Moving overseas: how to make friends


Many moons ago, when I was preparing to head south to university, my brother asked me how I was going to meet people and make friends. At first I wasn’t sure how to answer his question. How do you make friends?

I thought about his question for a moment and then answered.

The boathouse.

I’ll make friends at the boathouse from the dozens of other rowers I will train with on an almost daily basis.

I crossed my fingers and hoped this was true. There was no way I could handle my high school social wasteland repeated for four years of university.

Today my social circle is really a bunch of small separate circles: university friends, National Team rowing friends, film school friends, odds and ends from jobs, mom friends and family. I only keep up with, and am kept up with in return, about three dozen people. This ranges from friends that I call once a week to others that I see or talk to every few months. One group of eight friends has an almost constant email thread of updates and inside jokes. We all live in different corners of the country but I feel in touch with them (even without Facebook).

I used to feel awkward about not having a huge posse of friends. Particularly when I moved back to Vancouver after retiring from sport. The circle was small and the numbers I had on speed dial were few but called often. Aren’t we supposed to have a huge network of friends in our 20’s?

Some people.

But not everyone.

I’m an introvert, an INTJ in Myers-Briggs, and I like to recharge with alone time. I’m not great at small talk in large groups. I prefer small groups and talking one on one with people.

In a previous job I was a brand ambassador. Along with some public speaking, which I found challenging but greatly rewarding when it went well, I went to corporate functions. My role was to talk to clients and employees. Quick five minute conversations so I could work the room as much as possible. But I could never stick to the five minutes. Usually it was more like 20 minutes and then I would run into the person again and we would continue the conversation. I like asking questions and listening. I don’t want to memorize the stats on a business card, shake hands, and move on. I want to know the person’s passions, where their family is from and what their most embarrassing moment is.

It’s okay that I have small pockets of friends. It’s okay that I like to spend time by myself. It’s okay that if we have a sitter I would rather do something with just my husband than a large group of people.

Of course, when I went off to university I wasn’t as self-aware as I am now. I did worry I wouldn’t make friends. I worried I would be sitting in my dorm room alone on Saturday nights. And I worried in vain.

I made friends at the boathouse.

And the dorms.

And class.

Twelve years after graduating I still keep in touch with my two best friends from those days. We’ve been friends for over 15 years and yet, I can still call them and it’s like we’re juniors again, living in a big drafty house and planning our next luau themed party.

I’m fairly confident in my friend making ability, and I know I don’t need a huge social circle, but I’m already preparing for the challenges of meeting new people. Of casting the net wide, getting my friendly small talk down, and finding some writers/runners/parents/etc to get to know and find out if we’ll fit as friends to go for a hike/coffee/start a book club together. I’ll be dating again in a platonic way.

My strategy:

Parent Groups: I’ve checked and there are parent and tot swims, library story times and playgroup meet-ups in our new home. I’ll be making the rounds the first few months to find what activities Henry and I like and meet other parents.

Running Groups: looks like an active running community on the IOM. I’d like to join a local running group for motivation and friendship.

Coffee Shops and Parks: it’s not my strong suit but I occasionally spark up conversations with people when out and about. I’ll have to bring out my inner extrovert for this one.

Online–> Real Life: I’ve met some cool people via this blog. I’d like to use online forums and blogs to find other stay at home mums, expats and such, to connect with on the Isle of Man.

Chris will have the advantage of his office to meet people. The workplace, particularly for a corporate culture dominated by expats, is a great way to create a social network in a new city. I’m not as lucky to have such easy access to new friends but I do have a strategy.

Any other ideas for me? I know a few readers have made big moves before. How did you make friends in a new city?

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    • Female INTJs are pretty rare. I actually think I may be an ISTJ now – I’ve changed a lot in the five years since I took the test and I was borderline on Intuition vs. Sensing.

  • Me too (INTJ)! When I moved across the country all by myself a few years ago, I found that Meetups are a good way to meet people with common interests, but it does take a few tries to find a friend or two. You do find other people who are looking to make new friends that way, unlike people with established circles who you might find other places, but just don’t have time or space in their lives for new people.

