Why expats need local friends

It is easy for expats, especially in a country that speaks another language, to form friendships with other expats. While fellow expats can be enormously supportive and fun, if you want to really understand your new home, it is also important to befriend locals in your host country.

One place I am especially fond of is Turkey. It is somewhere that I quickly felt, and continue to feel, at ease. I am indebted to my Turkish friends for their help during my time in Turkey, especially at the beginning. I was young when I first fell in love with the country and I was clueless about Turkish culture and knew nothing of the language when I arrived.

Learn to communicate

I have always believed that if you can communicate with people everything you want to do can be achieved more easily. My Turkish friends were not only encouraging when I embarked upon my mission to learn Turkish, they were endlessly patient as I butchered their language with my dodgy pronunciation and sometime dreadful mistakes. They did nothing but gently correct me and laugh with me about whatever terrible erroneous declaration I had made. 

Some friends refer to me as the Turkish-English girl on account of my passion for the place and accumulation over time of various Turkish habits. Others shared with me a passion for scuba diving. One friend warns his friends that I understand Turkish (so goodness knows what they normally talk about). With my Turkish friends that speak other languages, we have fun communicating in a mixture of those languages. Everyone enjoys laughing at my mistakes (and then correcting them).

Understand cultural differences

Simply spending time with and observing local friends helps expats acquire a better understanding of local norms and culture. From deciphering public service announcements (indecipherable to the foreign ear), enjoying traditions around local public holidays, and even understanding beliefs and a religion different to your own, are all things I have been introduced to, or had explained to me, by generous local friends.

Were it not for my friends I am sure I would be less capable in Turkish and therefore also feel less at home in Turkey. Of course, I also had lots of friends who were expats themselves and they played a huge role in my life there too, but it is my Turkish friends who I have to thank for encouraging me to learn their language, appreciate their culture and ultimately love their country.

Who made a difference to your experiences overseas?


  • Steve

    You know what’s crazy is that I’m moving to Morocco for two months soon and one of my goals is to become friends with a lot of the locals. I think that would be a great way to get to know the city really well and figure out some cool spots other travelers might not know about.

    I made friends with a local in Costa Rica who told me about a free hot springs the locals go to. The funny thing is that it’s right across the street from a fancy hot springs place where they charge a boatload of money.
    My recent post 5 Things You Should Be Able to Say Before You Die


    Really love this topic. The importance of gaining relationships is so often overlooked when people are preparing to move or travel abroad. Being an expat can be a pretty lonely experience if you don’t connect with those living in your new country that you have expatriated to. Getting to know the locals is really vital to gaining the best you can out of a move abroad experience. Also, there are a lot of expat meetup groups out there, which must be a great help for finding those who are going through similar situations. Anyway, really great topic! Thanks for writing about this!

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