Moving to a new country involves challenges on so many levels. One of the primary reasons for this is the initial loss of your immediate networks and communities, be they social, familial or business ones.

On a purely physical level, you are extracting yourself geographically from a place you know and transporting yourself to a land that is unfamiliar. Nothing is what you’re used to – not the language, food, culture, climate, infrastructure, or even the streets you walk down (as well as which side of the road you check before crossing!).

While change is good – and is a wonderful catalyst for building internal resilience – if you are eager to feel a sense of belonging and to move through your new world with a greater sense of ease, then building a community is key. But this is easier said than done.

So, I’m sharing five tips that have helped me build a new community in the Netherlands over the past three years, especially as someone who is self-employed and relies on her networks for work.

1. Join a sports club or extramural groupNetworking is not only about attending industry cocktail parties (although those do help). One of the first work contracts I got in my new country was through a friend I made at the hockey club I’d joined. It’s about more than that though. Whether it’s being a part of a sports team, joining a choir, or becoming a member at the local surf club, all of these actions involve active participation in existing communities that you should have something instantly in common with. This is a sure-fire way to make new friends and contacts.

2. Give back to the communityThere’s no better way to root yourself in a community than by contributing to it. This doesn’t need to be time-intensive either: it could be volunteering occasionally at events at your child’s school, pitching in to coach a youth sport or even offering to drive the elderly to the shops. There are some great websites that connect internationals with meaningful volunteer opportunities – I even saw one that involved monitoring the annual toad migration across busy city streets.

3. Know your neighboursWhile it may not always be feasible, introducing yourself and connecting with your neighbours is a wonderful way to embed yourself in the area in which you live. I love walking out my front door these days and waving at the owner of the restaurant across the street shouting “Goedemorgen!”, as I cycle past the gentleman from number 7 and also saying hello to some new friends who live on the corner.

There are often organised occasions to meet your neighbours, from annual street parties to monthly community gatherings at local bars or restaurants (look out for flyers posted through your front door).

4. Lean on fellow, like-minded moversPeople that have moved to your locale at a similar time to you, as well as fellow movers also from your home country, are all strong candidates when it comes to adding to your network. You’ll immediately have things in common. It is a brilliant foundation to build friendships on, as well as find ways to work together – if your job requires professional collaboration.

Best of all, those who are also new in the country understand full well how difficult it can be, so they’re bound to put in a similar amount of effort to you when it comes to the relationship. It’s a win-win.

5. Be proactive about connectingDepending on where you lie on the introversion – extroversion scale, reaching out and connecting with those you don’t know very well can feel daunting. But this is one time in your life that you need to put some effort in and make plans to see and meet new people – all that can happen is that they say no to your invitation or they never respond and then, well, that’s their loss.

Meet up with that person you connected with on social media or arrange a coffee with that acquaintance a friend from home introduced you to. This doesn’t have to be about establishing lifelong friendships, it’s more about opening yourself up to possibility and seeing what emerges out of it.

Most of all, life rewards you for putting effort in, and your new country will too. So try to be proactive about building up your community – and soon you’ll start to feel right at home.


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