    Taking a class at a community center or volunteering my time has helped me meet new people too, along with patronizing the same local businesses regularly (coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, etc.). Being pregnant now, I’ve actually been able to make more new friends because it’s such a life changing thing to go from no kids to kids and lots of women who were fine with their social circles before, suddenly want to change them to better suit the needs of their future children.

    Bottom line: making new friends is harder the older I get and although I wish there was a quick way to make new ones, there really isn’t.

    • Agreed: it is harder the older you get. I made great mom friends when my son was a newborn. Met all of them through a local mom and baby fitness class. Hoping the same thing happens for me in the IOM.
      And hello fellow INTJ! From the comments there are a few us of trying to ‘go minimalist’. Hmmm wonder if there could be a Myers-Briggs guide to going minimalist. Something that tells each personality type what there pitfalls and strengths will be for decluttering, etc. Blog post idea =)

  • I find that in the country I live in, even though people have a “gang of friends”, their close friends tend to be from childhood of from their family (eg cousins).

    “gang of friends” = dinking mates
    “close friends”= the ones with whom you can have meaningful conversations and to whom you don’t always need to pretend to be happy with no problems

    I have been living here for nearly 15 years, and I do not have any close local friends. In fact, all my close friends are foreigners. I have superficial friends through work, mother-baby groups, school, neighbours.

    • Interesting take on British Isles social norms. Do you remember a show called Coupling? UK show that Friends was based on. I remember it came up in a discussion with some tv fan friends of mine. They said the show worked so well because people in the UK take on their school friends for life. Even if they outgrow each other it’s a done deal to still be friends at 35 with the kids you hung out with when you were 12.

      Just had a few close friends too and, besides my twin sister, they don’t live in the same city/country as me.

  • I have moved a lot, and across Canada when I turned 18. Although I would have agreed with Laura when I was working, after I became a mom I developed much closer friends than I have ever have.
    Mom groups were a huge help, and once my kids started school that was another. As we all have children roughly the same age, it is an immediate bonding moment.
    Be patient, don’t try to become best friends with the first people you meet and over time the friends will come!!

    • Thanks for the tip on being patient, KT. I know I don’t need a lot of friends, just a handful, and I would like to try and find people with similar interests.

  • We are relocating soon too (not another country, although Texas does seem it!), so I have been thinking about this alot.

    On my list, in addition to your list:


    Social/service organization

    and I plan to help out the obama campaign, because I think it might increase my chance of meeting ‘like-minded’ people. Although i guess that won’t work for you!

    • I’ve visited Texas twice and I consider it it’s own country =) Really different there but beautiful and I met some really nice people.

      Have to check out how active Meetup is over there.

      Good luck with your move and finding your Texas “tribe”.

  • No suggestions, i too only have a pocket of real friends, i have lots of acquintaces, but i can count my real friends on one hand. I have 1 close friend from school who we occassionaly meet up with other girls from school. I have my ‘mum’ freind, who i probably see the most, we help each other out with school runs etc, once our kids have left school i know we will continue to be friends. I have my man friend who i used to work with and my ‘loopy’ friend who i absoulouty have a laugh with, but i can honestly say my Husband is my best friend :). I alway feel that freinships shouldn’t be hard work, and you should enjoy spending time with that person and have always found that the best freinships just ‘happen’and completly enrich both your lives.

    I’m sure you will have no trouble making friends, IOM is a really friendly place, and if your ever over in Liverpool you can call on me!!

    Sharron x

    • That is so sweet that your husband is your best friend. Mine too but I count on my twin for the more girl aspects of friendship.
      Might drop you and email once we are over there for some advice on Liverpool. On our list for a day trip and depending on how our housing situation pans out, might be over there for, gasp, shopping. Maybe we can even meet up!

