How can you make friends when you first arrive in a new country? Irina Musuc shares her experience and offers some handy tips.
When you move to a new country, you are ready to leave everything behind - except your family and your friends. Friends don't just come and go, you can't change them like gloves. There is a Russian proverb which says: "In order to have a true friend you have to eat a pound of salt together."
That's absolutely true. Friends, who you met in school, went through good and bad times together, shared adventures and crazy moments with, cried and laughed with, and with whom you have grown physically and spiritually, are irreplaceable! Period. It's much more difficult to become bosom friends with someone when you are an adult, carrying the luggage of life experience you went through with someone else. But it's not impossible.
When you move to a new country, you are ready to leave everything behind - except your family and your friends.
Friends! Where are you?
So you moved to the Netherlands. You are an expatriate and, most probably, have no relatives, friends or colleagues here, and you need to start from scratch. When we came to the Netherlands in June 2014, there were just four of us. No friends, no family. We were starting a new path and had to find our way step by step.
Finding Familiar Clubs
Before we had even moved, we searched for two international communities we already belonged to in Moldova: the Baha'i community and Toastmasters Club.
In Moldova, my husband and I were members of the Toastmasters club, an International Club of Public Speaking with representations in almost every country in the world. So, the second thing we did was to search for such club where we live. We found one, but it was Dutch. To our joy, we found many English-speaking clubs in Amsterdam and joined a very international and vibrant Fusion Amsterdam Toastmasters Club. I am sure some of you belong to worldwide communities, organizations, clubs, movements and so on and you can find them in Holland. It can be religious, professional, entrepreneurial, cultural or simply an expat group you can join.
Looking for Friends
Our next step was to find people who shared our interests in the place we actually lived. I knew things would never change if we were not the ones to change them. We started acting. The first thing we did with the kids was to find out where we could meet new friends in the neighborhood.
There was a playground nearby, we had neighbors who had kids. It appeared that the school they were going to attend from new school year was near our house.There was a popular Multi Club where children and adolescents could come and play table tennis, table soccer, and video games. There was a football club not far away, a swimming pool and a park with a huge playground. I also knew that, once my sons went to school, finding friends would no longer be a problem.
Here are some places where you can meet new friends:
1. International communities in your city. Almost every Dutch city has an expatriate community which organizes various events, meetups, hobby groups, family outings, etc. There is an expat group in Amsterdam you can always join called InterNations.
2. Mom groups. You can find numerous parent groups on Facebook. They are really amazing and very supportive. The biggest online community is Amsterdam Mamas, with over 10,000 members in its Facebook group. There are also many specific groups on Facebook for moms and groups that speak the same language. I found several Russian-speaking mom groups which I gladly joined.
3. Dutch courses. The first thing any newcomer should do is learn the local language. If you still don't know about the Dutch courses in your city, town or village, you can contact the city hall (Gemeente). ROC (a technical college) offers official Dutch course for those who need to pass the inburgeringsexamen. There are also several volunteer organizations where you can learn Dutch for a small contribution of €5-10 per month.
4. Kids groups and activities. If you have small children, there are numerous places where you can meet other children and their parents and eventually become friends: playgrounds, Peuterspeelzaal (creche), various creative activities for kids, sport clubs, and a variety of family outings organized by local or expat groups. As soon as you find local expat parent or mom group, you will be immersed in a large variety of family or kids-oriented activities. If you are expecting a baby, there are also pregnancy courses, offered by the Health Centers (Gezondheid Centrum) in every neighborhood.
Creating a Circle of Friends
The school year started and my boys were no longer complaining they had no friends. They joined the football Club and the circle enlarged even more. We found lots of activities kids could join for free, like drawing and art groups held by volunteers. I became part of a united group of Russian-speaking moms, who met every week at each other’s places or in a café, and helped and supported each other. We invite each other for birthdays and parties. Our children became friends. We have a regular junior youth group with my sons and two of their Russian-speaking friends.
Five boys come to our place every Saturday for a children's class, where we learn how to develop and put in practice our spiritual qualities. In Moldova, we had a tradition to invite our friends and neighbors to the Baha'i celebration of Naw Ruz. We held a Naw Ruz kids' party at our place. There were 18 children and 10 adults. They were our new friends, who also became our family.
When my husband entered the house, he was astonished at the number of guests we had. He said that he didn’t know we had so many friends already. It seemed our house was not big enough to accommodate everyone. But our hearts are big enough to embrace new friends whose paths crossed ours! And we are grateful for that!
This article was adapted from Irina's blog Good to be Mom and has been published on Amsterdam Mamas with full permission from the author.
Irina Musuc is a Moldovan living in the Netherlands, married to an Italian, bringing up two rebellious boys. She is a journalist and editor who loves writing. She moved to the Netherlands and started a blog to express her thoughts, feelings, worries and doubts, and to share the lessons she learnt every day as a mother.