I have lived in different places and countries over the years. As you move around, socialisation becomes a very important part to settling and promoting a positive adaptation. It is a sign that you know people, can relate to one and other and feel that you belong to the community. I remember feeling very anonymous in a number of places I lived. I never disliked it because I just got on with what I had to do. After a few months, you start bumping into people and it is then you realise how it is great to meet and connect with people, bumping into someone somewhat feels a joyful and happy experience, like if it was a party! Socialisation becomes crucial when your husband/partner is the one that goes out to work, and potentially abroad too, as you are the one initiating contact with a number of agencies, systems, and you can also spend days without having a ‘proper’ adult conversation. Socialisation becomes an important part of your own well-being.
Having children also brings another dimension to socialisation. It becomes easier to meet someone or initiate a conversation over a dropped toy in a shop, for example. They are great at initiating conversations with strangers or asking for someone to come back home to play. When children start school, you then become part of a system which may have some ways to promote socialisation between parents such as special events, social and fundraising activities. During the years I lived in Scotland with no children, I felt so much lonelier than after having children. Now that my two oldest are a bit older, they are also great company, we can chat about different experiences, they initiate conversation everywhere too and build relationships with lots of different children in various clubs and at school.
Why is socialisation important to adults and children?
Schaffer (1996) explains that socialisation refers to processes which include standards that are passed from generation to generation and that it is during childhood that these standards are acquired and eventually adopted by children as their own. He goes on to explain that children cannot necessarily master the abstract concept of morality which is part of socialisation and therefore learn through different milestones social standards and norms such as eating with a fork, sharing toys, being kind to a younger child. Schaffer (1996) mentions that socialisation is a process which mainly takes place in families through the agency of parents. He also explains that the aim of this process is for children to learn acceptable behaviour patterns specific to a society and cultural norms through family life.
In addition, customs, values, ideologies, habits of a society are learnt through this process and needed for participating in their own society. To be a functioning member of society, these norms and skills need to be acquired. This process is also considered to be a lifelong process as, for different reasons, this learning process may well continue into adulthood. One particular reason springs to mind, a society evolves and changes over time as different influences and historic markers bring changes. One significant example in our world today, compared to 20 years, has to be technology. Cultural norms and habits in this respect have completely changed, our children often knowing as much as we do.
As global migrants, the process of socialisation becomes particularly important as it enables the family to discover new rituals, customs and norms within the new society. Parents are then no longer sole agents of this process in trying to transmit norms and behaviour patterns, as parents themselves may not know or understand the cultural norms of the new society. Learning about these then become a family experience, a way to share and learn together about the host country. Other social agents will then become particularly important in supporting the family in adapting to these new cultural norms and behaviour patterns. Some difficulties may present itself when the family becomes isolated and restricted from learning about new cultural norms, values, behaviours.
Over the years, as you live abroad, you develop strategies to cope with absent family members. I write some tips as to how to meet people, ways I found helpful:
- Speak to people locally, shop keepers, estate agents, etc.: they often have a good knowledge of the community. Ask simple and trivial questions about the area, places to visit, places of interest. Visit the local library, churches, tourist information, they often advertise community activities.
- Evaluate your interests, talents and passions and find out about local groups where you can meet people who can share these: sewing, painting, antique, golf, cycling, running, etc. Discuss these with people you meet as they may know someone who can connect you with someone else.
- Create an opportunity to meet someone: speak to a parent in the park, at the local pool, at the school gate. It is often not easy to break the ice, but it can create some great connections and friendships later. When trying to break the ice, describing the situation often helps to initiate a conversation.
- Join a local group/become a member of a club/join sporting activities: the best thing I ever done in terms of socialising was to join a local choir (for the singing too!). It was a great way to socialise and make great friends as you all have a common goal. We have met so many people through different sporting clubs and activities, scouts, playgroups, volunteering activities.
- Get involved in a fundraising activity or a community activity: again great was to meet people as everyone is there sharing a common goal.
- Offer to help: be attentive to opportunities to help either in a group or just in a one-off activity. As you are helping, it becomes perhaps easier to communicate with people and break the ice, again there is a common goal.
- Accept an invite: accept invitations, even if it is just for something very trivial. You never know when you will be in a situation where you then a person who becomes your best friend, or has connections to your field of work, or knows someone who knows someone, etc.
- Children: children are great at making friends. They often come back home with a number of a friend they have met at school, asking if they could go and play at the weekend or after school. If your child is younger, you can always ask your child, who did you play with today and ask the teacher to put your number in their bag, and then invite the parent/child after school for tea/coffee/cakes, or to meet at the park/beach at the weekend. We have made great friends with people who have put their name and number in our child’s bag.
- Invite people over: we have often had evenings/BBQs with lots of people, mixing friends, neighbours and colleagues. It is a great way to build a sense of community around you and feeling you belong. We have never had family around us so friends, neighbours and colleagues have always been very important to us. Create an event for a special celebration, ‘6 month being in the country’ party, a national day (Burns night, Quebec day, etc.), colleagues’ evening, games evening, swimming pool party, BBQ at the beach, Christmas Eve, a dinner, birthday or a thank you party. Ask everyone to bring a plate of food to share. Ask everyone to bring along a friend. Sharing food and drinks is always a great way to meet people. Parties for birthdays are great to socialise with people you may not know, invite parents for a drink when they pick up their child from the party, or invite the parents to the party too (for support and social!). It creates a great sense of belonging and community.
- Use technology and join local groups on social media sites. It becomes a great way to ask questions, get to know what’s on, special events, people’s interests, etc.
I really like socialising and meeting new people and maintain relationships with friends. As my husband worked abroad a lot, there were issues, particularly when the children were younger, with me having some special activities that are regular where I could commit. It becomes then important to build a social and support network around you so that you are able to socialise, either people coming to you because it is tricky to go out in the evenings when children are in bed and you are at home alone, or to have a babysitter so you can go out for some activities that are important to you. All the top tips above will help in creating this very important social network.
Although I really like meeting people, I also feel that I need my solitude, time to think, space to be. I have learnt to be alone, enjoy my own company, pursuing my own interests. It then becomes important to balance the social and solitary times. I sometimes could go on for days without meeting someone, just reading, writing, thinking, doing chores, meeting the needs of my family. I suppose when days like these take place for more than 2 or 3 days, I then push myself to go out, arrange to meet someone, go places. It is better to prevent the feeling of isolation than getting to the point where you feel isolated and finding it hard to find socialisation activities. Preventing isolation becomes particularly important as feelings of homesickness, missing great friends and the family can have a huge impact on your experiences of the new country. Keeping busy and socialising certainly help to overcome these feelings.
If you do all of the above, you will have a pretty busy diary, and you may need to choose between some activities and feel you can’t do it all!
Schaffer (1996). Social Development. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA; Oxford, UK; Carlton, AU.