The benefits of diverse expat networks

When living in another country, there will be opportunities to meet and befriend people not just from your host country but all over the world.

Don’t think twice

On St Patrick’s Day at a large outdoor party in Ho Chi Minh City, pre Covid-19, many dozens of Irish expats were happily munching on fish and chips made by an English entrepreneur whose restaurant happens to be called The Union Jack. In conversation, many of the Irish at the event would admit that friends back home might be aghast at the thought. But here, far and away in Vietnam? The owner, Matt from London, was just another part of a diverse and vibrant multicultural expat community. Many hadn’t thought twice about the Union Jack’s presence.

Learning from others

This observation highlights that expat life and cross-cultural interactions can foster a greater sense of tolerance in us. We often pay close attention to our interactions with locals and emphasise the benefits of integrating with the host culture. But we shouldn’t overlook how our fellow expats can enrich our lives, too. So why not be proactive in seeking diversity among expatriate social circles?

Striking a balance

Of course, it’s completely logical that we make friends with our compatriots when living abroad. As the old Russian proverb goes: ‘One fisherman recognises another from afar!’ It often requires much less effort to befriend them (they get your humour and understand your accent). They also help us to maintain a connection with our culture (and perhaps fend off homesickness). These relationships can also be great for our kids when celebrating national days or taking part in other rituals that we associate closely with home.

Striking a balance

But if we are to socialise solely with compatriots when living abroad, we are also missing out on an opportunity to experience diversity and see how others view and interact with the world. As with so many aspects of expat life, we can always strike a balance. Bonus extra: you may also find that your expat communities offer more ‘diversity’ in terms of age than you would experience at home. An intergenerational friend pool not only expands and supports mental well-being but also broadens our perspective and helps to lose preconceived notions, all of which allows us to have more compassion and empathy in our day-to-day lives.

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.

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