When I moved to Dubai, it seemed like a big move to a far and distant strange land. Where everything was done a little differently and the people who lived there came from all over the world. While I thought I was a little out of my depth, settling in was surprisingly easy. Being a place where 70% of the population is expats means that most people are either in or have been in the same boat. Most people are willing to give you a hand, invite you over never having met you and just generally welcome you. Everyone knows what it's like to up and move to a new country so you have something in common and something you can share with almost everyone you meet.
I was lucky enough to meet people quickly and before the first month was out I made a friend who will remain a friend for life. Of course, these friends move on and then you have to put yourself out there again and again to keep your social circle healthy.
I always knew that moving back to Australia would be harder. While I've always tried hard to keep my friendships here healthy, we moved to a city I'd never lived in before and knew just one single person. I also knew that all the people I'd meet would have a strong group of friends and probably wouldn't have the 'vacancy' sign out. Also, I'd be meeting people who wouldn't really understand what I'd been doing the past few years.
I always knew I'd have to put myself "out there" yet again, but this time I knew it would be harder nut to crack. I just don't think I realised just how hard. Standing next to groups of mums at school pick up, nodding and throwing in a comment, to get a strange "who is she?" look. Meeting mums of the kids' friends and explaining where we'd moved from to get "Oh that sounds exotic!" or " Goodness, I'd feel bad making my kids move round the corner."
It's like being a kid again. Trying to fit in with the groups and work out cliques. Putting yourself out there again and again, knowing that for every 50 or so people you meet there may just one you'll connect with.
Just before we left to go to Dubai, I was at our local park with the kids. I met a lady with a toddler. She'd just returned to Australia after living in London for many years. She told how miserable she was as she was finding it impossible to make friends. Everyone already had their friends and weren't looking for a new one. She told me how desperate she was for just one of the mums in the park, who were always perfectly friendly, to ask her over for a coffee. Or at least say a warm "Yes, that would be lovely!" when she asked them to come to hers. I felt awful as I was literally moving out of our house the next day and in a week or so would be grappling with finding my own feet in a new place. I sometimes think of her and wonder if she settled in and now has a whole tribe of mates.
I thought of her again last week when I was chatting to a mum at preschool who'd lived in Singapore for many years. We talked on and on about expat life and moving back. In my head I thought "Yes! A comrade", until she leaned in close uttered the words: "Actually, I haven't told anyone, but we're moving to Sweden really soon."
Despite not winning at this making friends stuff so far, I haven't given up. I may be a little battered and bruised but I'm sure I'll find my circle eventually.