I started this blog post months ago, and its been on my mind since then to finish it and then finish the Ex-Pat Life Series. When I started writing this, I had been in Shanghai just a few months…I think! I can’t remember exactly when I started writing it, that’s how long its been. So I had a slightly different perspective than I do now at 10 months in to this assignment. This is something I’ve thought about a lot and I think it can apply to whatever life situation you currently find yourself in; I’m simply taking it from the perspective of someone who has recently moved overseas and the unique challenges that come with that.
So right to the point, how do you become a person of welcome and what exactly does that mean? This post stems from reflections of the people I’ve met while in Shanghai. I recently read this hilarious post Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad and she nailed it. I think I’m a cross between “One-shot Wanda”and “Sasha the Serial Expat”, vacillating from being excited to see new places while we’re here and being content to stay in our little bubble because its the easiest thing to do and because sometimes I feel like I’ve “been there, done that”. This partly has to do with the fact that I have little little kids and travel and adventure are not currently as fun as they used to be. Also it partly has to do with the fact that I’ve done this before and I’m not as eager to experience all the new and exciting things as I used to be. You know, you’ve seen one market or temple, you’ve seen them all.
When you first meet people here, the conversations all go mostly the same way. After meeting and learning each other’s names, the conversations involve these five questions:
Where are you from?
What company are you with?
How long have you been here?
How long is your contract?
Where do you live?
The people who haven’t been here that long, myself included, eagerly question others looking forward to making new friends. The people who have been here longer are less likely to bombard you with questions and are less eager to have these conversations. And by longer I mean longer than 6 months. These folks have usually already established a group of friends and/or experienced one season of mass exodus of their established friend group (i.e. June), so they’re less interested in investing the energy to meet new people who may soon just up and leave.
So here’s what I’ve learned. If you are an ex-pat moving internationally, or in the military and moving wherever, or just happen to move for work, or don’t move but meet someone who has, or are human, this applies to you.
Being a person of welcome means:
1. To take initiative. In a book I’m reading (that doesn’t have to do with being an ex-pat or relocation but is insightful none-the-less), the author states that most groups she’s been a part of she’s had to initiate herself. Don’t wait for someone to initiate contact with you, be the first to introduce yourself and initiate get togethers with others. Listen and learn about the other person without the agenda of being able to share about yourself
2. Invite others in. I don’t just mean initiate activities, though that is certainly part of it. Be an inviting person. Invite others to share about themselves. Invite others to your home, whether or not its perfect. Invite others to join you and your friends in other activities, especially if you have kids in the same age group. Invite others to coffee or to join you at the swimming pool or to your kids school picnic. Everyone loves to be included. Don’t wait for someone to include you, be the inviter and includer.
3. Be open and friendly. One unique opportunity the ex-pat life provides is the opportunity to become friends with people you wouldn’t necessarily become friends with at home. You’re all thrown together in this unlikely situation, you all have moved here from somewhere else. Instead of staying within your comfort zone, especially if you’re an introvert (cough, cough…I don’t mean me of course!), be open to talking to new people. Discover new friendships with different types of people. You never know what life long friendships will develop.
So that’s it. Take initiative, include others, be open to new types of friendships.
Do you have anything to add? What are ways you have been a person of welcome in your life?