The Quick Guide to Socializing as a Digital Nomad Abroad
Having done a lot of different jobs while travelling I would like to share some things I’ve learned with the rest of you. While there are already a couple of good discussions here and there, I will try to introduce some less known tips for easy socializing abroad in this short guide (both offline and online).
Should there be a lot of interest in the guide, I might write a longer one with more detail, this will be just a quick excerpt that I’m sure can help most of you to meet new people both professionally and nonprofessionally while having a lot of fun.
When I’ve been back home on vacation my family and friends always ask me this one question: “Weren’t you scared of not having any friends when you moved abroad?”
You bet! That was the single most frightening thing! Before moving abroad, I had only been traveling to a few countries on holidays and none of the popular ones that my friends always talked about. I wasn’t particularly interested in travelling — and I was a bit shy to be honest.
Yet, as it turns out, there is no need to worry.
My impression is that a lot of people are worrying about this with little reason. What many fail to remember is that most other foreigners have the same issue as you which means they want to make friends 100x more than they do at home.
Of course if you just arrived compared to someone who’s been living there for a while, you will have less friends than that person but as all expats know it is common that people come and go — it’s just part of the expat life. Which also means that if you stop making new friends you will end up with none at some point. I tried both so please learn from my mistake.
There are many cool things about making money online but one of the “problems” is that you don’t have an office with co-workers to talk to everyday and you have to proactively meet new people.
If you are a bit shy and not super comfortable walking up to a girl in a bar, then traveling and making money online is a match made in heaven!
Like with anything else, you can only get better by practicing but it is much easier to do abroad. First of all, nobody knows you, so you can act in any way you want or be who you want to be.
It might take a little bit of time to get comfortable doing something different but trust me it’s much easier and once you have done it a few times and you realize that people judge foreigners much less than locals, you will feel doing it becoming so much easier.
It will also be much easier to talk to people and have a good conversation. More on that in the “what to say”-section.
If this is your first time moving abroad, I suggest setting aside a couple of hours, 2–3 times weekly for the next couple of months to meet people. You don’t want to be in the situation where you are working 24/7 and after three months find yourself in a foreign country not knowing a single soul.
That also includes parties on the weekends, the point is just that you meet people you get along with and want to hang out with again. Once you have some friends, things will start to snowball as people are much more open to introducing you to their friends. That’s why you will make it much easier for yourself if you kick ass in the beginning and become more selective with your time as your network is growing.
I could write about this topic forever but I’m trying to keep it short, sweet and actionable. If there is enough interest in the subject, I might write some more.
What does a great network look like?
A great network doesn’t require a specific number of people; it all depends on how are you are as a person but diversifying is important. Some people like to connect with everyone all the time and others are slightly more private but when you are working online and living in a foreign country, there are various sets of people that will be helpful to know both professionally, non-professionally, online and offline.
The key here is that the inputs from all these different types of people will help you stay balanced while knowing what is happening in your niche/industry as well as in the online industry in general. As you get a better picture of what is going on, I’m sure you will see lots of new great business opportunities MUCH faster than those people who are lacking a proper network. In fact, it’s HUGE disadvantage to not have proper network — you don’t even know what you are missing!
Of course you should also have friends in your network that you don’t do work related stuff with. Personally I like to have a mix of local friends and foreigners that don’t work online. In my experience it is very rare to become as close to a local as you do to other foreigners (except if it’s your bf/gf).
They will just never understand what it’s like for you to live in a foreign country doing what seems to be the dream to many. Locals are great if you are a curious person, like me, who like to learn as much as possible about the culture, food and try to pick up the language. Most of us will be proud of our home country and love to answer any questions about it, just like many locals do.
Foreigners, on the other hand, will understand you much better and you will probably connect way better with them — the closer their home country is to yours the better you will connect with them (all other things being equal). For example, if you are from Germany and you meet someone from France you much more likely to connect well with that person compared to someone from, say, China or Brazil as those cultures are much more different.
One thing I suggest avoiding is living with your countrymen. I’m not one to say how you should live your life but in my experience you will get a much better experience if you don’t live with them and instead meet up with them weekly or on occasion.
The problem with living with countrymen is that you will get into a comfort zone very fast where you might speak your own language at home. Since you already took that leap of faith when you moved abroad, and busted your comfort zone, you now have to work harder to break it again. That’s why it’s much easier for you if you learn to live without them and then appreciate it when you meet up them instead.
