Monday, January 27, 2014

Friends in Unexpected Places

Making friends in a new country is hard. If your move abroad was to continue your education, then you're one of the lucky ones since campus life can act as a buffer against total isolation. Even if you fail to make deep connections, you still have the opportunity to interact with other individuals. 

But when you make the move to a foreign country in a non-academic setting, things are completely different. Even with roommates, it's possible to go days without talking to anyone. And If you're a social person like me, this is especially frustrating. So getting out the house on a regular basis is key. 

Until you find friends to entertain you, you'll have to find ways to entertain yourself. Coffee shops are good, but can become repetitive. My solution was the film noir series at the M√ľnchner Stadtmuseum. For only €4, you can experience the beauty of 50's cinema, like a young Marlon Brando in a Streetcar Named Desire. And with an adjacent cafe offering light plates and a lovely Pino Noir, you can turn the experience into a personal date night.  But be quick since the series ends February 15th.

Young Marlon Brando

Eventually, even the gangsters and detectives lost their luster. I longed for human interaction and intelligent conversation. And this is when I turned to the expat board,Toytown Germany

Normally, I shy away from expat groups. I'm clumsy and awkward and meeting large groups of new people makes me go into my own head and overanalyze everything around me. But my friend suggested Toytown since she had good experience meeting cool people there. So when I saw they were having a Christmas party that was pretty close to my home, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and went. 

Good lord, the party was everything that I had feared. It was just as uncomfortable as a high school dance when you're the new kid in town. But at least there was booze to help mask my discomfort. And I did meet a really nice couple. But they told me they were leaving the country for good next month and this was probably their last event. Dang.

Not to be discouraged, I decided to give Toytown another chance and found a writing group that sounded pretty interesting. 

Fellow writers pouring out our creative souls

This time, I fit right in. The group is small, so conversations between the members is easy. And sharing your writing is such an intimate act that after a few meetings and a few beers, you start to feel connected to each other. Absences are noticed and constructive criticism is given from a place of love and respect. 

Also, by meeting in smaller groups, you're able to discuss the expat experience in a more personal manner. One of the members, Pam, has lived in almost as many cities as years I've been alive. She reminds me of a more subdued version of Auntie Mame with her tales of foreign suiters and beautiful vintage jewelry. The information and advice that she and the others have offered has helped to make the transition to Germany a little easier. I feel a little less alone.

Another strategy that has been helpful to my friend in Berlin was joining a church. But I like to drink and swear and most church members would interpret that as heathen behavior, so I can't really recommend that route. However, I will not discourage anyone from using Jesus for companionship. If you're in Munich, there are several churches with services in English. I've checked out the Munich International Community Church and can say that it's not too bad. The service starts at 3:30pm and they have free cake afterwards, so you get to sleep late and get rewarded with sweets for being good. 

I guess the trick to meeting new people is to be willing to try new experiences, which is probably the reason why you moved to a new country in the first place. And remember, that even in your loneliest hour, there are people out there who feel exactly how you feel. You just have to have the courage to find them.

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