Wednesday, 5 February 2014

My biggest piece of advice

You may have realised, especially if you know me in real life and have been on the receiving end of my often endless emails, texts and phone calls that I like to get people together. Parties, picnics, play dates you name it I've tried to arrange it!

Why? 
Because it's all about friendship, and when I was asked my best piece of advice for an expat, making friends was my reply.

When you decide to live in another country for no apparent reason other than ‘because you can’ there are obviously lots of things to consider but there is one very important thing you need to do, it’s not deciding where to live, getting a job or learning the language although these are very good things to have on your ‘to do list’. The most important thing and my biggest piece of advice is to make friends.

When you arrive in an unfamiliar place, in country where you don’t speak the main language, when you don’t know how to make a doctors appointment or how to get your car taxed, when you don’t know how or where to register your child in school or when you need to get some huge sheets of plasterboard up a winding flight of stairs you need the help of friends. 

Friends can often help you decide where to live, they can help you find a job, they may even have a job for you and never has the saying ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ been more true than here in Cyprus. 

Friends will show you the ropes, they’ve probably been there and done it, or they know someone who has. They will have battled bureaucracy, got lost and confused by unfamiliar procedures and they will probably know where to buy Marmite. If they don’t know the answers they can point you in the direction of the pub and at least make you feel at home. 

When it all feels like its going wrong and you wonder if you made a mistake friends will tell you they have wondered the same thing and remind you that it will all be ok. Without friends you will never feel at home whatever country you are in. 

When we were planning our move to Cyprus we didn’t know anyone, or anything for that matter, we ignored all the standard advice – research the area, get a job and generally have a plan. We brought an apartment, packed our bags and brought some plane tickets. What we did do though is make our first friend before even getting on the plane. ‘Meeting’ a fellow Mum online with a similar age child via an internet forum who turned out to be living just a few streets away was our first step to making our new home actually feel like home.

But you can never have too many friends! 
I’ve never felt as lonely as the night I stood on my balcony in the first month of living in Cyprus whilst my husband as out playing on his new pool team (with the husband of my ‘first’ friend) It was winter and surprisingly cold, we had no tv, no internet and no landline phone. Our apartment has a fantastic view, overlooking the uninhabited city of Varosha, lovely in the sunshine but that night I looked out to darkness and realised I knew virtually no-one and was miles away from everything I’d ever known. I vowed that I would make it work, and not only that I’d do everything I could to ensure that others didn’t have to feel the same. 

When we finally got our internet connection I did what I do best and scoured the internet whilst I tried to come up with a plan. With a combination of websites, fourms, facebook and my newly created blog I tried to bring fellow expat Mums together. I created a facebook group after realising that there was no easy way of doing this. 

East coast Mums was born and two years later has over 100 members, through the group I have arranged many meet ups, usually day time meets for Mums and kids of all ages but occasional evening ‘girls nights out’. I’ve travelled further afield and met people from other cities not only British expats, but German, Greek and Serbian to name just a few. 

I joined a dedicated social network ‘Mums in Cyprus’ and through my contributions and passion for bringing people together was recently invited to work with them. This opened up my network of friends and acquaintances even more and makes me feel like I can make a difference. 

Through my endeavours I’ve met lots of people, but most importantly have made a circle of people I would now consider to be good friends. People that I would feel happy to call in a crisis or when I need a friendly face. 

This group of people are always there, they are also many miles away from the place they once called home and they know the challenges of making a new home in a foreign land. They know that living in Cyprus is not all sunshine and cocktails, that there are bills to be paid, jobs to be done and that 40 degrees is hard going day in day out when you don’t spend your time laying by the pool. 

They understand when you disappear off the radar when family or friends come to visit or during the summer months while everyone works their fingers to the bone in the tourist industry. They are still there in the winter when the visitors leave and the residents get their island back and you remember that ‘real life’ will still go on. 

I’ve learnt many things during my four years living in Cyprus and because of the people I have been lucky enough to meet I’ve rarely had to learn the hard way. A friendly word of advice can save hours of confusion and frustration caused by trying to figure out how to get a medical card or the best place to buy a car.

If was to offer just one piece of advice to someone else who has made the decision to move abroad, it would be to get out there and make friends, everything else will come because it has too but you will never be ‘at home’ without friends.
First published on Expats blog.com in 2012

2 comments:

  1. wise words indeed Emma and i love that you are now able to offer advice to other ex pats now you are so well established over there x x

    ReplyDelete

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