Of all the challenges of coming home, sorting out your social life is the one that people seem to struggle with the most. This can lead to feelings of alienation and the sense that maybe you don’t really belong in NZ after all. Which kind of makes sense. After all how can you feel at home, if you don’t have a sense of connection to the place you are living? And connection comes via relationships, with actual people who know you, get you and like doing the same stuff you do – aka friends!
In this post, I’ll share some of the insights I’ve gained from my personal experiences, as well as some of the top tips I’ve learned through interviews with other returnees, on how you can develop the kind of friendships that can help turn a return to NZ into a real sense of coming home.
Treat your old friends as if they are new
When people first come back to NZ the expectation is often that they will somehow slot back into socialising with their old crew. A few months (weeks!) in and the realisation dawns that this might not actually be as smooth a transition as first thought. The reason being, you’ve changed, they’ve changed – sometimes to the point where to start to wonder whether you have anything left in common at all. And, if you don’t, is there any point putting in the time and effort to try and re-establish the relationship you remember from before you left?
I think the answer is probably yes. It’s true that the different paths your lives have taken have led to vastly different experiences that have shaped your world view and what you value in life. But, I would argue, this in itself can actually be a very good thing, especially if you want to maintain the kind of diverse social circle you experienced abroad. Ironically, spending time with your old friends, whose perspective may be very different from your own, can actually be a way to keep exposing yourself to different ways of thinking and being in the world.
So, instead of instantly dismissing your old friend’s opinions, apply the same open minded approach that you would if making a new friend in a foreign land and be curious about why they think the way they do. If you’ve been away from NZ a long time this can also be a great way to learn about what’s been happening here in social, political & cultural terms and how these experiences (which you have missed) have shaped their point of view.
Get online to get out of the house
It is also important to seek out new friends who have common interests or experiences and with whom you can feel free to be your ‘new self’ – whoever that is turning out to be. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, this is actually pretty easy, if you are prepared to be proactive and venture out to meet with strangers who might turn out to be friends.
From what I can see, there is a Meet Up for everyone at every age, stage and configuration of life. From getting together to play board games, discuss the meaning of life, connect with other travel junkies or, simply meeting for a coffee and a walk, there is no shortage of opportunities to connect with people who share your interests and, who are also actively seeking out new friends.
For those, missing the vibe of being part of an international community, InterNations is present in several NZ cities and hosts regular drinks nights, brunches and cultural outings. A surprising added benefit I have found from being a part of this group is hearing how people from a diverse range of countries experience, and appreciate, life in NZ. Even Auckland’s traffic woes, can be suddenly put into perspective after a quick chat about trying to get from A to B in Cairo!
Many parents report that their kids are actually the gateway to finding their new social circle with many schools providing ample opportunity for parents to meet each other via onsite events. Others report on finding new friends in the parents who go along each week to watch their children’s sports practices. And, because it’s NZ, there always seems to be a lot of wine involved!
For those moving back from London, Northern Europe or the US, the Kiwi approach to planning their social life can seem a bit lax to say the least. And for those, who have had to plan their lives several months in advance to accommodate work travel, or similarly transient friends, the idea that you can just text someone on the same day you want to see them and they’ll probably be free, is a hard one to believe!
But, the longer you are here, the more you will realise that socialising in NZ is a pretty organic affair. Additionally, Kiwis, on the whole, don’t seem to adopt the practice of allocating one hour per social engagement, as is more common in other parts of the world. This means that a day that starts out as a brunch catch up may well end in a spontaneous decision to go for a walk along the beach, or a coffee catch up can end with a plan to reconvene at someone’s house for a group BBQ with the kids, just because it’s a nice evening and no-one has any other plans…
Stay in town
A lot of returners spend their first year putting a lot of effort into ‘continuing the adventure’ on home soil. Heading out of town every other weekend, whether it be for a day long micro-adventure, one night wander or longer stay away, can be a great way to ward off the fear that your interesting life is more or less over now that you’re back in NZ.
Now, this can be a great way to manage the initial transition but, the problem is that local friendships – old & new – are much harder to develop if you’re never actually at home. So, if making friends is a priority for you, make time for relationships to develop by actually being in town.
Embrace the mundane
Friendships are built through regular contact, short but regular catch-ups, often on the mundanity of life. For those who have had years of once a year marathon conversations – in which you can only cover the exciting highlights – during the annual holiday in NZ, this shift in how you relate to your friends can be an adjustment.
Embracing the pop in, spontaneous text or (for those of a certain age) even making a quick phone call simply to say hi, can be a way to continuously connect with people and, in so doing, build the bonds that are needed to turn a historical acquaintance, or new connection, into a genuine friend.
While you’re here. Are you a NZ Citizen or Permanent Resident who has lived abroad and already returned to live in NZ? I’m trying to build up a picture the NZ Repatriate Community and have created a short survey to help with this. So, if you haven’t already, click through to read the introductory blog and find the link to the survey. It should take about 5-10 minutes to do both. Thanks! https://howtohaveahappyhomecoming.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/what-kind-of-repat-are-you/
About me & the blog
Originally from NZ, I spent 12 years living and working in the Netherlands, the UK and the US. In 2017, I returned to live in Auckland with my lovely husband and crazy cat. Inspired by the stories I had heard from those who had made the move before me, I started the blog to tell the stories of a diverse group of Kiwis who have lived abroad and returned to NZ. It’s a mix of interviews and insights, exploring the reasons so many Kiwis head off to see the world, their expectations and experiences and, ultimately, what brings them back.
Through these stories, I also explore the themes around what makes coming ‘home’ a really mixed bag of emotions and, pull out the key insights and tips on how to make this as happy an experience as it can be.
By sharing our stories we hope to help those Kiwis living abroad but thinking about moving back and those who have recently arrived. If you’ve got a question, a comment or a story you’d like to share, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.
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