Newcomers to any foreign country, whether tourists or coming more long term, are always surprised at the openness and friendliness of local ex pat communities. Whereas back in your home country you might struggle to fit in or be accepted into new friendship groups, overseas that is an entirely different story.
The nature of expat life means that people are always coming and going, so this "revolving door" means you soon get used to meeting new people and accepting new invitations. Most expats soon become aware of this extra special warmth toward newcomers and embrace it, making the circle continue again.
In just a few years, I've lost count of how many friends I've seen come and go. It is always a sad time when a friend returns home, but in reality, there's always going to be a new friend right around the corner.
What all of this really means is that you can find yourself having an excellent time in a pretty short period.
If you're feeling homesick or apprehensive about your new adventure, within days you should have forgotten about it, being too busy hanging out with new friends. In areas where the amount of foreigners is small, this is even greater, every new addition is welcomed right from the beginning.
The strength of expat communities is what keeps a lot of teachers from getting homesick in the first place, and makes a huge positive difference to their experience abroad.
Another interesting factor is that while you might naturally be drawn to people from your own country, you'll find you have friends from all over the world. People don't think about this when they head overseas. It makes sense that you'll make local friends, and a few expat friends, but in actual fact you will tap into a never ending source of culture and diversity.
Stay in an expat community for a few years, and you'll soon have friends and contacts all over the world. Once you've experienced this a little, you'll realize that we really do live in a "global village".
You won't have to wait to get invited to things gradually as people warm up to you, instead don't be surprised if you are joining them on trips out of town or down the local pub right off the bat. That's another useful thing to know - there's always something on. Even the long term expats don't stop traveling and doing things.
These are people who have chosen to venture overseas and see the world. No time to waste.
Of course, there will always be smaller groups existing within the larger community, so if being that extroverted isn't your thing, it shouldn't be a worry. You'll still be able to form meaningful friendships that can turn into strong bonds.
People go abroad for different reasons, and have different lifestyles when they are there. One thing that everybody has in common though, is that they are abroad. Just like you might share a bond with a fellow traveler backpacking the same trails as you, expats are naturally drawn together and willing to share.
We can't emphasize this enough, and if you ever experience it, you'll know what we're talking about. That feeling you get when you first connect to a community and get accepted (almost instantly) is truly wonderful, and it is often strong enough to keep you strongly connected and emotionally attached to your new country and life.
Don't Rule Out Local Friendships
As well as the friendships you'll form with many other expatriates, you should also do your best to make friends with locals. It would be a waste to just spend your time hanging out with the same people you'd meet back in your home country. Locals provide a great way of really experiencing the culture and nuances of the country you are in.
Food that you wouldn't otherwise eat, places you wouldn't otherwise go to, and people that you wouldn't otherwise meet all become easily accessed once you find a few local friends.
If you want to go about meeting some locals but aren't exactly sure how to go about it, bear in mind that it will mostly happen naturally, and be prepared to accept invitations. Maybe your school will have local staff working in the reception or as classroom assistants, maybe you meet new expat friends who already have some local friends, or maybe you just meet some curious locals in a coffee shop who want to get to know you. Take opportunities when they come, and embrace them.
Facebook and other online communities are another good place to find locals and join in with their activities. It's now easier than ever to get yourself immersed in any culture.
There's never any obligation to accept invitations or go places you're uncomfortable with, but if you are willing to put yourself out there, you can find some friendships that are incredibly rewarding and can really help you get to know more about the place you are living in. When it comes to things like avoiding culture shock, this is a massive benefit.
If you can find a happy medium between a solid group of expat friends from your home country or similar countries, and a welcoming group of local friends, then you're going to be setting yourself up for a wonderful experience.
Remember that if you are just going abroad for a short time, one or two years perhaps, you're going to want to make the most of it, get out there, and enjoy it while you can.