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Friends? What friends?

My first experience at making friends in a foreign country was a definite challenge.  I had an extremely hard time meeting people in Geneva.  I don’t know why, but it just didn’t work out well for me.  I have always felt like it’s hard to meet other moms in general, but I think it was difficult because maybe I just didn’t try hard enough.  I think I just didn’t make enough effort to “click” with others.

When we moved to Geneva, we weren’t moving into an established expat environment within my husband’s company. He was there to help establish a new office…so we were one of only two families. I didn’t know where to start. I was seven months pregnant, and Little E wasn’t attending a crèche or nursery school, so I didn’t get the daily chance to talk to other parents, etc.  Luckily, I had quickly enrolled her into a English speaking gym class, and that’s where I had met my two best friends in Geneva. All of us were ready to pop with our second child.  I especially became close with Rosie.  We became fast friends, and had a lot in common.  We definitely have compatible personalities…she and I do enjoy each other’s ability to turn all situations into a quick sarcastic text message, thus giving the other a good laugh.  There’s nothing like playing off each other’s current crisis. J We even cohabitated well.  Her family was gracious enough to welcome ours in for a bit of communal living (a la “Sister Wives”, but with two husbands) while we were in limbo between Geneva and Brussels.  It actually worked out great…I thoroughly enjoyed having a wife!  I miss her so!

When I moved to Brussels, I decided that I was going to have to change.  I was going to have to put myself out there.  I couldn’t just let the days pass me by, and not be living them.  So, as cheesy as it sounds I had business cards made with my name and contact information on them.  I had been given a few of these while living in Geneva and thought “why not”.  At first, I felt like a real ass handing out “my card”, but every time I did, people said “How cool is this?” or “How handy!”.  So, I figure it’s like giving your number to a guy at a bar…maybe you give it out ten times, and one guy actually calls you.  In my case, maybe one woman calls me and wants to have a play date or lunch.

Coincidentally, I met my really good friend, Shannon, at a baby gym class as well.  I tell you, those places are like Happy Hour for stay at home moms.  You know all the moms are checking each other out!  Anyway, I actually thought Shannon was Belgian until she spoke in English, and I heard her American accent.  Once I heard her accent, I had to meet her.  She was the first person I met in Belgium, and have been grateful for her friendship ever since.  It turned out that we had a lot in common…our kids were the same age, our littlest ones would be at the same crèche, and we were both American expats from Virginia.  I’ve only known her for a short time, but there’s nothing like knowing there is someone down the street that you can count on.  And believe me…I’ve had to count on her a few times!!!

Meeting people at school has opened up a whole new “friend” pool too.  When we were living in Geneva, Little E attended an English speaking nursery school near the United Nations.  I thought I would be able to meet some other parents…not so much.  I don’t know why, but everyone rushed in and out so fast that no one had a chance to even say hello!  Now, she attends an international school, and it’s full of expats from around the world.  Her class has children filled from different countries like Israel, Japan, and Norway to name a few.  Not only do your children meet other children and get to experience different cultures, it allows you to get involved with the school by volunteering your time or joining a club or class.  There’s even camaraderie amongst the parents when it’s time to pick the kids up from school.  Everyone is so nice, and everyone is happy to help you out if they can…even if you aren’t their best friend!  I think it’s going to even get better with time…As the weather changes, and we all emerge from our bear dens to enjoy the sunshine, I am sure there will be plenty of laughter and banter on the playground.

Getting to know your neighbors can be really beneficial as well.  I was lucky enough to have fantastic neighbors in Geneva.  They were a lovely Swiss-American family.  They helped me with so many things – translating my bills for me, watching the dogs, making doctor’s appointments, and even lending each other an egg or two.  They are now living in Namibia.  It so happened that they were going to be moving around the same time as us…which made it a little easier to move on.  I do miss them…they were such lovely people, and our girls used to play all the time.  I haven’t met any of my neighbors in Belgium.  All of the houses in our neighborhood have really tall hedges and gates, so it makes it a nearly impossible.  It turns out our dog, Wyatt, has been good at helping meet other people in the neighborhood.  He’s become friendly with a few of the other pooches on our walks, and since there is an instant common interest with the owners…you get to talking, and are glad to see a friendly face when driving or walking past.  I’m so glad he found Vicky and Sherlock on a walk one day!!!  There’s nothing like having a new friend…for both of us!

So, I guess it’s safe to say that having the ability to make friends easily is really a beneficial skill to have when being an expat.  And, if you’re not really good at it yet, it gives you a chance to sharpen your skills.  I’m still working on mine, and I think I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life.  After all, I guess it doesn’t really matter who you make friends with, as long as you work on your friendship together.

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