Creating friendships when moving OCONUS

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Creating friendships when moving OCONUS

by Stacie L. Biancardi
Stripes Europe

You’ve done it! You’ve successfully PCS’d to an OCONUS location. You’ve secured housing, acclimated to your surroundings and now are starting to begin the adventure. Now, you need to create your community. No military assignment is complete without creating relationships with either residents of your host nation or other families assigned to your location. Establishing positive friendships is an important part of resiliency and improves our mental health. However, making friends—especially in an intercultural setting—can be overwhelming. So, how to start? Read these tips below on how to foster friendships at your new duty station overseas.

Anxiety and uncertainty are normal. First, recognize that starting up conversations with new people, essentially strangers, can be difficult. Everyone feels some anxiety when it comes to getting to know people. These feelings of uncertainty are increased when the encounter occurs in an intercultural setting or outside of our own country. No one is exactly sure how to take the conversation from, “Guten Tag,” “Hallo” or “Hi!” to, “Let’s grab a coffee tomorrow!” Becoming extra aware of cultural differences can create hesitancy in initiating conversations and relationships. Keep in mind, you aren’t the only one feeling this way. Chances are, the “stranger” does too!

Try to manage the anxiety and uncertainty. If you allow your anxiety about the potential encounter to overwhelm you, you’ll miss the possibility of a beneficial friendship or relationship. So, to lower your anxiety, do some research ahead of time to understand more about the cultures of your new location. The more you know and understand, the less cultural differences will confuse you and lead to doubt. Reduce uncertainty by asking simple questions. Try asking another military member, “How long have you lived here?” or “Is this your first overseas assignment?” For locals, similar questions will work, “Have you always lived in Germany?” or “Are you originally from this area?” Being curious and using questions as conversation starters is a great way to ease into chats.

Embrace language opportunities. Recognize that English isn’t everyone’s first language. Communicating in a language other than your primary one can be difficult, but it is worthwhile to show respect and enthusiasm for new cultures by learning a few words. Simply teaching yourself how to say good morning, hello, excuse me or thank you, in your host nation’s language goes a long way towards creating a comfortable conversation with others. You’ll be amazed what a difference it makes when you simply try! 

Find your commonalities. When meeting new people, what is often most noticeable are our differences. To create a friendship, however, we have to find our similarities. Thankfully, we are often more alike than different! Look for things you may have in common, such as the drink you’ve both ordered, the cafe you both frequent or the enjoyment of a similar sport. Military families often find they’ve been assigned to the same duty station at some point, or they’ve lived somewhere in common. Finding these shared experiences can help the conversation to flow and help us further reduce our initial concerns.

Keep an open mind. When meeting new people, it is important to recognize we may not share similar perspectives or views. Be open to learning about new outlooks. You may be surprised what you discover. Something as simple as discovering someone eats their French fries with mayo as opposed to ketchup may be just the thing to keep your day interesting.

The effort required to engage in new relationships and begin friendships is more than worth it for the benefits these encounters can bring. If you remind yourself that everyone feels nervous, ask easy questions, seek out similarities and stay flexible, you’ll set yourself up for success! Get out there today and create your community!

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