This is something I frequently thought about back home and before moving away. I think it’s on a lot of people’s minds once school is finished but most of us in our late 20s feel too self-conscious to admit it. I was so happy when one of my favourite writers, Heather Havrilesky, recently broached the topic, saying that eventually, you realize it’s no big deal to want to make new friends.
Here in Astana, and more specifically, at the university, it’s especially no big deal to make pals, to the point where you’d have to be purposely isolating yourself to not have any. I think there are three reasons for this:
- It’s far easier to move to extremely unknown territory than somewhere foreign to you but known to many. With few exceptions, generally foreigners who move here have never been here before, didn’t know much about the area prior to arrival, and know little to no Russian. Everyone is in the same boat, or was so recently, that they are happy to help out the newcomers.
- Academia. You’re still in school, just in a different department. Hello new school friends!
- You’re among like-minded people. There are plenty of people here who are adventurous, social, and a little crazy in their own way (everyone has to be to come here). In other words, cool folks to hang out with.
Though it’s easy to make friends among this funny pool of people, these are some things that I noticed helped smooth the transition:
Say yes to every invite initially. You meet new people, get to know who you share similar interests with, and do things you would never normally do. If it turns out to be something you weren’t that interested in after all, what did you lose? What would you have done instead? I would probably not go over to someone’s house to watch an American football game back home, but here I am actually looking forward to it.
Put yourself out there. Kind of. I had to meet with a professor my first Friday in Astana, and when I emailed him later in the day I ended with, “Have a great weekend!” hoping that my underlying subtext would clearly show: “Have a good weekend! *WINK WINK*. Like, want to hang out, maybe?” It worked and now we’re friends.
Sports. I used to hate playing all sports (except badminton). A few years back I decided I wanted to get over my fear and I joined a recreational soccer league, which I eventually came to enjoy and now I play soccer with faculty here once or twice a week. Of course it’s nice to be good at a sport but it doesn’t actually matter. I’m still mostly terrible.
Pro tip: this isn’t possible in KZ, but in other places, if you’re a lady, join a gay men’s soccer league and enjoy the accompanying (non-sports related) self-esteem boost.
Be yourself. Terrifically cheesy but true! My default when I’m feeling shy or nervous is to be overly deferential and polite. You might think you’re coming off as easygoing but it’s actually like hanging out with a sack of potatoes on two legs.
I’m glad I had a few years’ experience before coming here because I used to especially be like this in professional situations. It took me a while to realize that it’s better to have a personality at work and workplaces generally pay you in part to make decisions and have informed opinions.
Do your own thing still. One of the first things I bought here was a bike and I went out bike riding on my own until I found out that a few people get together to bike on the steppe every weekend. It’s now one of my favourite things to do here.
You may have noticed I’ve only referenced socializing with expats. Locals are all very friendly here and I really like my Kazakh co-workers. But the average salary, age of marriage, and age of having children are lower in KZ, so the opportunity to hang out doesn’t come up as often.
So there you have it!
My soccer team from back home: Pink Ladies, HAYYYYYY!