x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

How to make forever friends on the expatriate trail

Travel is all very well, but when you really come down to it we are social creatures of habit.

How to make forever friends

I must admit, I have always been lured by the fantasy of the expatriate trail.

I thought by travelling to a far foreign land I would finally get rid of the physical and social routines that dominated my life and replace them with the joys of daily unpredictability. However, six months into my Abu Dhabi stay, I warmly welcome any sort of routine.

The adages are true: we are both social beings and creatures of habit. Back in my former home in Australia, my social circles was influenced by my large family, neighbourhood, work and the football teams we support. In the case of some friends, I don't even remember how we actually bonded.

After quizzing one about our first encounter he looked at me dumbfounded. I spoke to others and most of the responses were the same, as if those important life moments all disappeared into a collective subconscious. But when you are an expatriate, one can be too painfully aware of the importance of such first moments.

They are, after all, the linchpin to creating that new sense of community.

It is a challenging task - also quite poetic since the UAE was also basically built from scratch not long ago - as it shines a keen light on one's best and worst traits. An abrasive personality might work back at home as enough friends are there to counter rubbing people up the wrong way. But for a successful expatriate experience, that trait would need to be tamed - in the beginning at least - in order to initially connect with strangers

For a shy person like myself, my stay here forced me to be more self-confident. I learnt to say hello more often, as I eventually got tired of having my last decent conversation when leaving the office door. However, it is mainly through a series of small and beneficial routines that I realised I was, in fact, on my way to putting my new life together. My job does give me the daily pleasure of striking up new conversations with interesting people.

Some of these chats eventually became great friendships which are strengthened through daily or weekly meals together.

The same can be said about my after-work social routines, from weekly workouts to simple visits to the salon. In a little more than six months, I have somehow knitted together a community that includes my roommates, our house maid (really our pseudo-mother), colleagues, my taxi driver, a quirky foodie, a fitness freak, a grumpy writer and my barber.

They may be a colourful ragtag bunch, but I am blessed to have them. And the best part is there is always room for more.