5 Tips to Help Expats Connect to Their New Community
Something you don't expect when moving to another country is how much you'll feel like an outsider. For me, despite my being fine in times of solitude, community is so important to my wellbeing.
While I'm slowly but surely making friends here in Calabria, I still have a way to go before I feel a part of my local community. Here are some tips based on my experiences.
1. Don't Underestimate Fellow Expats
There are two types of people who move to another country:
Those who immediately dive into the expat community
Those who run from it
I would have said that I fell into the second camp, but I've been converted. Initially, I didn't want to fall into the trap of having American friends and never speaking Italian or immersing myself in the culture. With so few Americans here in Calabria, that hasn't been a problem!
But having a few expat friends is actually invaluable. They've gone through what you're going through, and their support will lessen the struggle. Not only that, but they may be able to point the way for you through the piles of bureaucracy and processes, the way my friend Yavette has done with me.
2. Join Facebook Groups (with a Caveat)
I am so grateful to have become an expat in the technology age! There are often Facebook groups for expats in a particular region, and these groups can be helpful in providing advice and articles on topics like insurance, renting an apartment, and finding things to do.
I will say that not every group is full of super supportive people. My friend posted about my new book, 9 Steps to Becoming a Digital Nomad in Italy in a group for expats in Italy and so many people had nasty things to say about it! I think some people are just miserable and can't appreciate how difficult the expat journey is. Don't let those people get you down! There are still tons of people who want to help you.
3. Rely on Word of Mouth
It'll depend on where you live and the level of tech-savviness, but what I'm seeing here in the south of Italy is that very few businesses have websites. And believe me, I'm a research kind of gal. Rather than looking out the window to see what the weather is...I'll look online! (A habit this crazy ever-changing Calabrian weather has broken me of. Just about!)
So if you want to know what's happening in your community, ask others. In Calabria, people make cute little digital flyers for events and share them on Whatsapp. I've been to Jungu Mundi, an amazing garden overlooking the sea, and a presentation about superstition in Italy, and none of it was from finding the event online. It's all word of mouth.
4. Ask for Help
Part of being in a community is relying on others for help. I find here that if I mention I'm looking for anything (a house, cleaning person, restaurant recommendation, nonna who can teach me how to make pasta), Italians will go out of their way to help me find what I need. And if they don't know where to find it, they'll ask their third cousin-once-removed's wife's aunt.
5. Just Show Up
It can be intimidating to attend community events, particularly if you're wobbly in the language. But go anyway. I attended the superstition workshop and was nervous I wouldn't understand much. I understood a lot more than I expected and learned a lot. Sure, I didn't get everything, but I'm not perfect. Piano, piano. Slowly, slowly.