      • Shopping for things you NEED i’m sure!! Sure thing, i can give you lots of advice on shopping in Liverpool, as an ex-spendaholic i know every inch of Liverpool One!!
        Sharron x

  • I grew up in the same city where I was born and had tons of friends. Big groups, small groups, and of course my best friends.

    I moved to the USA when I was 22 and I was so lonely. I didn’t know anybody and I got so depressed.

    When we adopted our first daughter I joined a moms club and that’s where I met some very good friends. My daughter was such a gift and all the things she has brought in my life are a gift, too. This was 9 years ago and the friends I met through that club are still my friends now.

    I think that your baby boy is going to help you meet other moms. Children help break the ice and they can be the pretext to get together. You know what I mean?

    • Completely agree. I made more new friends after having a baby than I did in the previous three years living in Vancouver. Parenting is a bonding experience =)

  • Just discovered your blog today weirdly we’re moving to Vancouver from the UK! I love your minimalist living idea and will need to have a major declutter too. Having moved around a lot i’d say kids definitely make it easier and places like the IOM where your going are full of expats in the same boat so to speak. Bit of a culture shock moving from beautiful Vancouver to Douglas good luck with the move Bx

    • Do you need a place to rent??!! We’re in the process of finding tenants. Shoot me an email if you are looking or if you need any local advice.

      Preparing for culture shock. First jaw dropper: there is NO Starbucks.

  • Hi! First time commenter–discovered your blog when we were forced into minimalism by moving to the almost poorest country in Western Europe (viva Portugal!), and have never felt freer.


    I don’t know how this applies to moving to a country where you already speak the local language, but I find that, at least in terms of meeting other expats, friend making while living abroad is super super super easy. I have met mine mostly through expat forums and Facebook meet up groups, but also because I’m an English teacher here.

    I met my very best friends in college and have a bad habit of telling myself I don’t need any better friends than those…So, while I have a lot of friends here I don’t have super close friends. I don’t feel like I’m missing out, but I do think I should make an effort to form more meaningful relationships.

    Can’t wait to see how things go for you.

    • I tell myself I don’t need anymore best friends as well. When you have a few amazing friends that you have been close with for over a decade, making casual acquaintances seems a bit pointless. I do remind myself that while I can be a bit hermitty I do love getting out and it is great for Henry too. We have really nice friends here with kids his age and it is both a great support network and social network.
      Checked out your blog: interesting stuff and a nice window into life in Portugal. Lisbon is on our list for a visit while we live overseas =)

  • I’m an extrovert! And I moved (around the same city) at least once per school year when I was a kid. I have NO problem making friends fast. I think you’ve got a great plan in place. I’m sure you’ll make friends through the story times and running, definitely.

    • Thanks, MJ. How is Minimalist Monday going? Need to go over and have a look. My blog reading time has been eaten up by book reading time lately.

  • Your plan about the running groups is great! Running is a great way to meet people and it’s such a fast path to friendship (because you have so much time to talk!).

    I had a similar experience when I went to college, my team was like an instant family. By the way, I’m an introvert too (INTP) and I’m married to an INTJ.

    My best friend from college was a scholarship rower who transfered from Georgetown. She’s still one of my best friends and she lives on the opposite coast. I like to think that the minimalist tenant of quality over quantity applies to friendship too.

    My best,


    • Sport/fitness is a great way to develop a social circle. My college team was family too – nothing like bonding over tough workouts, victories and defeats.
      Like your words on friendship and minimalism – blog post idea!

  • Ohh how exciting! Amongst my sentimental clutter have a Myers Biggs test – hang on let me see what I was about 12 years ago when I did it…
    I’m an ENFJ – so had to read what it says now many years on to see if fits…
    “The natural facility of ENFJ’s with words, their passionate commitment to good causes and to bringing out the best in people, often attracts loyalty. ENFJ’s may need to take care that in their concern for others they do not overlook their own needs or become rigid in their idealism” – absolutely spot on! Even more so now than when I took the test!!!
    As for making friends Rachel – no problem I envisage – and I will definitely be over for a visit and hope you will come to me also!

