Tag Archive: Expatriate

Making Friends Abroad

I was inspired to write this post after I read this one on a blog that I follow. The author talks about how she started her blog partly to make new friends. She had everything she wanted except for a BFF.

It got me thinking and remembering some of my own fears regarding moving abroad. Sure, fears of finding a job, navigating new cities, and learning to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language were huge concerns, but my biggest concern was making friends.

It’s something I had never learned to do, you see.

As a teenager I had incredibly low self-esteem and I was pathologically shy. I went to the same school K-8, and had the same friends since kindergarten. I started high school far from home, in a completely new environment, away from my family and friends. It was tough making new friends, mostly because, in retrospect, I never tried. It took a semester or more before I began making friends, and that made for a miserable year.

The following year, I moved back home, and began school at a new high school again. Some of my old classmates attended my school but they were not ones with whom I had ever been friends. The few attempts I made at reconnecting with my old friends fell flat. I had been gone a year and at that age that was all it took. We had all gone our separate ways to different schools and different lives. I did eventually make friends, but it took six months or longer, and in truth, I never felt especially close to any of my high school friends. During that time, I had one long-standing friend, and many who came and went. Once high school was over, so were the friendships.

I began college with the hope that things would be different, and eventually they were, though through no effort of mine. Most of my friends made themselves my friends, or became my friends after long association.

I didn’t learn how to reach out until I moved abroad. In Poland, I was lucky because I had my sister and her friends automatically became mine. Through her, I began meeting people. The night after I arrived, I went to a small dinner party with her and met a girl who asked me for my number. She called the next day and asked if I wanted to hit the club.

I didn’t want to go. Wouldn’t it be weird? I thought. I don’t even know her, what would we talk about?

My sister just looked at me and shook her head. I don’t think she could believe what she was hearing. She had to lecture me for some time before I screwed up my courage to go. But go I did, and didn’t come staggering home until five or six in the morning. Damn, that was a hell of a fun night. And that’s how I met my first Polish friend.

Over the next few months I began to put myself out there more and more, although it took the efforts of yet another girl before I tried in earnest. This one I met through work, and again, she had to make the first overture. We went out a couple of times before we began to hit it off, and she introduced me to some of her friends. As time passed, I increasingly met more and more people and grew closer to a number of girls. I attended Ex-pat events with them, the bar, the club, and the park. By summer of 2011, I was comfortable walking into social events where I knew people by sight only.

It turned out that all it took was some courage, a smile, and a willingness to make the first move. Beer didn’t hurt either. As my confidence grew, so did my group of acquaintances and friends. I no longer waited to be approached, nor did I hover at the edge of a group, standing mute, hoping someone would include me all the while feeling sick and ill at ease. Instead, I walked right in. I would walk right up to a group, and at the first pause in the conversation I jumped in. No one ever seemed to mind.

As a naturally shy person, I know we are often concerned with people laughing at us behind our backs, or thinking we’re weird. We’re convinced that we have nothing interesting to say and feel our every move is awkward and stupid. What we often forget is that no one is analyzing us that closely and no one particularly cares. Most people are willing to talk and most people don’t mind making a new friend.

My experiences in Poland gave me room to grow, not only in confidence, but in guts. By the time I left Poland, I was ready for Taiwan. I had a plan of action. I knew how to meet people, I knew how to chat them up, and I was ready to go. I arrived in Taiwan brimming with excitement, adventure, and an eagerness to get myself out there.

Taiwan made it easy on me. Before I arrived I had already scoped out a few groups on Face Book where I could meet people. I found more when I arrived, and joined Meet Up as well. I was introduced to InterNations  when I was still in Poland, so I made it a point to go to the first gathering that came up. Here, meeting people takes a minimum of effort. Any bar, club, Ex-pat event, or even any English-speaking event is enough to get the ball rolling. Actually, if you’re a Westerner, sometimes all you have to do is walk down the street.

The only thing that any of this takes is getting over that initial hump. As an Ex-pat I’m used to showing up to events alone. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t suck the first few times. It is every shy person’s nightmare. But if I got over it, anyone can. Being alone and not knowing a soul is a common part of the Ex-pat life. Every Ex-pat can identify with it, and every Ex-pat has had to learn how to overcome it. Consequently, every Ex-pat has learned that there are thousands of people out there willing to know us, help us, and call us friend. People are warmer, friendlier, and more willing to be kind to a stranger than I ever imagined.

Whatever your fears are about moving abroad, or if you’re already abroad and feeling lonely, don’t be. The world is at your feet waiting to share the best experience of your life.

All you have to do is screw up your courage and step out the door to meet it.

