Ten years ago, I saw my move from Australia to Malaysia as more a leap of faith than a risky gamble. I’d spent time in Malaysia on business and on holiday over the years, so had some idea of what to expect but I knew that actually living there would be a whole lot different to a short stay.
Economically and politically I knew Malaysia to be safe and I knew that it had a super-low crime rate, so personal safety wasn’t an issue either. I was more concerned with making friends because I knew that the social aspects of our adopted homeland were what would keep us interested.
So, two months before we left Sydney, I joined every social group on the web that I could find for our new home of Penang Island. I wanted to actually see what was happening there socially so that I could get a feel for what expats were doing in their downtime.
What I found was a rich social culture, where you could be as involved—or not—as you wanted to be.
The first year that we were here, we attended the St Patrick’s Day Ball—one of the more popular events on the island. I remember sitting there as a newbie thinking, “There are 1,000 people here that I don’t know. How amazing!” That’s a lot of potential new friends in one room, with everyone in the mood to chat…and party.
Joining The Penang Sports Club—where the facilities range from a swimming pool to a casino—also played a big part in helping us make new friends and settle in easily. As new members, Lisa and I were welcomed like old friends. The members are a mix of locals and expats and we all share common interests. Getting to know everyone has been so much fun and you’ll never want for a tennis partner here.
Most, if not all of the countries that you are thinking of moving to will have clubs and associations that you can join online and get a feel for before you move. What surprised me before we moved was that I would sit at home in Sydney looking at what was taking place in Penang. The more I watched, the more I could see I was missing out on… Beach barbecues, art gallery openings, exhibitions and expat mingles were all taking place without us. We couldn’t wait to get there and join in the fun.
And no matter your interest, you’ll find a likeminded soul here. Recently I met up with some expat friends at a dinner party. Among them were Jacques and Sharon who made the move to Penang from Canada. They sold up back home and moved here sight unseen. I asked Sharon if expat life in Penang was living up to her expectations. “Tenfold”, she replied.
Jacques is an avid birdwatcher and one of his main concerns was finding a group of birdwatchers here that would show him the jungle ropes. Within a week of arriving, he had not only found that group, but been warmly welcomed by them
Wherever you choose to move to and whatever your passion, you’ll find it easy to make friends… so long as you make a little effort. My best advice? Say “Yes” to everything. Attend every event going—wine tastings… book launches… bridge classes… pub quiz nights… We even attended French film nights even though we don’t speak French—and enjoy yourself!
The other great thing is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything to stretch your wings as a social butterfly. There are loads of social clubs and organisations in every country around the world that you can sign up to and get involved with, without having to spend a penny.
So, get out there and get connected. Just by the very nature of being an expat you’ll find you already have a lot in common with the fellow world-wanderers you meet. And don’t underestimate the importance of making friends. For us they’ve been the piece of the puzzle that completed the picture of our dream life overseas.