The idea of living as an expat is often seen through rose-colored glasses. It’s considered to be a chance of a lifetime, “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” as many of you have told us. It’s an opportunity to learn, to travel, to experience new cultures, and to meet new people. I don’t disagree; it is a great way to see the world and be a part of the global community. However, being an expat also has its drawbacks such as culture shock, illness, and one aspect that we almost never talk about, loneliness.
However, being an expat also has its drawbacks such as culture shock, illness, and one aspect that we almost never talk about, loneliness.
Though the existence of social media makes it easier for us to be in touch with family and friends back home, as human beings, we also crave to connect and build relationships in the countries we are based in. Someone to on a run with, grab drinks with, or rant to when things aren’t going well— we all need that support system. What’s more, whether you’re extroverted or introverted, an INFP or an ESTP, building these connections aren’t always easy. So often, we all have the same barriers to cross before finding our places in the foreign countries we momentarily call home.
Finding the core issue.
In a survey we conducted before the launch of the magazine, we found out that one of the top five concerns of expats, living in India, was their social life, and over 60% of expats expressed the desire to attend events where they can meet other expats as well. In addition to this, over the past couple of months, WTE team have met with and spoken to expats from different countries and walks of life, and except for a handful of people, most mentioned that they’ve struggled to form meaningful relationships, for multiple reasons— language, busy work schedules, culture, and worldview. However, we were mostly baffled by how some expressed they haven’t been able to build genuine relationships despite having lived in India for a decade or more. So, we put our heads together, read up a lot, and explored this issue deeper with some of you.
At the risk of sounding a cliché, no human’s an island— we are inherently social beings. No matter how introverted we are, at some point, we will crave human interaction. So, when that emotional need isn’t met, we are left with a gaping hole that we desperately try to fill— some of us go out partying it up every night, while some swipe left and right trying to find companionship, and some, throw ourselves into work and travel. The truth of the matter is, expat life can be quite lonely.
A lot of our readings pointed to language and culture as the causes of the issue; we believe it goes beyond that. In an interview, WTE contributor, Ranjit Atwal said, “I thought India would be easier because there won’t be a language barrier, but it turns out language barrier is not the thing that determines the friendship or not, it’s just an attitude, a way of thinking, and a general acceptance of the world,” which largely resonated with what we felt the core issue was. This also explains why a lot of times, we get stuck within the expat bubble and sometimes, refuse to step out of it. Expats, to a certain extent, understand each other because we’ve been through similar experiences. Hence, despite coming from different cultures and nationalities, we always have a sense of camaraderie. This bubble has always been painted in a negative form, we’ve always been asked to step out of it, but if worldview is the core barrier, maybe the bubble isn’t as bad as it sounds? It’s perhaps even necessary, a stepping stone, if we can call it, as we venture out and explore a new culture.
Expats, to a certain extent, understand each other because we’ve been through similar experiences. Hence, despite coming from different cultures and nationalities, we always have a sense of camaraderie.
Finding a solution.
To be honest, there is no one formula for building relationships in India, or anywhere in the world, for that matter. However, there always is a starting point, and that point will differ from person to person. It could be a casual coffee with your colleague from work, fellow expat or not, or that Facebook group you’ve just joined, or Sunday mass, and even that dating app you’ve downloaded to experience the dating scene in India.
If you ask me, take advantage of the expat bubble, but don’t limit yourself to that. Once in a while, it’s healthy to step out and experience India with the locals too. We all know that they will know better about their culture and country! Branch out where ever you can, and soon enough, you will find likeminded people. It might take some time, but it’s not impossible.