Moving abroad is challenging for a variety of reasons, one of which is making new friends.
I was really worried about this as I planned my move to Iceland. The only other big move I’d made was for university, where it’s relatively easy to make friends. I’m also an introvert, and putting myself out there does not come naturally.
Luckily, the expat community in Iceland is very much alive and thriving. Many people from Europe, America, and around the world come here to study, work, or live. I’ve also found Icelanders of my generation to be very welcoming. And there is one place where it seems everyone in Iceland comes together: Facebook.
I realized early in planning my move that Facebook was really helpful. I wanted to provide my new workplace with a realistic estimate of how long the visa process would take, so I joined an expat Facebook group and contacted several other Americans who had moved to Iceland. I continued talking to a few of them once I arrived, and was invited into several Facebook groups. I also did some research on meetup groups, which seemed to mostly happen via Facebook. Sensing a trend here?
I soon realized that the key to getting anything done in Iceland was to join a Facebook group. There are groups for everything: expats, expats from specific countries, travel, job postings, property rentals, items for sale, events, equestrian gear, Northern Lights alerts… the list is endless. I’m a member of over 20 Facebook groups, some of which have thousands of members. The largest has over 85,000 members — almost a third of the population.
These groups are also a great way to make friends. One of the Americans living here who I’d been in contact with before moving invited me to Girl Gone International (GGI), a meetup group for young expat women. The Icelandic branch of GGI hosts once-a-month meetings in coffee shops or bars around Reykjavik. The events are low key and easy to attend. I’ve gone to several other expat meetups, and they’re sometimes incredibly awkward. I felt comfortable at GGI, and have made several really good friends through this organization.
Through a different Facebook group — the very large and sometimes temperamental Away From Home Living in Iceland — I ended up leasing a horse here. I’ve met some great people through the stable where I ride, as well as found a hobby that keeps me busy and sane during the dark winter months.
However, I’ve also learned that friendships don’t happen overnight. I would say it took me 3–6 months to form a few deep friendships. And making expat friends has its own challenges. Expats are often not permanently in one place, so sometimes you make friends with other expats only to say goodbye a few months later. Others have been here for a long time and already have set friend groups, so it can hard to work your way in. My introverted nature also means I’m not the type to be out and about all the time meeting new people.
But I’ve been here for over a year now and have formed strong friendships and friend groups. I have such a variety of friends I could never have imagined in my U.S. life, including people from the U.K., Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Denmark, Americans from a variety of states, and more.
Friends are important for friendship’s sake, but having good friends also helps ground you in the place where you live. I learn about Iceland and Icelandic culture from my Icelandic friends, including naming traditions and national holidays. We also have interesting discussions about living here versus living in other countries, and I view my own culture entirely differently than I did before moving here.
For me, joining Facebook groups has been a great way to meet friends and gain a foothold in society. I keep my eye on property rentals, community events, used stuff for sale, and many other things in these groups. I’ve found some amazing opportunities and great friends, too.
And I can’t wait to see what happens next on my expat adventure.