Creating Community and Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone: An Expat Guide
Well, hey! Y'all miss me? So, some good news: I made it back from America in arguably one piece, doing amazingly well on every plane I boarded, probably thanks in large part to sharing my flight anxiety with all of you. I didn't self-combust or have any large panic attacks, but I did get chatty with a couple of flight attendants and hold a few grounding stones. (Okay, I may have also listened to an exorbitant amount of Hillsong music and chanting, but I digress. Whatever works. I surrender to the flow, or something.)
Moments before takeoff to much warmer pastures, it started snowing here in Lithuania and I understood that I was, once again, heading seasonally backward. Fall in Vilnius, fall in Heidelberg, fall in Vienna, fall in America. That's a lot of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, people! And sure, it was amazing to feel the warm sun on my skin at Barton Springs, drink dirty horchatas, sell my soul for corn tortillas (10 outta 10!), traipse my home beach, imprint my spirit with graceful Spanish Moss...
But of course, the best part was sharing these experiences with family and friends, people I've spent years cultivating emotionally fulfilling connections with, especially in my most recent stint in Texas. There was one repeating refrain in most of my conversations with friends who have been following my adventures here in Lithuania: "Wow, it really seems like you've created a great community of friends over there in Lithuania. How did you do it!?" It's true - with the intense beam of reflection and distance between us, I nearly burst into tears sharing photos and videos of my Lithuania friends. I recognized what I have - to my core.
How did I get here?
It's no secret that as you get older, it can feel harder to make friends. Add moving to an entirely new continent on top of that, and you've got yourself a date with a vision board. (Manifest that shit in!) According to a study by scientists at Kansas University, it takes, and I quote, “roughly 50 hours of time together to move from mere acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to go from that stage to simple ‘friend’ status, and more than 200 hours before you can consider someone your close friend.” ... Well, that sure explains some of it. Speaking of scientists, there are a few here that I spend a whole lot of time with, people I quickly got past initial vulnerabilities with who now intimately know about some of my darkest times from back home - and they celebrate my wins. In short, they're my poop friends. I straight-up missed them when I was in America.
Much like The Scientist, these people completely accept my weird hippie tendencies, are incredibly authentic in their own right, and can get down with some dumb Riff Trax movies or road trips. As an artist who previously socialized with and dated mostly artists, musicians, and yogis, I now fully surrender to the fact that my scientist friends are some of the coolest, most down-to-Earth humans I know. Unsuspectingly awesome. But I have wider circles even beyond this, I realize, thanks to continuing to dip my toe into friend dating. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've seen my ups and downs with friend dating in a new country, but I've settled into a good (and adaptable!) groove.
More than anything, I've gained a lot here by continuing to step out of my comfort zone, creating safe spaces for myself to be open and honest (hi, women's circle and ecstatic dance!), attending Girl Gone International events that strike my fancy, and meeting new people via our Lithuanian courses. I also really love our new motorcycle neighbors who have straight up told us to come over any time for a drink - and they mean it! Those are the impromptu connections I crave.
Photo by my sweet friend Kristina at a Vilnius Girl Gone International Event at Eskedar Coffee Bar. Yep, that's me in the Nirvana shirt!
While I don't have three to five tidy, clean processes to give you this go 'round, I do have a few thoughts based off my April manifesto, which I'll remind you of below:
I follow through with my commitments.
I use these commitments to cultivate meaningful relationships.
I say yes to creating new moments with new and old friends.
I let things and people go that aren't meant for me.
As an expat, I welcome both change and stability.
The Girl Gone International community has been especially useful in this sense. It's incredibly hard to push myself out the door to attend these events comprised of internationals and internationally-minded Lithuanians. Given how close I live to a magical forest and my affinity for alone time, I consider it a success if I even show up. (Truth!) But I think I've found my sweet spot for the types of GGI events I feel happiest in: coffee shops, potlucks, smaller groups, a lively and peaceful vibe. Every event gets me out of my comfort zone, charging me with adrenaline and accomplishment - and we're all there thanks to one huge shared experience.
Most of all, I've learned to stay open and remain patient. Just because you attend an event and it left you feeling a bit drained (been there!), it doesn't mean you won't find your people. Think smaller if you have to. There are always more people to meet, people who want to know the real you. Create your own community for people to feel safe in, if you have the energy. (Side note: thanks to my Austin community, I always close my monthly circle with a shared song, and this seems to be a memorable moment for all attendees. Maybe there's something to singing together!) Don't be afraid to show up and be flexible. Allow fresh life in - acquaintances, people with good hearts, friends to braid challah with or drink masala chai with.
That's how I'm continuing to create meaningful friendships here in Lithuania: with purpose. You don't have to leave it up to chance, and you don't have to tire yourself out.
Walk with purpose into every connection you make, whether it lasts a week or your whole life. One of the biggest blessings of moving to Lithuania for me has been really and truly understanding when someone or something is or isn't for me, learning how to grow further out of my comfort zone, how to say no with grace, and how to say yes with all of me - for however long feels right.
May this beautiful, snowy country continue to guide me into new connections in the new year!
As per usual, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!