Why is creating foreign friendships so friggin difficult?

I can’t even count the times I’ve been frustrated to the point of tears. It’s like this internal battle that I’m constantly having with myself. I know that my friends here are fantastic, fun, kind, caring, and everything else – but something is still so different from mine in California and no matter how many times I’ve tried, that always holds me back. It holds me back from reaching out to people I meet to hang out, from expressing my real opinions on topics, and from so many other things that I wish it didn’t.

One of the biggest things I long for while living across the world is the idea of comfort. I don’t miss California, I miss the people I care about who live there. I don’t miss America, I miss a lot of convenient things I had living there. Subconsciously I am almost always out of my comfort zone and that’s something that takes a lot of time to truly go away. I didn’t realize how much I missed being comfortable until my most recent visit to Frankfurt, Germany.

Charlotte (my German friend) is, and will always be, a best friend of mine. No matter the time apart, everything feels like it picked up where we left off when I visit her. It was so special to me to spend time with someone who has known me for 5 years and not just 10 months. It was filling a part of my heart that I didn’t realize was empty. Of course, I love Nenad and being with him is more than enough, but even he didn’t know me before Spain and it was so refreshing to reminisce on high school with someone or laugh about what we used to wear, who we used to be, and all of those things that come with friendships that have years behind them.

All that being said, I’m so grateful for the friends that I have made here. I don’t have a lot and I really spend time with only a handful of people, but that’s all the reason they’re far more special to me. The ones that I do spend time with I know actually love me for me and want to hang out with me. It’s very difficult to feel like people like you because you’re new, different, foreign, and not because of you. They want to know your thoughts and feelings about living in Serbia, the language, your love life, all of it, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s so easy for me to confuse a friendship versus just a person who is overly curious. I feel like I’ve gotten better though and I don’t go out of my way to meet new people anymore – maybe that’s not a good thing? It’s so easy for me to sink back in my shell and stop putting myself out there. It takes constant reminders for me to keep trying new things and to continue to try and enjoy the process of being uncomfortable.

Nobody except Nenad and my friend Marija (pictured above) know the extent of my anxiety about meeting new people here in Serbia. It is the craziest thing because it was never a problem in California. I’m actually very sociable and I always have been! Yet, something is different here. I struggle to meet new people unplanned. I have this thing where I need to be given some sort of prior warning or else I can’t control it. I play it cool and then I go into the other room and freak out – silent tears, breathing heavy, heart racing. I know I can do it. I know I’m capable and friendly and have a lot of wonderful qualities… but there’s something about it that feels out of control. I just need to know that I’ll be meeting new people so that I can mentally prepare myself for it.

I think Spain did that a bit to me. I didn’t realize what a strong stereotype was attached to me as an American. Living there I was determined to break it and every time someone said to me, “you’re not a typical American” or “you’re not what I thought you’d be” I felt like I was succeeding in doing that. However, that really led me to hate having any attention on me (my family at home would die reading a statement like that!).

In America, I loved being the life of the party. In Spain, I really only took that role if I knew most of the people around me. In Serbia, I hardly speak English in public and if I have to, it’s very quiet. I don’t enjoy any attention and it makes me cringe when someone notices I’m a foreigner. I hate all the questions, they’re all the same, and I hate when people from other tables or people standing next to me turn and stare. It has got to be one of the worst things for me. Actually, I wouldn’t even go out by myself for about the first three to four months living here. I needed Nenad to come so that I didn’t have to speak English and so people wouldn’t notice I didn’t belong. If he tried to push me to go without him I’d have this mini freak out session and be on the verge of tears. Now that I’m moving towards an intermediate level I can go out in public and do my normal routine without a word of English – just how I like it.

I also lost a lot of friends in Spain. When we started out in the group of about 30 Americans we all got along and it was too much fun. We were all in it together and it was easy to stay out of the drama. Most of theirs revolved around boys and since I didn’t have one – I had no problems. Then there came a few misunderstandings, some wild accusations, and over dramatic girls and I became the outsider of the group before I knew it. They stopped talking to me, started bullying me through text, making me feel unwanted, cutting me off from all their events, etc. So I moved in with Nenad until I could find a new place to live and although that’s a true story, I don’t care to share more details because their basis of hating me was all untrue, and it happened years ago. Either way, I think it really scarred me and when the Serbians took me in and loved me for who I was I stopped caring about the pettiness of the females in that group. It was so difficult to put myself out there in the first place and when that rejection came in, it made it even harder to want to ever do it again.

Allllll of that to say that I understand why I have a hard time making friends… it’s pretty difficult when I refuse to put myself out there! Makes sense after all I guess. It’s something that is constant progress for me and I’ll probably always be working on it while I live on this side of the world.

I do need to say though that my best friend here, Marija, has been such a light for me. Actually plenty of people have (my whole work team really!), but Marija and I have become so much more than just work friends. To be fair she strongly disliked me when I first joined the TechBear team lol. But I feel like that was a given and I kind of tend to accidentally have that effect on people, so I don’t stress about it anymore. Either way, she came around, and now the two of us are like the office joke for lovers. She’s taken me under her wing in so many ways and I’m forever grateful for her. We’ll be friends far past when my time to leave Serbia arrives. My life here would be very different without her and although we’re six years apart in age and have been friends six to seven months, it feels much stronger than that and I love her dearly!

There are so many things that are unexplainably difficult for me, and I have to realize that just because it isn’t difficult for someone else, doesn’t mean that I’m crazy. We all go through different trials and tribulations and it’s hard for me to always be out of my cocoon. Sometimes I just want to be safe inside where I know I’m okay and I’m comfortable. Then I remind myself that if that was always the case I’d never turn into a butterfly.