I have read about a hundred articles and blog posts about how to settle in and build a life in your new community when you move to a new country. Most of them have a few helpful nuggets of wisdom such as “Take some classes”, “volunteer”, and “Get out into your community”. These are things I already know and am working on.
The problem is that nearly all of these articles assume that we 1) moved to a place with a big expat community, 2) have kids and 3) go to church.
The advice is all about contacting those who have come before you and hanging out with them, and/or making friends with the parents of your children’s new school mates.
Well, we live in a city of half a million people and as far as I can find there is only one other expat here, who we will hopefully meet up with soon at a local pub. There is no ready made circle of like minded friends who have already figured out life in my little corner of Brazil, no group of English speakers with whom I can ask questions, get involved or just chat with about the area. No others who have found the hidden gems of the area, the good dry cleaner, the dentist who speaks English, the unpublished weekend craft market or the secret source of good peanut butter.
We have no kids living at home, so there will be no teacher meetings, birthday parties, school functions, or time spent getting to know the other parents while we wait for the little ones to gather their backpacks after school.
We are not church goers, so that’s out.
We don’t even have pets, so there will be no random friends made at the local strip of grass that serves as the dog park, or in the veterinarian’s waiting room.
I don’t have a legal work visa, so there will be no friends made in the work place for me.
These things would all be great advantages and would speed up the process for me, but they’re not completely necessary. OK, so I don’t have any kind of built-in resource for making connections, but I’ll still be able to make them. It will just take longer, and take way more effort on my part.
Effort. The hardest part is summoning up the effort.
It feels like those days when I had newborn babies. It took so much effort, preparation and planning to just leave the house some days that I just didn’t leave the house some days.
Every time I walk out the door I have to have some idea of where I’m going. I’m still at that stage with my Portuguese where I’ll need to look up a few specific words to handle whatever objective I’m out to tackle for the day whether it’s a trip to the dry cleaner or a scouting mission to the plant shop. Living between three countries over the last two years means that I have to make a focused effort to remember what language to use just to say good morning to the neighbors. I suck at small talk even in my own language, so it’s a ridiculous and awkward struggle to do it in another.
We’ve been back for a week and a half, and I can only indulge my inner hermit and stay in the house for so long. The time is coming when I’ll need a regular life outside these walls. I’m looking into some classes, I’ve talked to the sindicate of our apartment complex (kind of like a maître d’) and she’s on the look out for other expats, and for prospective English students for me. We’ll soon meet up with our friends whom we connected with last time we’re here, and we’ll soon meet up with our one and only expat contact. We’re getting there, and the wheels are starting to slowly turn.
There’s a big city out there to get to know, and a life waiting to be built within its boundaries. It’s going to take a while though.