What we could all learn from expats

Want to make friends? Move to another country. Maybe somewhere third world.

There you might meet a few of the locals who will eventually enter your social circle, but the most likely event is that you will end up with a large group of some of the best friends you've ever had, and they'll all be fellow expats. This process will take about a week.

Expats, in general, are friendly. They want to meet you, and know your story. They're fun to be around. They're people who "do" rather than plan.

I've never lived long enough in another country to think of myself as an expat. I have, however, hung out with plenty of expat communities in countries around the world, and I've seen a similar theme in the people I've met. They share certain traits that anyone would do well to take on.

Expats tend to be adventurous, to be risk-takers. After all, they've already left their friends, their homes, their comfort zones and probably most of their possessions in another country to begin a new life abroad. That takes guts. It's only a certain type of person who'll do that.

There's a refreshing lack of pretension among expat communities.

So the ones you meet living overseas are the ones who are prepared to take a punt on things working out for the best. They'll jump in the back of that tuk-tuk. They'll eat at that restaurant. They'll board that boat.

This attitude to "doing" things is pretty likeable. It's rare you'll find an expat who sits around talking about all the things they'd love to do, without actually making it happen. People who've gone to live overseas are the type to just do it, to stop all of the planning and the wondering and just take things on.

Another thing you notice about expats is that, regardless of the fact that they might have been living in their adopted country for five, or 10, or 20 years, and that they're holding down full-time jobs, and have maybe even started a family, they still seem to live life as though they're on a permanent holiday.

They're out most nights of the week, socialising, hanging out with friends. They're going to restaurants and bars and living it up. They're still travelling, too, going off on weekends away to other parts of the country, or to neighbouring countries. There's always the sense that money doesn't matter so much – it's more about how much you enjoy yourself, how much you see.


There's no reason why everyone can't live like that, why you can't treat your own city like a holiday destination. But people rarely do it. Masterchef is on.

Expats are incredibly friendly, and open to new people. There are no "set" groups of friends – they'll take anyone in. I was in Seoul for a couple of days before I'd been invited to play in a football team and go drink beers afterwards at the pub. I was in Dubai for about six hours before I'd been taken out by complete strangers and shown a good time.

There's a refreshing lack of pretension among expat communities. There's very little of the "where did you go to school" snobbery. Admittedly that's occasionally replaced with "what are you doing here" snobbery (English teachers to the back of the queue), but in general no one cares where you came from, or which school you went to, or who you worked for back home. You're here now, everything's different.

Capital cities in Australia can be pretty cliquey places, where everyone already has their mates and they're not much interested in finding any more. For expats, however, there's a constant revolving world of friends as old mates move out of your life and new people appear. It creates a culture of openness.

Strangely, I found that the more dangerous a country is, the friendlier its expat population will be. Maybe that's just a numbers thing – with fewer expats around they're still a novelty. There's not the "just another Aussie" thing you might find in, say, London.

Regardless of where you go, however, if you do decide to move overseas you'll always make friends, probably with some very interesting, friendly, dynamic people. People from whom we could learn a thing or two.

Have you been an expat? Or spend time in expat communities? Are they friendly and open, or no different to anyone else?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater