“As an expat in any country, you are faced with needing to make new friends. It can feel extremely lonely in the beginning, and it can be intimidating trying to make new friends as a grown adult. It is almost as horribly challenging as dating and trying to find the one you want to spend your life with–because that is also what you want in your friends, as an adult! This problem can feel amplified here in Sweden, where Swedish people are notoriously reserved and hard to make a personal connection with.
When first moving to a new country, it is common to try to focus on holding onto old friendships in your former country. Of course, nobody wants to lose those friendships, and it is easier to keep in contact with those people in this digital age with Facebook and Instagram, Skype and WhatsApp, etc. But in focusing ONLY on those people in a different country, neglecting making new friends in your new country can leave you feeling very lonely and isolated. It’s important to develop friendships in your new country, especially if you plan to stay here long-term (such as if you’ve moved here for love vs. moving here for a temporary job). So, as you work on making new friends in your new country, consider not making quite as many Facebook and Instagram posts only in your native language. Consider using more Swedish for the people in your new country, or English (the common language for most people to know) so hopefully everyone can understand without needing to hit the “translate” button every time.
If you’ve moved to your new country because of love, either to live permanently with a Swedish citizen/resident, or as an accompanying spouse for your significant other’s job, it can be common to want to be always close to that person whenever possible. In these cases, their friends and/or coworkers and/or family end up being your “friends”. You always hang out with those people because those people are the ones your significant other has already established some form of a friendship relationship with. But, don’t forget that you need to have your own identity in your new country as well. You should make some friends of your own, too. Either for you to hang out with while also having your significant other with you, or alone. If someone you have met from a Swedish class, or another activity, asks you to hang out or comments on something like “maybe you could show me how to do that someday,” don’t always turn those chances down just to spend every single possible hour with your significant other. It was an opportunity to make friends of your own!
If you want to cultivate a good friendship with someone new, it is important not to jump to conclusions about anyone new that you know that you might want to be friends with. Don’t assume that someone might not be interested in certain activities just because they haven’t specifically mentioned that activity before, or because they couldn’t make it to a similar event once before (because maybe they just had a conflicting schedule for that activity!!). Or even worse–jumping to a conclusion because of how they look. For example: I am overweight. I know this. That doesn’t mean I am un-interested in physical activities! I am not fat because I am lazy, I am fat because I have crappy genetics that make it extremely difficult for me to lose weight no matter how active I am or how healthy I eat. There are many physical activities I would like to do if asked to do it! I can actually do hours of cardio exercise in a day and enjoy doing it! Actual exercise, walking, bicycling, etc.–I would consider doing any of those things with a friend if they asked me to! But does anyone ask me if I am interested in doing this with them? No. They ask everyone else in the group of friends except me, because they assume that I have zero interest in physical activity just because I am fat and I don’t advertise the fact that I exercise any (I don’t advertise it because then I only get questions and looks about being fat, and idiotic statements from people who don’t understand). How is it supposed to make me feel when they never ask me to do these things with them? Judged, and unimportant to them. Same goes for trying a new restaurant that is “healthy”–don’t assume that I am not interested in trying it! I might be a relatively picky eater, but I do like trying new things and I DO try to eat healthy all the time!
Another important thing to keep in mind when cultivating new friendships is to not “forget” or “neglect” your friends. I don’t mean that you need to be constantly talking to them every single day, or anything like that. This can mean telling a “friend” that you’re SO busy that you have no time to hang out with them (or only have a very very short time (1 hour max, maybe?) to meet up with them once in a 3-4 week time period) but then hanging out with a different friend 3-5 days per week for that same time frame (and posting about it all over Instagram and/or Facebook!) doing activities that you would’ve been happy to have done with them as well. Another thing you should be careful of doing is telling a “friend” you’re planning to have an event “someday” (like a dinner party at your place, for instance) and you hope the friend will come, then you never actually invite them to the event when you’ve finally actually planned the details of the event!
Something to keep in mind down the road, after the first few months of living in your new country, is that it is not uncommon when you move to a new country to try to find friends who are similar to you–namely other people from your own country or who are also expats in general, because they probably “understand” you better than those who are from your new country. I did this too–I immediately joined the American Women’s Club only 4 days after I arrived in Sweden, and the International Women’s club within my first month of being in Sweden. And of course I appreciate the connections I have made to other ladies in these clubs, and it has been really great that I have some friends who fully understand my situation that I can talk to when I’m feeling frustrated with something. I will continue in these clubs for the long-term! But, you cannot only associate yourself with people from your own country or only with others who are immigrants, because that isn’t really integration into the country’s society. If you actually want to become integrated into your new country, to actually BECOME Swedish, you need to also be around the Swedes. For me, I fully plan to give up my US citizenship after I get Swedish citizenship (for many reasons, which you will learn about in other posts). While I know that giving up my US citizenship doesn’t make me NOT be identified as the “American,” I do want to be considered Swedish as much as possible, and to feel accepted into the Swedish culture as well. So, while Swedes are difficult to find a way to get them to become friends with you, you need to make sure to TRY to find Swedes to become friends with! For instance, there are Facebook groups (in Swedish) specifically for trying to find new friends in your same city!
Finally, don’t spend all of your energy trying to find ways of getting someone you thought was going to be a friend to actually be a proper friend to you. Going out of your way to do nice and friendly things for them, without it being reciprocated, is not healthy. Don’t be afraid to let go of someone you thought was going to be a friend. Un-follow them on Instagram and Facebook (or un-friend!) so you don’t torture yourself with their posts! Making new friendships is hard, yes. But if someone doesn’t care enough about a friendship with you to actually treat you like a proper friend, either because of one of the reasons mentioned above or because of another reason, then move on and look for better friends. Because finding good local friends is the best thing you can do for yourself in a new country!
Need some help/ideas about finding new friends in Sweden? Here’s a list to check out:
–Newbie Guide To Sweden’s list of ideas (many are only in the Stockholm area): http://www.thenewbieguide.se/social/get-connected/
–Best/easiest: Search for groups on Facebook! You can search for groups in your area, and specific to your preferences of types of people. For instance, I joined the Facebook group “nya vänner i Göteborg”. I also joined “nya tjejkompisar i göteborg” since it’s specific not only to my area, but also to ladies (rather than worrying about guys being creepy to me!). There are also groups like “Gothenburg Lunch Queens”, or “Professional Women’s Group Gothenburg” who do meetups regularly, to socialize!
–InternNations.org. Granted, many people on this site are also Expats, but there are some locals also. It can be a reasonable place to make friends and socialize, or at the very least network.
–Try looking for groups on Meetup.com! It is still a relatively new concept in Sweden, but definitely gaining in popularity.
–Try out a page specifically for having dinner with (or doing an activity with) a local. A couple of these types of things are http://invitationsdepartementet.se/ for all of Sweden and http://www.vastsverige.com/en/meetthelocals/ for the Gothenburg area.