Note from Shasta: This is a guest blog from... (drum roll please).... my little sister, Katrina Emery! She's a fabulously talented writer (see her blog link in the bio at the end) and her experiences going from having tons of friends in Portland to knowing no one after a recent move overseas are feelings we all know well!
In April this year, my husband was accepted to study at the University of Amsterdam in Netherlands, a long way from our hometown of Portland, Oregon, USA. We packed up and arrived here in August, quickly falling in love with this city of canals, looping bridges, water, and bikes.
Jesse and I have been here for two months now, and I can sputter a sentence out in Dutch, find my way without a map, rattle off my favorite cafes, and giggle if someone confuses a coffeeshop for a cafe (coffeeshops serve the stuff you don't tell your boss you tried). I've developed a taste for gouda and Dutch gin. I've almost mastered the graceful bike dismount. I judge tourists that stand in the middle of the bike path.
I haven't made any good friends.
Shasta likes to point out the health risks of being lonely and not having local friends, and while she means for it to motivate us, usually it just scares me. Great. I can't speak the language and I'm going to die young. It's a lot of pressure! We're only here for a year, and we're already two months in. That leaves only 10 months to find a friend, get to know her, have the time of our lives, and cement best friend status before I leave next summer. Ideally, she would have family in Sweden and invite me over for a Scandinavian Christmas celebration where we would eat homemade food, drink mulled wine, learn to say "cheers," laugh, knit big sweaters, and have that long happy movie-montage moment. I've got it all planned out.
While walking around a few weeks ago, I saw a girl that seemed nice. She was sitting on the steps in the sun, reading. Possibly Swedish. I went through the scenario in my mind: "I see you're reading. I like to read. May I sit by you? And could we be friends?"
I kept walking. Sweden for Christmas seemed a bit further away.
Another option was a girl I'd met in Portland, who, of all things, was also moving to Amsterdam so her husband could study. It was meant to be, I knew it. When we arrived and felt settled, I sent her an email....and never heard back. "Maybe she didn't see the email. Maybe she's just busy right now. Maybe she's preparing a surprise party for me," I told myself, thinking about the likelihood of pinatas at the party. Then my husband said, "Maybe she's just not that into you." Oh. Right.
Not having friends just doesn't fit in my plan of being here. I'm here to create solid friendships with people who live all over Europe, thus ensuring free places to stay and awesome company for all my future travels. And I've got those all planned out, too, along with my weekly meals and what restaurants I'd like to try in town. A friendship is just one more thing that fits into that plan, right? Not so far. And imagining it hasn't helped yet.
So instead of dreaming, I'm trying to relax. I'm trying to stop counting down the months, worrying about the health risks of being lonely, and instead enjoy my time here, the people and friends I do have, and all those Belgian beers that I get to try. While I do that, I'm trying to smile, be friendly, and talk to people without worrying about what they think of my mono-language upbringing.
Instead of sitting at home planning, I'll get out there more. I'll rely on time, happy coincidences, repeated invitations, and slightly lower expectations. Maybe I won't find a best friend, but I could find someone who'll show me the best Indonesian restaurant in town, or help improve my Dutch vocabulary, or admire Van Gogh paintings with me. And those are the things, amazingly, that are slowly happening in between the time I spend planning.
Just yesterday as Jesse and I were sitting in a cafe, our table-neighbors heard us speaking English and struck up a conversation. They're from Montreal, and visit Amsterdam every year. We're going out for a drink with them later in the week.
And two weeks ago, I forced myself to go to an expat hiking group. I had almost backed out due to nerves and feeling shy, but it turned out to be a beautiful day, and I met a lovely couple from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Which is pretty close to Sweden.
Not that I'm planning or anything.
Katrina Emery enjoys writing, traveling, cooking, sewing, and riding her bike. Currently she is doing all those things, Dutch-style, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. You can find her musings on her blog at The Penny Farthing.