Real Experiences: Building a Community as an Expat…

Hi Expats, It’s Aubrey, back with an update. I’ve written before about how I moved here for love. I shared some of the trials and tribulations of being an expat and I heard from some of you that it was helpful to read that perspective.

Well, I’ve been living here for a year now so I’ve done some traveling, visited my country, and came back to this new place I’m still learning to call home.

Yep, you read that right. It’s been a year and I’m still learning about calling the Netherlands “home” ← but that does mean it’s on the way.

Like I wrote before, I’ve moved to new ‘homes’ several times on my own. When I went to college, when I moved across the States, and now moving to Europe. I have a better handle on what to expect this time so while the whole “new country, new rules, new language” situation is a doozy, there is one thing that holds really true no matter where you move to.

If you want to make it, you have to build a community.

Building a Community as an Expat

Building a community is going to be harder for some people than it is for others. I have a hard time feeling like I’m part of a community so I’m not going to tell you how to do it because the usual ways don’t work for me.

Here are some things I struggle with (maybe you do too) and how to overcome this as an expat to build your community.

1 - Introversion is a Double Edged Sword

It’s hard to tell because I’m gregarious and I take risks with my emotions, but I’m actually really introverted.

For those of you that don’t have a working definition of introversion, it just means that interacting with other people takes a lot of energy from me and that I gain that energy back with alone time.

I have found this to be a double-edged sword for moving to a new country. On the one hand, I don’t need that much human interaction to feel fulfilled. I can see other people two or three times a month, but even once a week of socializing feels like a lot to me. So my bar for “community building” is pretty easily attainable.

On the other hand. I have to almost force myself to leave the comfort of my home to interact on a regular basis. My friends back home all know that I need a direct invitation to hang, but when I’m in a new place so no one knows that about me. That just means I have to use actual willpower and discipline to have a healthy lifestyle involving other humans.

For the other introverts out there, just keep trying. It isn’t going to happen all that suddenly that you’ll make a group of friends, but it will happen because people can tell that you’re sincere. Tell the people you meet that you’re introverted and try to do activities where you have some time to think like board games (or rock climbing)!

2 - Language Will Still Be a Barrier

If you’re in a room with three or more Dutchies, especially if they’re excited and/or drinking, they’re going to speak Dutch… and quickly.

Don’t get mad and don’t take it personally. It’s a little embarrassing to not understand the language, and it’s also really easy to glaze over and remove yourself from the conversation all together.


Just ask them to speak English, or if you’re learning Dutch like me (no rush, not taking a class, just picking it up as I go) ask them to slow down a little bit and stop the conversation to ask about words you don’t know yet.

One of my favorite things is when one person speaks English and the other speak Dutch. Then I get the context of the conversation and it helps me understand what I’m hearing better.

3 - Misery Loves Company

I’m going to be really blunt here (hey, I have picked up SOME Dutch traits in the past year). I don’t hang out with other expats very often.

This is a hard thing to do. There aren’t very many people that migrate to new countries and so there aren’t a lot of people that really understand the difficulties of being an expatriate.

So we always end up comparing notes… and complaining.

It feels good every once in a while but I always end up feeling fired up about this or that problem I’m facing and that’s not really what I need right now—I’m still trying to get over the lack of breakfast burritos here, it’s not a funny anecdote yet and bringing it up is going to trigger me into a whole slew of “and also we don’t have...”

I notice this a lot in other people too, and I think it makes it more difficult to see life here as something exciting.

If you’re going to hang out with other Expats, try to steer the conversation towards stuff you want to be better at, or stuff you want to learn about, or go to an activity that you want to go to.

4 - Internet Friending is a Real Thing…

Holy crow, I think this is weird, but it’s so real.

Facebook Groups like, “Expats in Eindhoven” (there’s one for all the bigger cities, I live in Eindhoven), are totally awesome for finding events that you can go to.

I still don’t know how the Dutch know about stuff going on. I assume it’s written somewhere common and my language just isn’t good enough to auto-skim it yet, but man I learn about so many cool events from checking the Expat Facebook Groups.

Because I go events for things that I love, I automatically have something in common with everyone else there! Sometimes I talk to people, but usually (and maybe this is my introversion speaking) just being involved in an activity that makes me share smiles with other people is really lovely.

5 - Clubs Aren’t Weird Here

I love to rock climb.

I also love to sing.

I want to learn to sew.

It’s honestly SO easy to find a club/MeetUp here that does all that stuff. Seriously.

I’ve never been into “clubs” before I met my boyfriend, but it’s just a regular part of the culture here.

I’ve been part of a rock climbing group for a year, and now I’m doing singing and searching for a good sewing lesson. Those three things are going to fill my extra time with activities that I love AND put me in contact with the same people every week so that I can feel comfortable with them over time and make a few friends that way too.

This has to be my number one “community building” technique. Literally just join a thing you like. I’m also really interested in making a MeetUp for Yoga but I’m still getting over that it isn’t a weird thing to do so please excuse me while I grow.

6 - You Gotta Work It

I run my own business, Dandelion Branding, so this one is a little bit more challenging for the CEO/Entrepreneurs out there but if you have a job here, make friends with your coworkers—and get to know any clients/regulars that you have.

This is a professional network and not the same kind of “community,” but every little interaction counts when you’re in a place and you don’t know anyone.

The Key to Community is Consistency

I build digital communities for a living, so I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but I am (eye roll at myself).

Here’s the secret: showing up over and over again, is how you start to build a community. This is true whether you’re building online or in person.

I literally have baristas that I check in with every week on Saturday and I try to remember what’s going on with the guy at the gym counter’s life so I can ask about it next time I see him. ← This is also my first course of action when I’m lonely. The people behind the counter can’t go anywhere so I ask them questions when I really needed to talk to someone. #lonely

It’s never going to be easy because people aren’t waiting around for a new green Dutch resident to show up to be a community member. Literally no one cares until you make them care, by showing up.

Are you building your community in the Netherlands? What tips can you add to this?

Written by our guest blogger Aubrey Wallace

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