    • Excited/nervous to meet the great SimplyBeingMum in person. I’ve actually met a few people now through this blog. I need to get over my nerves about. I did meet my husband via online dating way back in 2005. I should be good with it by now.
      We’re planning British Isle holidays for this summer. Definitely stop by for a visit with you. Compared to Canada everything is so close. Even with the whole living on an island/ferry hurdle.

      • HeeHee – It’s okay I’m a very nice person (even if I do say so myself)… Cool about the Summer Trip you definitely need to visit us – if you can make it!!!!
        Good luck with all the planning……………

  • I’m an INFJ and I feel the same. I don’t need tons of friends, but I like a few deep friendships.

    When we moved to Scotland, I made friends with: other families studying at the university, people at church, women I met in childbirth classes and mothers’ groups, coworkers at my part-time job, and expats I met through message boards. I do wish that I had worked harder to deepen my friendships with Scottish people. We lived in international student housing and that combined with our expat status meant that it seemed most natural to spend time with other Americans and Canadians. I wish we’d made more effort to have Scottish people over, do things with them around the area…

    • Thanks for this tip on the local friends. I’m not sure how big the expat community is in the Isle of Man. Assuming/hoping I will meet locals. Need that accent to rub off on Henry =)

  • I’m an INTJ. I have never in my life had a large group of friends, and during my university days I assumed there must have been something wrong with me that I didn’t always have someone to do something with on a Saturday night. Discovering the Myer Briggs personality types was such a liberator for me, because I realised that it is okay that I only have space in my life for 3 or 4 good friends, as well as my husband, Mum and sisters. The more I try and make more friends, the more those relationships suffer. My eldest son is showing to be just the same, and I know that that is okay, too.

    My first move away from my hometown, I met my husband. I made a few other friends, some of whom I like to catch up with from time to time. My next move was overseas, and I didn’t make a friend for the first nine months, and she was the only friend I made. It was probably a quite different situation to where you are heading though – the expat community was quite snobby, and I was just a 24 year old wife of a teacher, not a mine executive’s wife, so I didn’t have good social standing. (Was very glad to come home from that!)

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is great to hear from another INTJ. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s when I took some Myers-Briggs testing that a lot of these things made sense to me. I hope I can use my awareness of it to help my son be comfortable with his own personality type. Thanks for sharing here =)

  • I moved from Vancouver to Brighton, England at 23 for 2 years and then from Brighton to Dublin ,Irleand at 25 for four years. I have since moved back to Vancouver. There are some subtle cultural differences that are hard to pinpoint. The first time I went to a pub in Ireland and we stayed all night (5 hrs) I found myself wondering (and then asking) what else we were going to do. In Vancouver you’d normally move on to another activity or location after a few hours. There is also their habit of offering you something and then when you decline its offered again. Took me ages to figure out that in English/Irish culture it is considered polite to refuse something a few times before accepting so most things are offered several times (“ah go on, have another beer”). If you watched Father Ted and Mrs. Doyle you’ll get the idea…

  • We just moved across the country from Vancouver to Ontario. Friends from Columbia told us their immigration classes taught them that it takes 5 years for a new place to be home. 5 years! So we’ve forced ourselves to be very outgoing – not natural for me. By asking everyone we meet for advice on things to do (neighbours, colleagues, coffee shops) we already have more friends than we had after 7years in Vancouver. Turns out lots of people need friends.

    • Great lesson here Kelly. Ummm… do you think maybe Vancouverites are bit a unfriendly? I’ve found them to be and I was born and raised here. Spent my university years in Seattle and found people much friendlier. Ditto my time in Ontario. Hopefully the Isle of Man is the same.

  • I moved to the isle of man about 3 years ago. I work from home so I haven’t met anybody through work. I tried joining a few classes but everybody was much older than me and people I just didn’t hit it off with. My fiancé is my best friend but I need girl friends too, but don’t know where to start. Plus I’m shy as well so I find it hard to start a conversation.

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