Making the first connection

Establishing new friendships for fresh expats

It’s the least admitted but most common expat complaint: loneliness. And according to Ludmilla Skinner, Certified Life Coach, loneliness is a increasing problem for expats in an increasingly self-centered world fragmented by technology that drives us further apart as much as brings us closer together.

The irony is that people nowadays have more friends than their parents and grandparents. However, the way we interact with each has changed and without knowing the rules alienation and loneliness can result.

So what has changed?

At this point in time we are still in the permissive era, and although not as excessive as in the 1970s, we still have the underlying understanding that “anything goes”. We have freed ourselves from most social and traditional restrictions, and have more superficial, and long distance contacts than before.

We put more and more value on what other people might think. Opinions from (groups of) people whom we barely know, a.k.a. network communities, become more important to us because our social bands have shifted from our inner circle to the outer. On top of that we tend to see ourselves similar to how others perceive us - the ‘looking-glass self’. The result is that we are constantly depending on others to make us feel good by seeking for approval either or otherwise.

Here’s how to break the cycle

The key here is changing the way you communicate. Reading your mails, checking your text messages and Facebook updates Any time, Any place needs to go! Put a limitation on it. Although the Internet is mainly a positive aid for most of us, with the years our dependency has grown. Because there are no borders, limitations or etiquette on Internet usage you need to be specific on how and when you use the Internet. Do you use it according to your values? I can think of several situations and conversations that would not be accepted when re-enacted in the real world.

Then again if you dare to be expressive on the web why not start in the real world? For shy people it might take a little longer but getting confident in meeting people and attracting people is just a matter of practise. I am not saying it is easy, for sure you need to get out of your comfort zone.

The fear of being rejected is what with holds most people for taking the first step in approaching a stranger. I agree that it is not nice to be shunned, just remind yourself that most of the time it’s really nothing personal. The person is just not into talking at all; shy or has had a crappy day. In order to increase your succeeding level, you need to be able to read the cues.

Once you know what to pay attention to, you will be a master in starting conversations and engage in any other conversation.

Making the connection

As I mentioned before, we do care what others think of us. To make sure that your mind is not consumed with, do I look all right, what will they think of me; you need to address your inner conversation. No this is not an article about having multiple personalities. Everyone has this voice inside, the one that just went ‘what voice?’ You need to make sure that whatever it is that you are saying to your self is nice and will help you to move forward. Example: “I am a lean mean fighting machine, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, worked for Mohammed Ali. Now you got to find your own.

As a little child my mom always told me treat others like you want to be treated and this still works. When you combine it with a positive inner voice, you will be amazed what you get done. It so simple as that; people experience you as how you experience yourself. Of course you can fake it to a certain extent, but usually people are able to pick up the authentic vibe.

Mastering the playground

Now that we covered the basics, here’s some practical stuff. These are things that you need to do in order for it to work:
  • First impressions are key, look presentable; you are a fun person to be around.
  • Go out: search for local meet ups, expat events, get a Gym membership, join a club or committee, take some language lessons, dancing lessons, join a web meet up platform (make sure you meet up in the offline world) etc be active!
  • Respect people’s private circle by keeping an appropriate distance. Be relaxed and loose. Be proactive instead of reactive, smile, make eye contact.
  • Body movements: is someone staring at the floor and avoiding eye contact, don’t even bother. The chances are high that he or she is not in the mood for a chit-chat. When you see that someone is constantly looking at the door or around it could be that they are waiting for a friend or looking for someone to talk to. You could be honest and say; I have noticed that you are looking around are you waiting for a friend? Can I keep you company till your friend is here? This opens up all kinds of possibilities for a conversation. Do not touch someone to often the first time you meet. If someone is seeking eye contact react fast, it won’t get easier if you wait!
  • Have a drink in your hand; you do not want to create any awkward moments. Make sure you say at the beginning of your conversation that you are leaving soon. The first question that pops up in people’s mind is when is this person leaving, now that they already know they can be more relaxed. Keep your body in a leaving state; pointing towards the door.
  • Introduce yourself (smile).
  • Clinging on to the first person you talk to is not cool. Leave at your peak and go talk to other people.
  • How to make good conversation: read the news papers so you have material to talk about. Use the other person’s name, people love to hear their own name as Dale Carnegie pointed out in one of the classics ‘How to win friends and influence people’. Sometimes it works to tickle people’s curiosity, you could tell them “I am new to the area can you tell me places to go to?” I bet you the next question will be; where are you from?
  • Networking tips: come early, talk to the person who is alone, introduce yourself. The coffee table is the place to be for an easy start of a conversation. If you just heard a lecture ask for their opinion, what do you think …. do you also think….?
  • Listen! People love good listeners
  • Remember to keep it light! Once you have mastered to establish the first contact it is important to follow up, sales people you know what I am talking about. Come up with fun things to do, expositions to go to. Present to them that you are already going and if anyone wants to come a long that’s fine, that takes the pressure off.
  • Attend parties where everyone comes to meet new people or network. You never know…. they might have nice friends.
Now that you know how to make the first connection, I invite you to take the first step!

Ludmilla Skinner is a Certified Life Coach who specialises in: Expats, Work/Life Balance and Choice-related stress (30ish dilemmas). Find her on

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