When finding a support system abroad is hard

When you live abroad on your own – without family or friends, you are completely on your own. If you get sick you will have to find your way to the hospital, if you are robbed you will have to find a way to solve it. That’s why we – foreigners –  form communities with other foreigners. The local friends who have family in a 6 hours or 30 minutes drive, or the foreigners who have their entire family living in the same place, they might not need a community as much as we, solo foreigners, do… and we are aware of it…

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So we make communities. We form support systems. We help each other in every way. These communities are not necessarily the friends we are hanging out every day (surely sometimes they are), but the people who are in the same situation as you are. Alone. In a foreign land.

They are the people who truly understand about how does it feel to be alone in a place you don’t know the rules, the language or the culture. These people are the support system you need to have everywhere you go. If you get sick, if you have house problem, if you need to go somewhere sketchy, or to just vent about cultural thing, they are the people you will reach out to. They might not be your best friends, but they are the ones who understand what you need at that moment, and how much you need it…

Living abroad has never scared me, but not having a support system does. I first realized it in my first week living in Washington DC. A week after I found a place to live, someone broke into my studio and stole my computer, some cash and my backpack. I was living inside a complex and the police thought it was one of the neighbors. First, I didn’t know how to report the incident to the police, so the front desk lady helped me out. Second, it made me question how safe was my neighborhood, but I couldn’t know for sure since I was just trusting the internet when searching for a place. Third, I had nobody to call, or anywhere to go spend the night. Following the incident, in the first few nights I slept with my desk holding the front door… That incident made me feel extremely insecure for a while but what could I do? Nothing. Did it make me unhappy to be there? Absolutely not, these problems are part of life (surely it is trickier when you are alone in a new country) but it just reinforces that we all need a community and a support system, especially when living abroad…

I’ve always had them, and had always come easily. In Egypt I had a great support system of other foreign women living in the same situation I was. In Malaysia, my foreign coworkers became my best friends and my little community… It was great, it was reassuring, helpful and fun.

For the first time ever, forming a community/ finding friends has been problematic – and probably will not happen. I am living in a city that’s not popular among foreigners, has and doesn’t have non-governments agencies with aid workers bringing new people. It is a relatively small town, where even to rent a place with a mattress is hard. The local people are not used to have foreigners living here, so they act surprise everywhere I go. For the first time I am living abroad without anyone I can reach out to, and not many options to find one. I don’t have coworkers that I work directly with (I don’t have an office!), there is no other foreigners, and there is nowhere I could take a class or join a group

What does it mean? It means that enjoying my own company has never been so important, and being extra careful has become a priority. I suddenly thought it was relevant to learn where the best hospital in town is, have my passport with me all the time, and have the phone number of the red cross and the police fixed in my bedroom wall. It means that I had to find a Café, and the best grocery shop on my own. It means that I will spend more money in taxis until I can figure it out the public transportation… It is more likely that I will fall into traps here than in other countries I’ve been before because I have no ‘community’ to help me out to find the best bar, or the sketchy area in town.

My solution: To try to make it better I am reaching out to people in other areas of the country through social media and etc. There is a huge foreign population living around, so I am getting to know them instead. They might not be in the same city as I am, and not able to help me here, but they are the closest thing I have of a community. I’ve met some of them, and as usual, they are nice and helpful. Everyone living abroad understands the importance of knowing people, and making connections with other foreigners living alone… We are all open to help, and ask for help, and that’s one of the beauties of living abroad! It is always important to improvise, and keep it cool… and now, more than ever!

I hope it all goes well here, and in a couple of months I can write another post saying how unnecessary these communities actually are. But for now, I have to admit I miss having one…

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