Moving abroad may be quite challenging. There are so many things to learn, to understand, nearly to re-build your life and integrate into the new society.
Basically, the successful integration involves two moves: * to blend in with the new society + * to preserve its own origins.
Building a social circle and searching for a support definitely, helps to integrate into a new country. It may sound counterintuitive at first sight, but connecting to your compatriots or other expats could be very beneficial for you and your further integration.
These are the people who went through the same process of expatriation, as you are doing now. Moreover, they might have the same cultural background as you do. So who can understand you as a migrant better, than your compatriot or other fellow expats? In a nutshell, you are in the same boat.
Many years ago, gathering together with compatriots abroad was almost essential for the “survival”. The community of compatriots carried out multiple important functions: finding a first job, renting a house or apartment, sharing food, giving advice and tips about the new country etc. So one of the first things to do when arriving in a new country was searching for people of the same origin.
Today, the situation is not the same anymore, the people can find jobs remotely and many are moving abroad having at hand a work contract. The same goes for the studies, where students can register to the university and arrange a lot of formalities before they actually move abroad. Even if a person arrives in a new country spontaneously, it is much easier to find most of the necessary information online.
Nowadays, people don’t need the compatriots for the so-called “survival” in a new country, but the same community of compatriots plays a new role. Firstly, it helps to deal with the feeling that you are a stranger abroad (even if the intensity of such a feeling differs largely from the hosting country). And secondly, such community serves as the main transmitter of your culture.
Which benefits do I get when connecting to compatriots or other expats?
Learning from experience of others
Keeping the social contact to the people who share your origins helps you to feel more confident and self-aware. These people are the ones who can not only understand better than anyone the experiences you are going through when setting up in a new country. These are also the people who are facing the similar challenges. Moreover, with the help of the others, you can avoid numerous mistakes, that most of the newcomers make. You can get a quicker grasp of how the “new” system works and, thus, significantly simplify your daily life.
There are so many things to share in such a community. The exchange of traditions, customs, food recipes, movies, books, addresses where they sell products from your homeland…
It all helps to re-discover yourself and to enrich your culture. Let’s say you didn’t care too much about the folk music from your native country or didn’t appreciate enough your local cuisine. Well, it can easily turn out, that through the community of compatriots you’ll get a fresh view on your culture, (re-)awaken the curiosity to your own country.
When you are not using the language, you are gradually losing the grasp of it. Even if you moved abroad as an adult, your language literacy and eloquence can degrade in no time. Communicating with people who speak your language helps to prevent this, especially if you combine it with reading the books written in your language.
More than that, when moving abroad with kids, as parents, we want them to preserve their language. For example, meeting compatriots enables families to organize playdates for kids.
Meet-ups help to build a community, and the community multiplies the benefits of the connection to your origins. Together you can organize trips to the places related to your home. Or why not promoting and introducing your culture to the country you live in? You can plan a thematic dinner to share the national dishes or to celebrate your national holidays. Or what about organizing a musical band, playing national musical instruments, folk dance club, etc.? The ideas for cooperation are countless.
Testimony from Carlos from Mexico who organized a musical band playing prehispanic music with his compatriots in Germany:
“I am a grandchild of indigenous grandparents, I grew up in a culture that although is not unique, but has a lot of things to show, among them are music, instruments, dance, poetry. When I interpret and people listen to me, I feel being a part of Mexico, of its culture that transcends. But I also think that when this nation (Germans) is interested in what I do, they accept diversity, value and appreciate what is being done beyond its frontiers.”
So how do we find each other?
You can already find in the KITnDO directory addresses of some local associations related to your origin(s) and also join KITnDO Facebook Group. We also made a list of some ideas on how to find and to connect with compatriots abroad.
1) Web platforms that have physical meetups in several countries/cities
2) Virtual groups (including social media)
– Facebook groups of people sharing the same culture or language
3) Local culture centers/museums/libraries
- Ones created and managed by embassies/official institutions (for example Albertine, Czech Center, Institut Français …)
- Or independent, private, institutions (FIAF, The Czech Center Museum Houston, etc.)
4) Associations (cultural, educational, sport, etc.)
Are you keeping in touch with people sharing your origins? If yes, then what’s your favorite way to connect with other expats/compatriots?
Written by Maria Migalina