When you move from one country to another without knowing a single soul, you have to make an effort to make new friends. It’s much easier for the working expat and your children as they immediately get colleagues and class mates.
Our wildest experience was when we moved from Rio de Janeiro to Houston in one week’s notice. And during that week we even had guests from Norway staying in our house in Rio, so we had to pack most of our things unnoticed! We sent them to the roof terrace and to the beach while we were stuffing clothes like crazy in big newly bought suitcases.
-We have to aim for the area with the most expats, I told my husband. He found out that Katy, a suburb west of Houston, was the answer. When we arrived in Texas one early morning and drove towards Houston, my husband asked our 9 year old daughter:
-Do you know where we are right now?
–Howdy, she replied from the back seat.
Guess what a good laugh we had – and we really needed that there and then.
As an expat you occasionally need to draw a lucky card. And so I did a couple of days before we left Rio. Another expat family had just arrived from Houston and their daughter knew a Norwegian girl there and gave me her email address. I immediately wrote to her and got her mom’s email address, and you know what? This lady, Trine, was the one to host a lunch for the Norwegian expat ladies the week after we arrived – and I was invited! That really made my day!
Difficult in Rio
The first time we moved to Rio was in 2005 and I started my journalist studies via Internet at a community college back home, so I was quite busy for a while. However, after a couple of months I needed to expand my social circle and asked a Norwegian mom at the American School if she knew any other ladies.
-Yes I do, but you have to be recommended to join, she replied.
–Oh yeah….., can you do that for me?
She did, and at the next luncheon I was advised a place at the further end of the table. Actually, an added table, like you have when seating the children at a family dinner. I could see who was in charge at the very moment I sat down and at that moment, my “witty gene” was turned on. At the other side of the table there was a funny lady that liked to ride a motorcycle. We started to chat and tell funny stories, and suddenly the whole “kids’ table” was laughing.
Nobody else was laughing, so our contagious fits of laughter did not pass unnoticed. When we were leaving the restaurant, one of the ladies at the main table came to me and asked if I would come to her house for coffee and cakes. Heehaw! My plan had worked!
The second time we moved to Rio, the luncheon group were working smoothly and all the Norwegian ladies were included immediately. In order to get to know the rest of the families too, we started to meet with husbands and children every Friday for dinner at a restaurant in Ipanema. Our party ranged from 6 to 30 people and we invited every single Norwegian we heard was visiting the city. This was really my social era!
Kiss a cod in St. John’s
The first time I moved abroad, the learning curve was quite steep. How to fit in and what to do were things I had to find out. However, my chances were quite limited because I had a 5-month-old baby under my arm and only one car, which my husband took to work every day. Since they did not remove the snow from the sidewalks in the wintertime, I was lost to an indoor life. But not for long. I started to drive my husband to work and then I could roam around. There were some nice Norwegian ladies there and I was included in their lives.
When my husband became head of the office in St. John’s, we started to have get-togethers for all the employees at our home. To become a real “Newfie” as they call the Newfoundlanders, you have to kiss a cod and then drink a shot of Rum. We had serious ceremonies for the newly arrived at these parties. They had to kneel on a pillow, and my husband stood over them dressed in a big cape with a toy sword in his hand. After the ceremony was fulfilled, he turned them into “Newfie knights”. However, one time a lady could not get herself to kiss the rubber cod. She was squirming and screaming, but my husband showed no mercy….. Quite hilarious.
As a conclusion, I cannot emphasize enough how much social life has to say when you live abroad. Your husband usually gets consumed by work as soon as you arrive, while you are looking for houses or apartments, at the same time as you enroll your children into schools. You comfort them after stressful placement tests and arrange play dates. You take a new drivers license and then it’s finally your turn you look around and shout:
-Hey is anybody there?
Then it’s important for the other expats to be inclusive. Just think how much it means to you to have a social life abroad. A piece of good advice: never turn down an invitation, regardless – or you risk never being invited again!
Text and photos by Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, November 2015