Professionally it will be helpful for you to have these people around you:
- Some at your level to battle the challenges out with
- Some at your level some doing something similar yet different online
- Some 1–2 levels above you — doing something similar to you
- Some 1–2 levels above you — doing something vastly different
- Some way better than you — doing something similar to you
- Some way better than you — doing something vastly different
These six groups of people will give you a great mix of different knowledge so you get a better idea of knowing what’s moving in your industry both in your niche/vertical, type of business and other online industries.
Don’t underestimate the power of knowing people who can help you when you’re stuck. You don’t need to find these people tomorrow.
It’s an art to be perfected and personally with the people who are levels above me, I take my time to do proper research, think about how they are as a person compared to me — I like people whose beliefs aren’t too similar to my own so they can challenge them once in a while and help me stay open to new ideas.
However, if you have none of these groups in your network, the first group is definitely the one you should start reaching out to TODAY.
When you have some friends who are doing something similar to you and at the same level, you can help each other professionally but more importantly support each other on bad days. We all have those and it’s really helpful to have some motivation rub off on you on a bad day from someone who understands what exactly you are going through. I’ve been guilty of thinking I didn’t need any one to help me for a very long time — please don’t make the same mistake I did.
Having friends who are at the same level as you doing something different can be very helpful for both of you. If you are a blogger, you might be able to do guest posts for each other or help each other out in areas where you aren’t strong such as a Facebook expert helping a SEO expert build campaigns on Facebook and the SEO expert helping the other guy rank on Google. It’s amazing how a little bit of advice from an expert can boost your results.
The key to a great network is just a little bit effort each day and it will snowball quickly.
Where do you look for people?
Finding people can be done in very different places. Usually each niche/industry has its own online forum but the people and how they react probably varies a lot from place to place.
I won’t get into details about specific sites as there are way too many but the key is knowing your sources — what type of people you find where. For example, public internet forums are probably much worse than private forums if you are looking for serious people.
Ideas for where to look:
• Internet forums
• Industry meetups
• Classic networking events
• Co-working spaces
• Home-country events such as get-together at the embassy
• Through other friends
• Flat mates
You can find the people you are looking for everywhere — be creative!
If you are starting from scratch, start by finding someone who is doing the same thing as you — create a mastermind or something.
When I move to a new place I usually use the opportunity to find flat mates that have 9–5 jobs so I’ll have some friends who are doing something completely different.
What to say
There is one thing that has been extremely useful to me when making friends both online and offline; curiosity.
As mentioned previously most people are proud of their country and will be happy if you show interest in their roots. At the same time, you will learn about new food, culture and perhaps language that you can use to impress your friends and family (and if you are in a poor country, perhaps it might help you negotiate stuff like taxi prices ;-)).
One of the best things about being abroad is that when you meet new people the topic always seems to start out with the countries and where you are from, which also makes it an easy icebreaker because you can follow up by asking them if they know X and Y from the same country. This gets much easier the more you do it as your network grows and you know more people and learn more cultural insights you can turn into questions.
If you go to an event where you know there are is a mixed crowd you can be pretty sure there must be some locals so if you don’t know what to say you can always prepare some questions about the country’s food, culture or language. You can use the news or history books for inspiration.
The key here is to let them do the talking and hear their point of view as they will probably know much more about it than you. Something that works really well for me is asking “why”-questions on news topics or how they ended up in this place (why did they choose to come to this country for example).
Action steps you can do today
Professionally — if you don’t have any friends online that you are working closely with on the same topic go and find some! If you still have no clue about where to start, go find an online forum about your niche/industry and private message people who seem to be doing the same as you. The more the merrier — sometimes it takes a while to find people that you connect well with.
Non-professionally — plan something with your friends and make sure they invite some people you don’t already know (you should do the same) and speak to those strangers — after all your friends must like them if they invite them, right?
As I mentioned in the beginning I could write about this topic forever but I’m trying to keep it short, sweet and actionable. If there is enough interest in the subject, I might write some more.
If it can help clear up some doubt for just one person, that’ll make me happy — so please leave some feedback if you are reading this. I will appreciate it a lot.
Feedback could be that if you liked it, what in particular you liked about it or what you would improve upon — or if think something is missing.
Thank you for reading!