Photo: Jason Holland, InternationalLiving.com
While living in the San Francisco Bay Area my husband and I both worked long days, and too many weekends. We rarely bumped into our neighbors, had little free time for socializing, and even less energy.
We hoped that would change when we moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize--though we worried that by basing ourselves on a small island we might be in for a limited social circle. And what if it didn't suit us? It was a big unknown.
Well, we've been surprised by how much our social horizons have actually expanded since our overseas move. This is an unexpected benefit of the expat life. And from what I hear from other expats based outside Belize, it holds true across the board.
First of all, we now have the time and energy for an active social life. And our openness to it has been rewarded by the broad array of diverse and interesting people we've met living here. Many have become close friends. The tropical climate and genuine beauty of Ambergris Caye draws people from all over and we've met acquaintances from far flung corners of the globe.
Meeting people is often as simple as taking a trip into town. Ambergris Caye is an active community. People get involved, and they enjoy the outdoors. Any day of the week you'll run into people walking or running on the beach, riding their bikes into town--to run errands, work in their businesses, donate time at the Saga Humane Society, or meet friends at a favorite hotspot for lunch...
Photo: Jason Holland, InternationalLiving.com
And a nice benefit is that--unlike in the States where our friends tended to be "like us" in age and income bracket...here we interact with all kinds of people--from all over the world. Some live here full-time and own homes here, some simply vacation here regularly.
Most of us spend our lives with people who are pretty much like ourselves. It's not easy to break out of that mold in North America--especially when you are busy. But once you embrace the expat life you'll automatically interact with people who are a world away from your friends back home. You'll learn about their countries and cultures...their favorite ethnic dishes...it's a mind-opening experience.
Our new friends span a spectrum of ages, cultures, races, and careers as well as religious and political backgrounds. At times we socialize with frugal folks on a budget, at the other end of the spectrum, we find ourselves hobnobbing with multimillionaires.
And I'm amazed at the unexpected places I've made a new acquaintance. Some of the most interesting conversations have occurred while working out on a treadmill... or participating on a volunteer project.
At times my husband and I strike up a conversation with visitors at the next table. Another favorite spot to meet new friends is while walking our dogs on the beach. We met one British couple at a yoga class. They are now close friends and have invited us to visit them at their other homes, in London and the French Alps. They split their time between Ambergris Caye and their other two homes.
If you're friendly, the possibilities are endless. Every overseas town has at least a few favorite hot spots where visitors, locals and expats gather. Just find a place that's comfortable for you--then frequent it.
Every Friday we head to Wine de Vine for their wine and cheese tasting to mingle with friends. We regularly invite friends over to help taste test our latest culinary experiment... Sundays are beach BBQ days. So we often go out for BBQ and to meet friends and listen to live music. On other Sunday afternoons we join friends at the end of a favorite dock, south of town. We chit chat over an icy cold beverage while enjoying the stunning Caribbean seascape and refreshing breeze... Other new visitors come and go...
You don't need to be a social butterfly to meet new friends overseas. Start by attending community events, volunteering, or helping out a neighbor... If you are a regular church attendee, you'll find plenty of churches where you can meet people. And when you attend local events, you'll find it's quite natural to chat with the people around you...
The people you meet as an expat may come from the far corners of the world, but you will have a common bond. After all, expats are adventurers. They're willing to step out of their comfort zone...to take a risk by moving overseas... You'll tell one another stories and share your craziest expat experiences...laugh about those experiences...and learn from one another. Once you become an expat and expand your social horizons, your life will be enriched in unexpected and marvelous ways.