Building friendships takes time and being thrown in at the deep end after a move overseas with no support network can be tough (understatement). Of course, when I arrived on the continent I hadn’t appreciated this whatsoever. In my naivety, I thought that like-minded friends who were of my age and background would be throwing me a welcome party.
The reality was a total and utter shock. Way back then in Dar es Salaam, I literally wandered the streets looking for potential friends and the highlight of my day was a 20 minute walk to the local convenience store in searing heat. My only contact with other people was sharing a piteous look at stonebreaker on the corner of our road, a brief exchange with the cashier at the shop (normally a blushing one as I often failed to carry enough cash and this was the days before cheques or cards were accepted) and a very stilted sign language conversation with the lady who came to clean my room (cue: violins).
I lept on a gym instructor girl (not literally) when I went to have a look/see at an air conditioned gym near our house, but she unfortunately was deeply unhappy and planning her imminent escape. My husband and I befriended a young German guy who was living in our compound – sadly he was only there on secondment for 5 weeks. I went to Bridge, joined a women’s society, enrolled in language classes and attended a crazy running club, but while everyone was super friendly they were all of radically different ages, nationalities, backgrounds and not what I saw then as ‘best friend’ material. To be fair, I was 26 years old and my attitude was horribly parochial. After around 6 months, we did manage to befriend an English couple at the running club. For our first dinner party, we invited two people who we barely knew (a French and German couple). On arrival, they looked around and were taken aback to find they were the only guests but fortunately they bore the experience and became close friends. And another couple (Dutch and Australian) rushed over to introduce themselves at a restaurant. The wife introduced us to her husband. ‘Please will you look after him as I have 6 months of my contract still to run in Hong Kong, so right now I’m only here for 2 weeks.’ In the end there were 6. The relief! I started work as a local hire member of staff at the embassy and the office banter was a far cry from what I had experienced in the UK, but we still giggled and on the upside, I learned Swahili.
What I hadn’t appreciated was that I had moved from an entirely structured life (a full time job and a cosy support network) to one that was unstructured and felt like a life in free fall. Before moving, no one had given me a lesson in resilience, managing expectations, or keeping positive and a good thing too, because if they had I would never had agreed to such a foolhardy move.
How to make friends in expat life?
As expats come and go, you are required to make new friends on a fairly regular basis and sadly, I am definitely not good at it. What I have learned that is that the most successful expats are the organisers or networkers (gosh I hate organising stuff, I find it agonising) and that making new friends takes a good deal of time. So it’s absolutely no good if you are working full time, or hidden away behind a computer working from home. To ‘expat’ successfully (did I just make ‘expat’ a verb?), then you have to be properly brave and push yourself right out of your comfort zone. (I’m quivering as I write this!!). Thanks to the internet (no, I’m not 100 years old but I know that I sound it!), things are a little different now to when I moved out here.
Here are some suggestions for making friends in Nairobi/Kenya. Please Note: A Facebook account is pretty critical here.
- Nairobi Expat Social (NES) – they suggested typing in something that you are interested in, there is always a great response (yoga, hiking, biking, art, cultural events, exploring, foodies etc)
- The DO-IT Crew, Nairobi branch
- Book Clubs
- Join a women’s association to be involved in events and fund raising (American Women’s Association AWA, South African Women’s Association, East Africa Women’s Association, UN and Embassy groups etc.)
- Running groups (ie Hash House Harriers – who are definitely crazy)
- Join InterNations who organise expat meet-ups. Haven’t tried this one but am intruiged.
- Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNAP) for nature walks etc.
- Church is always a great focal point for meeting people.
- School mums’ whatsapp groups offer a wealth of information.
There are tons of places to go out and have fun in Nairobi. Remember, you can Uber here.
Hot right now: The Alchemist Bar, Juniper Kitchen and old favourites, Kengeles, Havana, Gypsy’s plus fab restaurants offering food from around the globe.
READ MORE/Relevant Links:
I loved this article published in Conde Nast Traveller this month: My Life as an Expat: Why I Left New York and Moved to Nairobi
Practical advice from the author of ‘The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide’: So you’re a fresh expat in town -where do you meet new friends?
From the Blog: Young Expat life in Nairobi
From InterNations: All the time it takes: building friendships as an expat
Plus Fab Advice from the EXPAT WIVES Facebook Group
Moving abroad with your spouse and family is a scary decision to make. You are faced with new adjustments, and one of the hardest can be making new connections. Luckily for us, we live in an age of networking thanks to sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you are like most, you already use at least one Social Media platform. Our tips to use these sites to meet fellow expats are;
1. Start Blogging: Everybody who has spent time in a different country knows that expat life is not quite like anything else in the world. Almost every situation you encounter makes for a great story, and that’s where blogs come in. They act as a source of info, whether it be funny, informative, interesting or deeply personal. Through this you are able to relate and connect with fellow expats.
2. Join Social Network Communities: More than a blog, it allows you to post messages, upload pics and share links. You can really build and grow relationships through this channel.
3. Interact & Contribute: If you want to make strong connections, you need to be recognized as a contributor as well.
4. Make use of Facebook advanced search options: Facebook allows you to search for people and groups via location. All you have to do is type in a few keywords and sift through the connections you would like to connect with.
5. Join forums about finding jobs or specialised food stores: Any expat store or grocery store that caters to the international community will have people in the same situation as you, and they are usually open and friendly.
6. Schools: International schools and even local schools are a central social point.
7. Use Facebook ‘Intro’ and LinkedIn ‘Summary’: Use these spaces as a call to action to reach out to likeminded expats. A description like “Married expat wife and Mother of two just moved to Namibia. Looking to connect with fellow expats around Africa”