In the past, I have explained the importance of befriending locals (in my case, French people!) during your time abroad, instead of only clinging to your group of expat friends. I still agree with this wholeheartedly. Not only does it enrich your overall experience as an expat, but I firmly believe that integrating with locals of your adopted country gives a deeper and more meaningful first-hand experience with language and culture. It also leaves you with life-long friends, helpful tips and hits when combating the bureaucracy, and a reason, one day, to return.
However, with that being said, I would not be a successful expat without the help and support of other expats. Studies show that people gravitate towards those with whom they share similar interests. Being expats in France, whether it be as students, assistants, lecteurs, or just working abroad, it’s normal to want to befriend and connect with people from your own culture or shared language, if only to exchange stories and experiences about living in your adopted country over a glass of red wine.
And really, sometimes (or most of the time), expats just GET IT.
My transition from assistante to lectrice, from the south of France to the north, would not have gone as smoothly as it has if it hadn’t been for the support and genuine kindness from my fellow expats– many of whom I had never met in person. For example; the fellow bloggers and tweeters I have connected with solely based on our past experiences in France, and therefore with whom I almost automatically became friends; the fellow American expat who answered ALL my questions, who set me up with a place to stay until I found one of my own, and met up for coffee with me for the first time when we were both stateside; the British and Brazilian expats who took me in for more than three weeks without knowing me at all, and then without hesitating, welcomed me into their friendship circles; the expats and Frenchies alike who did not hesitate to invite me out for drinks, dinners, and excursions around the region, only knowing me through the words of this blog or the filtered, happy-go-lucky version of my life on social media.
These same expats are the ones who helped me when I had everything– and I mean everything, stolen from me last weekend in a Brussels metro station. My passport, along with my new visa, 3 credit cards, (a little) money, my Wisconsin driver’s license, my carte jeune… all taken from my purse in a mere two seconds. It was an expat who called his friend in Brussels to meet and give me, a complete stranger, some money, so that I could cross the border and get back home to France. It was the same expat whom I had met once in the states and just twice in France, who scanned and emailed me all of my documents at a moment’s notice so that I could safely and successfully fill out a police report. It was an expat who gave me advice about where to go next, and how to get the resources I needed in order to fix the whole sans papiers problem as soon as possible, even though we had only met once in person before. It has been expats who have lent me money while my accounts are unreachable, and who have listened to me cry, complain, laugh, and just vent, as I combat la bureaucratie française and attempt to fix this problem. It has been expats who have withheld judgement or various condescending, victim-blaming comments, and instead offer words of encouragement and support, including, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
Losing all of my papers has really helped me to profoundly appreciate the importance of relationships and friendships among fellow expats. It’s not always going to be your family members or your best friends from home who are going to be able to be at your side, but sometimes instead, fellow strangers with whom you share a common experience. The expats of the ch’nord have truly been a life-savers over the past week, and I often as a result find myself at a loss for words over the sheer kindness of these strangers whom have become fast friends. I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of maintaining and cherishing these relationships.