Finding Community in a New Culture

park with families under tree and roots

By World Family Education

When a family uproots from their home culture, one of the most difficult aspects of leaving is letting go of close relationships. Despite having social media and other modes of staying connected, the physical loss of family and friends can be incredibly painful.

Why Community is Vital

Although new friendships won’t replace the relationships you’ve left behind, they will help you begin to feel more at home, wherever you are. Taking proactive steps to make new relationships and build community for every member of your family may be the key factor that helps you successfully transition to your new location.

Benefits abound for those who find and maintain a supportive community. Good relationships help us experience a better self-understanding, reinforced and expanded beliefs, and purpose in life. They also provide better health, and studies show that strong relationships result in lower rates of anxiety and depression, strengthened immune systems, faster recovery from disease, and a longer life. (from Strong Relationships, Strong Health from the State Government of Victoria, Australia)

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, describes how quality relationships are the single most important factor that keep people happy and healthy as they go through life:

“Turns out that people who are more socially connected — to family, to friends, to community — are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well-connected.”

Robert Waldinger

Having community means having support, and of course the opposite is true as well — no community means no support. Scientific data has proven that loneliness is a greater risk to your health than smoking or lack of exercise, and finding community is better than any vitamin, diet, or exercise program.

Community impacts health and wellbeing in deep ways, and that’s why finding new relational connections is important.

Prioritize New Relationships

After moving to your new location, making in-person friendships should be a priority for everyone in your family. This won’t be easy, because you can’t replicate the kind of community you’ve had in the past. You’ll have to seek new ways of relating to others, and at times, those may be out of your comfort zone.

The blogger Purple Crayon Your World has some great insights for global nomads looking for community.

Your strategy for finding relationships will depend on where you live and resources available to you. Oftentimes, relationships are formed most easily through connections your children make at school or in your neighborhood.

A temptation may be to socialize primarily with other families like yours — international families (expatriates) that aren’t so integrated into the local culture. These connections may help you initially, and you may need them to cope with cross-cultural challenges. But if your relationships don’t expand beyond the “expat bubble,” you will be left with a superficial tourist-like experience in your new location. A deeper, longer-lasting adjustment to your new home will require relationships with locals.

Traveling the world is all well and good, but if you stick to satellite groups of your fellow expats or the sanitized version of a culture peddled by tour guides and travel agents, then it’s really something of a meaningless experience.

Work the World

Some Ways to Connect with Others

  • Search for in-person support groups on social media.   You can do this before you leave your home culture. In a platform such as Facebook or Yahoo groups, search for your city and the word “expats,” e.g., “Manila expats.” Or search for special-interest groups related to sports, music, hobbies, etc. A helpful site is meetup.com, which lists in-person special-interest groups in many cities around the world.
  • Volunteer.   There are numerous great reasons to volunteer in your new community, and finding like-minded friends is one of them. You can volunteer at your school, with a religious group, at a women’s shelter, at an animal shelter, and at many more.
  • Join a religious group, such as a church, mosque, or temple.   Visiting a local place of worship will help you connect with many like-minded families.
  • Visit a park.  Bring your child to a park and you’ll be surprised at how often other children and their parents will engage.
  • Enroll in a language class.   Get to know others who are learning the local language by taking a formal class. This is also a good way to learn more about local culture.
  • Enroll your children in extracurricular classes or join a sports club.   If your location features centers that provide classes in music, dance, and theater or youth sports clubs, these are fantastic ways to connect your children to new friends. It’s possible you may befriend other parents in the process.

Online Support

Your in-person friendships may be supplemented with relationships and support groups online. These may be helpful but should be secondary to meeting people where you live. Some suggestions for online community:

I Am a Triangle is a community for adult global nomads of all kinds — CCKs, expatriates, repatriates, etc.

Foreign Service Youth Foundation supports children of employees of U.S. foreign affairs agencies. Helps young people adapt to changing environments as they transition between posts worldwide.

TCKidNow, which is for adults and youth, offers community and forums online as well as community in various cities for TCKs.

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