The 2010 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey was recently published. It compiles answers from over 4000 expats living in 25 countries about their lifestyles, including topics like finances, social ties and family life. It’s an interesting – albeit simplified – view of life as a foreigner in various countries.
One thing that caught my attention was that the biggest concern for all expats was being able to establish a social life in the new country, & that women more than men worried about making local friends.
Here’s the summary from the report:
Moving abroad can understandably be daunting for any potential expats and this year’s report reveals that emotive worries cause much greater concern than practical issues. The most common concern for expats ahead of moving to their new country is re-establishing a social life (41%), feeling lonely and missing friends and family (34%).
The same worries are also much more prominent for female expats. Nearly half of female expats surveyed (48%) shared concerns about re-establishing their social life in their new country, compared to only 37% of men and 44% of female expats shared concerns about missing their friends and family, compared to less than one third (29%) of men.
This was definitely one of my main concerns when I was getting ready to leave the US. I was worried about leaving my friends behind, knowing I would miss them terribly. I made sure I saw everyone at least one last time before I boarded the plane to Vietnam. I hugged them tight, tears slipping down my cheeks as I finally said goodbye.
Once in Vietnam, I found that it was difficult to make local friends. Try as I might, my American friend-making approach just didn’t work there. Vietnam is not included on HSBC’s survey, but if it were, it would probably be near the bottom of the list for “Local Integration”.
One thing I have discovered, though, is that people see friends & friendships differently here in China than we do in the US. Back home, my friends are people that I like, people that I want to hang out with, go to a movie with or have a drink with after work. They’re people I respect & admire, who are my role models & my inspiration.
In China, on the other hand, friends are seen as people who can help you, people who can introduce you to business associates or boyfriends. They’re not necessarily people that you like, but they have been your friend since you were a child. The ties are strong, enduring & often unbreakable.
So it’s difficult to make local friends in China because friendship is just different here. Chinese people don’t seek out new friends once they become adults – they have enough of them already – which means the foreigners who come here tend to spend a lot of time with other foreigners.