship deepens. Another useful tip is to learn to hold your alcohol. If you really want to blend in the community, you can never say no to pálinka shots!
Charlotte had a really hard time making friends as an expat in Hungary when she arrived six years ago. She felt isolated in the new country as a stay-at-home mum with a young toddler. It didn’t help either that her husband spent long hours at the office. At the beginning, she tried to rely on her Hungarian husband’s social circle. Right away, she was faced with two major obstacles. Her spouse’s friends and colleagues didn’t feel comfortable speaking English even if they had proficiency. The second block happened to be the culture. During the Communist era, Hungary was closed off from the outside world for 42 years. Hungarians, especially from the older generation, are still wary of foreigners. Charlotte often felt that locals seemed cold; smiling was hardly their second nature.
The determined young woman came to the conclusion that she can’t expect making friends in the check-out line at the supermarket. She has to come up with an action plan, otherwise this feeling of not belonging will steer her down a path of binge reading cooking blogs and Skype overdose.
Charlotte started frequenting playgrounds and children activities to find other mums who were in the same boat as her. To her surprise, she met many nice ladies who shared her values and interests.
She also started attending an English-speaking writing workshop to move forward with her poetry project. The weekly sessions were not only educational, but they also helped Charlotte to expand her social life.
Charlotte recommends everyone who moves to Hungary to practise patience. Don’t get disheartened if people don’t respond to your smile. Nor should you take it as an offence. It doesn’t mean that they are not interested in you. It’s just how the culture is. Try to join clubs and workshops to meet like-minded people. Even if you don’t find a group that closely matches your main interest, be brave to experiment. Take up a new hobby and expand your horizons!
Miguel decided to move to Hungary a year ago as part of his personal development journey. He was filled with excitement and curiosity to see what this new chapter would hold. However, his first impression of the locals was not quite what he expected. As a person who comes from a sunny and warm country, he found Hungarians a bit cold and disconnected. They also came across as slightly arrogant at times. They hardly devoted more than five minutes of their day to converse with a foreigner.
Later, he realised that this general aloofness was just a facade. It could rather be credited to the language barrier than to a rude demeanor. Many people were just simply shy to speak English, and they were often self-conscious about their pronunciation. Pessimist views and negative beliefs were also recurring things during Miguel’s interactions with locals. By now, he is accustomed to getting lengthy answers about dreadful jobs, elevated gas prices, and hated politicians to a simple ‘how are you’.
Miguel started experimenting with a different approach and looked specifically for language exchange groups on Tandem and Meetup. He found many open-minded Hungarians who wanted to practice Spanish or English.
Due to the nature of his job, he often travelled to the countryside at the weekends. On these occasions, he found accommodation on Couchsurfing. On this website, local hosts share their homes and parts of their lives with travellers. It’s an excellent opportunity to get to know the culture of one’s host country.
If asked about how to make friends as an expat, Miguel suggests getting familiar with some basic Hungarian words. Whenever he enters a shop or a work group, he always makes sure to greet people or say a few kind words in Hungarian. A couple of funny expressions or references to popular memes and tv shows can really melt the locals’ hearts. It’s not easy to penetrate the hard protective shell of the citizens here. However, once a Hungarian opens the door of his house for you, you will be friends for life!
Source: Daily News Hungary