How have you met some of your friends? What is the most or weird story you have about meeting a friend?

Dating in Taiwan is tough.

I’ve dated around considerably more than I ever did in Poland, but the most dates I had with any one guy was four, and that was two too many.

When comparing the quality of Expats in Poland to Taiwan, Poland wins hands down.  The Expats I met in Poland were significantly better educated, as a group. Doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs, you name it, Poland had it.

In Taiwan there are primarily three categories of English-speaking foreigners.

The first group, English teachers, have by far the worst reputations. The buxiban system of education in Taiwan has a life of its own. English teachers are in high demand in Taiwan both in the public schools and in Buxibans.  No experience or teaching certifications are required to teach in most Buxibans, yet the money is good.  Life here is easy for the foreign teacher. The Taiwanese are friendly, helpful and nice. Many of them are intensely curious about Westerners. The money is good. The teaching schedule is light compared with many other jobs. And, if you’re a male, the women are fascinated with you.  All this attracts a certain type of Western male. Basically, the ones that are attracted to a life of ease without having to work for it. You see a lot of men here that couldn’t hack it in the West. Couldn’t get the jobs, couldn’t get the girls, couldn’t get the life. They drift over here like so much trash because its easy here, and unfortunately, here they stay.

The second group, students, are also numerous and live a charmed life. This population is varied, exciting, young, eager, and usually significantly more motivated and intelligent. This population can be but doesn’t have to be  rife with men fascinated by Asian culture. The majority of foreign students are here to study Chinese. A predisposition toward the culture is inherent.  There are many students who do study other topics, but they are not predominant. Most students come for a year, two, and their focus is their studies. I’m sure there are students hooking up all over the place, with Taiwanese girls and with each other, but again, this is a bit of a lark for most. A break from their permanent lives in the West.

The third group,  are the  American and British Born Chinese.  They are called ABCs and BBCs. They have their own society and culture. Although thoroughly Westernized they retain their Asian family upbringing. They are often  more shy when it comes to approaching women than your typical American white guy. They are often well-educated, well raised and here to explore their roots.   Most that I have met are very respectful of women, and frankly, I find many of them to be quite attractive. But, as a friend or two have told me, they stick to their own, and they are significantly less likely to make the first move. Very annoying.

Men have no problem dating in Taiwan. If it’s not one woman, than its three falling all over themselves to get a Western man. They’re as much of a status object here as they are in Poland. More, truth be told. You could be the nastiest, scummiest, loserish bit of crap in your home country, yet, if you’re a man, here you’re treated like a movie star.

For Western women on the other hand…good luck. I haven’t found any that’s for sure.

I’ve been on any number of dates at this point and no success. The Western guys aren’t interested for the most part. Those that are rarely look for commitment.

The problems with dating are many. Taiwanese men are very shy and timid when it comes to Western women. They are very afraid to approach us, and generally, most will not. Taiwanese dating culture is very different from the west. In fact, most of my Taiwanese friends agree that there IS no dating culture in Taiwan. Couples get together by hanging out in large groups of friends, or often meet at work, through other social acquaintances, or their parents. The concept of going out on a date with someone relatively unknown is foreign to the Taiwanese lifestyle. Therefore, the flirting, the texting, the dating, the random hook ups, friend with benefit arrangements, and the whole culture that revolves around a Western dating lifestyle is lost on Taiwanese men.

Ultimately, the cultural gap is just too big for most Western women.  Seriously, what would you do if it worked out? The expected role for a woman in Taiwan is considerably different, both in society and in the home, than for Westerners. What self-respecting Western woman would allow herself to become subsumed into male and family dominated Taiwanese culture? Who wants to be treated like a second class citizen after being raised to be a first?

Not this girl.

Like Poland, a Western woman must quickly realize that the majority of the Taiwanese male population simply isn’t for her. That leaves the Expats. Here we circle back to quality and quantity. Quantity should be self-explanatory. We are a minority. I’m sorry, but the quality of the Western men is not like it is in Europe. You have to sort through a lot of riffraff to meet anyone of quality. When you do, you’re fighting an uphill battle against their Asian fascination, transient lifestyle, and general lack of commitment.

I won’t say that all Western men are like that here. I do have a lot of male friends that I respect and care about that I do not lump into that category. But it is still the vast majority.

If you’re 23, great. Come over here and stay for a year or two. It will be the time of your life. When you’re thirty though, and have an urge to settle down. Reconsider.

Whatever kind of man you’re looking for, if it involves commitment of any kind, even short-term, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it.

