This is my second move as an expat.
My first move was from Singapore to the UK which I did several times – first from Singapore to London for university and work, then Singapore to Newcastle for marriage, and then Newcastle to London for work. All those moves taught me different things but I learnt (with hindsight) that networking and making friends take a bit of planning and a whole lot of positive mindset to get going.
My final move, within the same country, from Newcastle to London was the most difficult and taught me the most. I had just fallen pregnant and was working and renting a place in the City of London. We wanted a family home and found it in southwest London. However, I didn’t anticipate the difference in culture between central London as a working professional and London suburbia with a child in tow. Needless to say I fell on my face a lot in those eight years in southwest London.
Ready to mingle?
Fast forward to 2017. I now reside in the Bay Area and have been here for six months. I knew from my London experience that I had to be smart about making friends. What had I learnt from my ‘disastrous’ move? I knew that the locals would be hard to get to know. It wasn’t easy breaking the barrier between expats and locals and I had learnt a lot about what not to do!
I also knew that the first few months would be the busiest and that I would be swallowed up with finding housing, dealing with paperwork, getting to grips with running a household. Husband and child would soon be off to work and school respectively and would almost immediately start forming their own support structure. That meant that I would be left with none of my own and no ‘life’ to go to, so to speak.
Take every opportunity
So when the opportunities came up to be introduced to friends of friends in the Bay Area, I decided to be bold and take them. Now, I am a committed introvert, but I decided that these introductions were worth their weight in gold. I followed up on them, going with an open mind and not expecting anything. And they turned out to be real gems.
They, in turn, introduced me to more people. So don’t discount those first introductions. Take the opportunity to meet new people even if, like mine, they were introductions by way of email or Facebook. If there isn’t a connection, move on, but you never know what will stem from those meetings.
The second source of support came from a Facebook group called I am Triangle, which is a worldwide expat support and network group (more on this group later). Remember that friend of a friend’s I was introduced to earlier? She told me about it. I realised that expats would be the ones I would bond with, with similar experiences and backgrounds, similar questions and problems. Again, sticking my neck out further than I was comfortable with, I decided to go for a coffee morning that the NorCal group arranged. That proved wonderful and I met such interesting people that I have since gotten to know better. I also met Michelle who runs the Life in the Bay community and blog and here I am writing for them!
Back to school
Finally, our child’s school – in my experience, the least common place to find friendships, but the most widely touted as a good place to form connections. Now if you aren’t a parent, this isn’t an option but if you are, most people will think that this is a good place to start. I find the school gates the least friendly place but it’s not impossible to find friends there. It just takes some time. Everyone is busy with their lives, especially if you have two or three kids and their own carefully cultivated network. You are just another mother in a school full of mothers. But it doesn’t mean you won’t find gems here too.
I started out volunteering at my son’s school which gave me the chance to meet mothers outside of drop-off and pick-up times. Time is short at the school gates so volunteering has been a good opportunity to get to know other parents over an extended period of time. This is also a good time to invite other children over for playdates once you know who your child’s friends are. After a few months, I got an invitation for a coffee from a mother. Then lunch and dinner invitations followed. It was much easier to let things take their course, with some careful planning of course!
So that is my story. Six months in, I feel like I am doing fine. I feel confident that I will build my tribe of friends. I am also starting to think about work again. Put it all together, it has made me feel settled and happy here in the Bay Area!
Where I grew up playdates would simply be arranged by "dropping by" it was impromptu and go-with-the-flow, I can't imagine doing that in Silicon Valley.