With Bosnia & Hercegovina being the third country we moved to, we notice we kind of “know the drill” by now. Is that what makes the settling in Mostar relatively easy? Or is it that coming from China everything seems easier anyway? Or maybe Mostar is just a very easy city to settle in? Who knows? All I know is that so far it has been a nice welcome.
What helped is that we could immediately settle in a very nice apartment, located on one of the hills on the east side of the river, and overlooking the city and surrounding hills.
Mostar is not a super big city and easy to explore on foot, and this also helps to feel at home fast – being able to get around on our own is certainly an important part of settling and finding your way. And with plenty of coffeeshops, restaurants and stores in our neighborhood, there are enough reasons to go out and enjoy a coffee while soaking up the laid-back vibes.
One of the most important things in settling in a new place is creating a sense of belonging, finding friends and develop a social live. But how to do this when you are new to a country. In previous years there have been plenty of times when I have felt lonely and have been wondering “Who wants to be my friend?”
But over the years we found different ways to find friends in new places – here is what worked for us;
1) Say YES to everything and everyone who offers to take you out or introduce you to someone. Even though you are tired and really not that interested in going to an outdoor cinema or bar, just say YES. Because you never know where it leads to. Last time I said YES to go out to the bar I ended up with the contact details of a nearby yoga school. Which brings me to the second way.
2) Join a club. It does not really matter what it is, you can join a football team, play chess, paint or join yoga classes. Just become part of something. I joined a yoga school and am attending weekly classes now. The lessons are in Bosnian, and I have absolutely no idea what the instructor is saying, but I just follow the others and tell myself that the language of yoga is universal. It builds routine and connects me with fellow classmates.
3) Use social media to let the community know you have arrived new to town. Most cities or countries have expats groups on Facebook and it’s quite common to ask if anyone wants to take a newbie out on town. Many people will be happy to do so. And sometimes people are helpful to connect you with friends they have in certain places – a warm introduction goes a long way. So, say YES!
4) Attend expat events, even when they are not happening in your little hometown. When we lived in Changshu, China, and now again in Mostar, we realize that expat events are organized in bigger cities, like Shanghai, Suzhou and Sarajevo. But taking time and effort to attend those events helped us to get connected and build friendships. Friends do not always have to live around the corner – spending a weekend in Suzhou to meet our friends there was actually a nice getaway from Changshu.
5) Keep investing in the new relationships you have built. Friendships take time to blossom, and they need your attention and time. Don’t be shy to reach out to people who you have met once and invite them out again and again. Especially when you are new in town, you might be the one investing a bit more in the relationship at first. This is not necessarily a sign of lack of interest from the other person or disturbing dis-balance in the relationship. It just means you are more active building a new life for yourself.
The beauty of expat life is that you get to build friendships all over the world, friends who also love to come and visit you in your new place. Which, even when you do not see each other regularly, can really deepen and strengthen a friendship.
And so, we have happily welcomed our first visitor from the Netherlands, Daan, last weekend. Being able to show family and friends our new life here is something we missed in the past 2 years, and very much part of feeling that you are, indeed, home.