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I should publish this post or not.  I wrote it several weeks ago when I was in a particularly shitty mood, and since then it has been drafted and redrafted into something beyond all recognition.  It isn’t like me to bare my soul for the whole world to see. In fact, it isn’t like me to bare my soul for anyone to see.  I’m almost 100% certain that publishing this will be a move I regret. 

Screw it. 

I accept the challenge and the risk.

What do we have to sacrifice for our dreams?

Some people say it’s nothing. Others that  it’s everything.  There are people out there that believe they can have it all, and there are people out there convinced its impossible to have it all. And there are some people out there that think we can’t have anything. Screw those guys. They don’t know how to get their happy on.

I want it all. Nothing less will do.

But living my dreams has not been without its sacrifices.  It’s an inherent part of wanting too much, I suppose.

And I want too much. I always do.

So let’s take a close look at the dangers and consequences of wanting it all.

Friendship: Friendships fade over time. We’ve all been there. People change, they grow apart, they lose touch.  There is no easier way to lose touch than moving away. It doesn’t matter that we live in an age of Facebook or Twitter. Human nature doesn’t change. Out of sight. Out of mind.  Isn’t that how the story goes?

“We’ll stay in touch over FB!” “I’ll miss you sooo much!” Not for long as it turns out.

Relationships: Romance.  Sex. The idea of finding a romantic attachment here in Asia is even more laughable than it was in Poland. And I did laugh about it there. I laughed so I wouldn’t cry. Because for this woman of the West, slumming it with a man who sees me as less than an equal is completely and utterly intolerable and unacceptable.  It was all just so impossible, annoying, and depressing in Poland, and in its own way, it’s worse in Asia. Why is it so hard to find a decent ex-pat man?  Many of the ones I meet are into local girls (some will flat-out tell you that the reason they’re out here is “yellow fever” which is indicative of such a despicable and shallow  character I just want to punch these men in the face), or, and this is a completely valid reason I understand, they are  living too transient of a lifestyle to consider a relationship.

There are two problems. One, is that the dating pool is just too small. And two, the ex-pat lifestyle, by its very nature is temporary, and for many, aimless.  I’ve met tons of men out here but tons of men I could date? That’s another story.

What about the locals, you ask? That answer deserves a blog post all of its own. I’ll write about it later when I’ve had time to collect my thoughts.

As for sex, well. It has been so long I’ve nearly forgotten what it is to mean something to a man. Or for one to mean anything to me.

And, yeah, thanks. I know I can walk into pretty much any bar tonight and get laid if that’s what I want. Obviously a one night stand isn’t what I’m looking for.

Career: A decent career.  How can I get me one of those abroad? It seems like it is impossible to get away from teaching English, which, frankly, is a profession I’m beginning to loathe. I don’t hate my students. I don’t even hate the life that much. It definitely has its advantages, especially when the money is right. However, I am just too damned smart to waste my brain like this.  Call it arrogance all you like, but its nothing less than the truth.  The amount of mental stimulation you get as an English teacher is next to none. Were it not for my daily crossword puzzles and this blog, I am convinced I would have sank into a vegetative state from which I could never recover.

Thankfully, all is not so bleak on this horizon. I am taking baby steps into exploring other options. If they don’t work out, I’ve realized nothing else will do but to return to school.  I can’t even explain how good this makes me feel. Finally! A light at the end of the tunnel. A direction. Something my life has been missing for much too long.

I was talking with a friend the other day and realized that more than being Polish, or being American, and definitely way more than being an English teacher, I identify the most with being an ex-pat. It’s a title I’m comfortable with and proud of.  Want to feel special? Be an ex-pat. Want to be cool? Be an ex-pat. Want to be sexy? Be an ex-pat. Want to be brave? Be an ex-pat. Want to have the most awesome life you can possibly imagine, with new, crazy, life-altering experiences every single day? Be an ex-pat!  The most boring crappy day of your life as an ex-pat will still be a hundred times better and more exciting than anything else your shitty home life can offer.

I love it! I can’t say anything else about it. The life of an ex-pat, it’s a hit of adrenaline more addictive than anything else I’ve tried. And I get to take it every single day.

So what should I do when the loneliness  and emptiness come roaring out of the darkest corners of my soul to smother me in a sad desperate melancholy from which I might never come back from? What should I do when I’m walking down the street and out of the blue my eyes flood with tears because suddenly I think: Damn. What the hell am I doing here? Is there even a point to any of this?

What should I do when I’ve been invited to the most awesome party life has to offer, but the party always ends with me alone?

At what point do my dreams become nothing more than a series of diminishing returns?

I’m 30 damn years old. And I’m flitting around from place to place, enjoying myself like few others will ever, in their wildest dreams, get a chance to. I am so fortunate. I am living the life.

It is nearly everything, but is it quite enough?

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