The roughest part of moving to a new country on your own – without a real reason, going somewhere without a support network – is the making connections and friends. You do not often meet the kind of immigrant who moved to a new country just because he or she wanted to. If not following love/the heart, following a career path or deciding to study abroad (which is its own protected cocoon that barely counts as “living abroad”), you are just out there somewhere, on your own, adrift in this new place with no inside track on how to meet people or interact. The whole thing is a wild ride, a learning curve, negotiating the place between who and where you are and who and where everyone else is… finding a comfortable place in between.
I am too headstrong and naturally weird (other people’s assessment more than my own) to “fit in” anywhere I go so have never been one of those zombies who moves somewhere and professes love for a place without reservation. I don’t go native. I am who I am – and I won’t impose me on others, but I don’t want to be too changed by them either.
Long ago when I volunteered (oh, the sense of adventure) to be an immigrant, I struggled with the whole maze of bureaucracy and adjusting to the little things that make up a new place. You never really think about how things operate elsewhere. Things that seemed like second nature where you came from are often done in a completely different way elsewhere. The mind is conditioned to think that the way it’s done wherever you came from is “the right way” – but part of adjusting and assimilating is not just finding out how these things work but also acknowledging that perhaps the new way is better or more efficient.
All of that is easy enough to accomplish – it is a matter of changing the way you think. But making genuine connections with people – locals or other foreigners – is so much more difficult than that. Moving to Scandinavia especially (not the warmest or most social place), it’s hard to break into the already formed social circles and make even acquaintances (although forming lasting friendships does mean something when you finally get there). I have never been a really outgoing or friendly person, so making friends has always been difficult.
At one point almost ten years ago I decided I had nothing to lose by attending a course for immigrants who wanted to start businesses in Iceland. It was a three-weekend course, quite inexpensive and perhaps would lead me to forming a business (I was already actively freelancing). The course was a bit of a joke; designed and run by Icelanders, they automatically assumed all the immigrant attendees wanted to open restaurants. That’s right –that is all we’re good for. Food service. People from all over the world took the course – people who were highly educated, had been working in professional fields in their home countries – but yeah, we all want to open a food cart.
What I had not banked on was meeting three people who actually changed – and elevated – my quality of life. Two Australians and an Italian – people who became my best friends and who still are.
It happens – but the life of an immigrant can be a lonely one.