Living the life of your dreams, emerged in culture, tasting local foods every week—there is so much appeal to moving abroad.  You can search the hashtag “digital nomad” and come across hundreds of accounts of people living and working from Bali, Colombia, and cities across Europe. But those pictures don’t show everything. Although there are many ways to secure remote work, working online is only one aspect of living abroad. The other includes creating a sense of community.

Challenges of moving abroad

Living abroad means leaving friends and family who get your quirky sense of humor. The nomadic life means you may not get a surprise party for your birthday. It means making friends with complete strangers. The language and cultural barriers don’t make this process any easier. Nonetheless, it’s possible to create lasting friendships while living abroad.

When I moved abroad three years ago to Panama City, Panama, I knew only three people in the entire country. Two were tour guides I had met on my first trip, and the other was my former boss. Despite feeling like a complete outside, I was able to create a global sense of community. I started by making a few expat friends to eventually having friends from all over the world. Here’s how I was able to start a community while living abroad.

Redefining your sense of community

For anyone moving abroad, creating a sense of community starts with defining what community means to you.  Keep in mind your definition of community doesn’t have to be the definition you grew up with. For me, community means support and acceptance; to be amongst people with whom I could fully be myself.

Follow your interests

My community in Panama started when I took a salsa lesson with two people I had never met in person. It was an awkward and hilarious lesson that was delivered in a mixture of Spanish and broken English. But from that day I kept going back for lessons and our community grew and grew. Soon we were going out for pizza and beers after dancing and taking weekend trips together. 

Don’t be afraid to say no

During my second year abroad I lived in a remote beach town. We had waves of people coming through. Sometimes, in an effort to deflect loneliness, I’d say yes to going to events I wasn’t that into. Then, I’d sit around at some party where they played music I didn’t like, wondering why I agreed to go. So I started saying no to certain invitations. Turns out, the more I said no the more I was open to other experiences that better suited my interests.

Remember, it doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t become friends with everyone you meet. 

Keep putting yourself out there

When I first moved to Spain, it took me almost three months to find my group of people. I tried out different groups through language exchanges and meet-ups. I would have a good time, but it wasn’t always a good fit—until I found a group of friends who being around just felt right.

Have a strong sense of self

Living abroad has allowed me to redefine myself. I moved away from the version of myself that grew up in California. Connecting to my truest self gave me more confidence in who I am. This new confidence and security helped attract me to the right people. It was like a magnetic energy that brought me new friends.

As I continue my nomadic life, I have yet to find a place to settle down and plant roots. Which means as I continue to move around, I will ultimately have to create and recreate communities. As exhausting as this can be at times, it’s actually quite refreshing and fun.  Every person I meet brings out a different side of my personality. I learn so much about my self and the world when I create bonds with people I would’ve never met if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone. Through out it all there are two things I remember: the first is that finding that sense of community takes times and I don’t need to rush the process. The second is that although I am searching for a place to call home one day, I know my real home exists within my community around the world.

How have you found friends while abroad? Let us know your best tips on Twitter!

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