I have found that very often there is this culture amongst cross-cultural workers that frowns upon socializing with other expats. Although there obviously needs to be a balance, I have found this idea quite flawed. We often tell ourselves “we are here to die to self, and embrace this new culture”, forgoing any ideas of comfort that come with “home”. We leave a meeting with a friend who is also a foreigner almost disappointed with ourselves because that time was not spent with locals.
STOP IT! This unspoken “rule” of letting go of everything in the past is plain ridiculous and downright impossible. Living in a new country is difficult, regardless of how close it is to your own culture. If your goal is to reach locals, yes, we need to not spend ALL our time with other expats. However, we need to build our strength and foundation. Often times, that comes with relationships of those who are like-minded and understand the cross-cultural struggle. I can vent to my local friends all day about culture-stress and the struggles of living in a culture I do not understand, but at the end of the day, they will not be able to relate or understand why it is difficult unless they themselves have lived in another country for an extended amount of time. Looking back, although I tried, I could not relate to my MK and TCK friends at all after having lived just in America, not even moving States to a slightly different culture.
Any person who has not lived abroad simply cannot relate to these specific hardships, including those in the country you live in. And that is okay! They have so many other gifts and blessings they can pour into and share with you! However, having friends who are in the same season of life and understand the push and pull that culture shock brings, the extreme emotions and experiences, is a blessing beyond belief. In addition, you can interact with others from various companies who have a different method of impacting the community that you can learn and expand from! I have found it such a blessing to interact with people with the same heart for North Africans. Those who have been here longer and can explain how my brain gathers information differently, help me learn how to communicate in a way that speaks to the hearts of the people here rather than Westerners. Those who are also in the middle of entry-level culture shock can cry with me when the weight of the calling sits heavy on my shoulders.
Once again, if you are called to work with locals, do not remain in the comfortable of other workers who speak your native language and think the same. Continually push yourself out of your comfort zone into the unknown and the beauty of a different culture. At the same time, when you feel alone, give yourself the grace to interact with people who can relate. The idea that we can only interact with locals is a fabricate lie that the enemy places in our minds. I have found that if you actually speak to those around you, especially those who have been overseas for decades, will all tell you that you need expat friends to survive long-term, let alone in your current reality. These people who chose to pack up and move their lives, like us, will be your friend for a life-time. No time or distance can break the bond you will have with these beautiful people.