Making friends as a repat
When you move abroad, you tend to think about the experiences and friends you will make.
However, how you will change due to the experience is not something you can foresee or predict.
Text: Shani Bishop
When we returned to the UK, we decided to treat our return as though it was a new posting. We thought this would mean we continue to be curious and open, characteristics that made a living abroad so fun. We have now been home for seven months, and I think this approach has really worked, and I would recommend it. So what does this mean in practice?
Make new friends, but keep the old - some are silver, some are gold…
Reconnecting with old friends is easy. You speak or meet, and it feels like you have never been away. You slip into old jokes and know how to make each other laugh. Trust and familiarity are just a given. They know all about your family and where the bodies are buried (not literally, just an expression meaning past problems). For me, these friends live quite far away, so although we now speak more, I've not seen them much more than when I lived in Denmark.
One thing which has struck me is that some friendships have changed because I have changed. For example, one friendship had got deeper because I think we felt a sense of competition when the kids were younger. But now, we have more shared interests and have become allies. Another friend had a breakdown and is different, but because I'm older and more experienced, I can sympathise more.
The 'Catch up'
Quite a few people I have met when out and about locally are friends I knew pretty well before leaving. Their lives have moved on, and I'm not part of it anymore. With this group, the catch up seems important. You find out what's happened to them in the last five years and vice versa. Both of you then feel it's ok to let go again, knowing you can rekindle this friendship but probably won't, and that's ok.
The new friends
My new friends have mainly come from the kid's schools. It's always easier to make friends with mums at primary schools because of playdates. Also, families have moved out of London, and there seems to be a lot of movement in primary school, so we have met some great families. I have been quite proactive with my oldest in secondary, inviting mums around, arranging a WhatsApp group, and starting conversations online. When a mum showed interest in developing a friendship, I followed up and invited them out. I have lots more exciting stories now than I used to, so I am better at conversation.
We all remember what it was like to be a foreign national in Denmark, so I welcome newcomers. My sons were surprised when I said 'welcome' to some Hong Kongers who have set up a fantastic bubble tea shop in our nearest town. We had an interesting chat about living aboard and how they are faring.
A bit like a Kommune, our county council runs lots of brilliant groups. I am now attending a sewing group and have done some online cooking courses. Many people from Hong Kong have moved to the UK, so they have set up groups and English lessons to help them settle, which I think is great.
My top tips for making new friends as a repat
Treat returning home as a new posting
Be proactive in making friends through school or local groups
Invite like-minded people together at your house.
Remember how it feels to be new and talk to newcomers.
Reach out more than feels natural.