In this blog, I’ll explore everything I loved about being part of an expat community. If you want to read up on everything I didn’t like, head on over to Part 3 after (or before, or instead of. I’m not your boss).
Disclaimer: The things I’ve written here, as well as what I’ve written in Parts 1 and 3, are my own personal experiences and my own personal take on the expat community. You might have your own experiences that either made you love or hate your expat community (or if you’re not in an expat community gave you a bit of insight to the good and the bad), and that’s fine too. These are my own beliefs and experiences, and in no way abdicate whether or not anyone else should start or join an expat community.
There are quite a few pros to joining and engaging with an expat community. I joined a LINE group with expats working in my company under the guise that it was meant to be a safe place to ask questions or give advice. I also thought it would be a great place to post information on get-togethers or fun activities happening in or around our area.
After about eight months, I left the group chat and only engaged with a few of the people in it in private chats. We’ll get to those reasons later, but for now I want to go over what I liked about the group and what the pros of being in the group were. Here’s a quick summary of the good things this group had to offer:
- Feeling connected
- Help when needed
- Sense of belonging
- A place to vent
- Easier understanding
Expat communities help you feel connected. You might not be at a level where you can communicate effectively with your coworkers, neighbors, or strangers, but you can find a sense of camaraderie amongst fellow expats. Hopefully there are a few people in your group who have lived in Japan for quite some time who can give you pointers to branching out and enjoying your time in Japan without the crutch of only engaging with other foreigners.
Even if you’re not yet comfortable trying to make connections with natives, there are fun events that most expat communities either host or know about that you can join in on. Sometimes these events have bilingual natives that you can form a language exchange with, or you can meet other expats that might have an interest in learning the language with you.
Though I’m not one for social events, I had a lot of fun getting to meet other people at a company BBQ during my second year living in Japan. It was fun and interesting to meet people at different stages of living their lives abroad. Some had been in Japan for only a short while, while others had many years under their belt. I had grown so used to my own expat community that I forgot there were others nearby that I could also reach out to if needed.
Help When Needed
If you’ve ever receiving a bill or ticket in a foreign language, you’ve probably experienced the initial freakout. Even after you put everything into Google translate, you’re still confused! That’s when your community can help. Either by having more experience or a better grasp on the native language, there are many within an expat community you can turn to for help. No one wants to miss a payment or get into trouble because they couldn’t read a bill properly.
Having a larger expat group means that help can get to you faster than ever. Some people are busy, others just don’t look at their phones or computers often, and some are almost never looking anywhere but their phone. By being in a large expat group, you have a sort of helpline always on call in case you ever need it.
Feeling stuck in the job that brought you to your current country of residence? Wondering what else there is out there for someone in your position? Chances are that people within your expat community have either already been down that road or have at least researched this information for themselves. If you’re looking to change careers or just move up your company’s ladder, many in your expat community will have advice, tips and tricks, and (hopefully) kind words to encourage you to move forward.
As there were a few senior members in my expat group, I would reach out to them personally if I had a question or issue that I felt they could give me better advice in. I’m sure that others in the group might have had similar questions or concerns, but I didn’t want to throw my questions into the pit of novice and senior expats alike and watch them tear them apart. By having several senior members in our group, I had a better outlet to seek out guidance whenever I needed it.
Community is something that many people need in their daily lives. Saw something funny online or in real life that you think others would find funny? If it’s relevant to being an expat – like showing a picture of a large bug and saying “They’re not this big where I come from!” – then you always have the option of sharing it with others. Many expat communities also share memes and other irrelevant pictures and comments; it all depends on your group’s preferences in regards to off-topic information.
One of the members in my expat group would often post short stories of something funny (and usually relevant) that had happened to him that week. Sometimes it was something as simple as forgetting his change at a store and having the clerk run out after him to return it, and sometimes his stories were more of lessons for those who hadn’t had as much experience in the country. Words of advice and wisdom are a welcome exchange, and make expats feel more connected to their community of fellow foreigners.
Sense of Belonging
Being a foreigner can make you feel like an oddity or side-show attraction. You might not be familiar with your new country’s current events, politics, or anything else that would make you feel connected to the natives. Even your appearance might make you feel isolated and separated from the natives. Having an expat community allows one to feel that there is indeed somewhere that they belong, or at least somewhere they can be themselves. It’s comforting to know that there are people out there that you can talk to, whether it’s venting, raving, or ranting about all the new things you might not know or understand.
Even though there are a fair amount of expats who move to another country because they love the feeling of standing out, everyone needs to feel like they’re a part of something every now and then. Even if you think you don’t fit in with the community of natives around you, there’s always the group of expats who can accept you as one of their own.
A Place to Vent
Transitions to living in a new country are never easy, and there’s likely to be a few setbacks along the way. Having an expat community means that you have a willing audience to rant to about anything and everything. Person looked at you funny because your language skills aren’t perfect? Someone made a rude gesture or treated you differently because your a foreigner? It took you forty minutes to figure out how to use your washing machine? You’ll always have a sympathetic ear or two to gripe at within your expat community.
Venting is a great way to relieve stress, but can have some negative effects on others in your group. There’s one particular person that used to comment frequently in my expat group who never had a nice thing to say, and seemingly never had a good day while living in Japan. While I’m sure that their life wasn’t 100% horrible and terrible, the only time I ever heard them say something positive was when they wished us all luck and thanked us for listening and being supportive before leaving the group and the country. Hopefully their attitude has improved, but my only memory of that person is that they hated just about everyone and everything in Japan.
Finally, the amount of knowledge within an expat community is only limited by its members. If you join one of the better expat communities either online or in-person, hopefully your circle of foreigners will have a few senior members who have ‘been there done that’, so to speak. Even if your group is comprised of relatively new expats, you can always learn, grow, and support one another through your journeys.
One of the most daunting things I had to do when I started working in a foreign country was trying to figure out how to solve problems without the aid of my immediate coworkers. I didn’t know how to word certain situations, or if my problems were ones that only I was experiencing. I felt mortified at the thought of asking a Japanese coworker, “Should I write my name on my umbrella so no one else takes it?”
For one thing, my Japanese coworkers might not understand where I’m coming from with my questions or why I’m asking them in the first place. To them, such things might seem like common sense. To me, it was all new and confusing. Instead of embarrassing myself, I could quickly message my group, wait for a response or two, and then put their advice into action. To this day I still keep in contact with a senior member of my first expat group in case I have a question or concern that I don’t think will either translate well or be taken the right way.
I’m happy that I was a part of an expat group for as long as I was. It opened my eyes to being able to solve problems on my own, connect with other people, and figure out what I want to do with my life while living and working in Japan. Having the guidance and support of others who had either walked in my shoes before or were taking those first steps with me with a valuable experience that I hope others find just as useful as I did.
If you want more information about expat communities, how to get into one, and how they function, check out
As an endnote, I hope that all the things I don’t particularly like about being in an expat group found in
don’t deter people from at least trying and participating in a group. I’m hopeful that others will have much more success than I did!