Networking & Getting to Know People
So much of what expats remember about their time in Europe will be about the people they met. This seems somewhat trite to say, but it is no less true for that. To really experience and enjoy the culture of your European home, you must get out and experience that culture! That means interacting with as many different people as possible.
Just like in North America, you are certainly not going to get a real understanding of the culture of the country by only going to work and always frequenting the same one or two social places.
But you want to meet new people for more than just the obvious reason of making new friends and experiencing the local culture.
By increasing your social circle in Europe, you have an amazing opportunity to build up a network of business contacts that will be unique. If you move back to North America, your European contacts will help by giving you a new and refreshing outlook on issues; something that can only help when you are trying to come up with new ideas for your own work. If you are going to stay in Europe, the contacts you make while you are working could easily lead to new and better jobs.
For those of us who are not so outgoing, forcing ourselves to socialize is difficult, especially in awkward settings such as you will frequently experience in a new country. So start small. Make it a point to meet and learn all of the names of your nearby neighbors. Commit to joining at least one social activity club and go to the meetings regularly. Whenever people from work go out socially, go along as much as you can. If your language skills are up to the task, volunteering at a local charity, library, or museum is also an excellent way to meet new people and help them at the same time.
By being as social as you can, you will also be helping to stave off homesickness. And always remember that you are the foreigner in the group. That means that most people will see you as somewhat exotic and will look forward to the stories you share, no matter how mundane they will seem to you.
Learn Names & Hold Conversations
At work, make it a point to learn the names of not only the people you work with directly, but also the names of as many people who work there as you can. Try to hold simple conversations with colleagues in the local language; the people who work with you on a daily basis will always be willing to take two minutes every day to talk to you so that you can practice your language skills. If appropriate, try to spend a little bit of time each week talking with the executives and upper personnel of the company you work for.
And speaking of language, expats should enroll in a language class while living abroad. A greater command of the local language will certainly help in your abilities to socialize with the locals as well as give you even more opportunities to network; this time with other expats who are also working in the area. Who knows, an expat who you took a language class with may end up being able to get you a job in their home country!
These are just a few of the ways you can meet people in your new location, even if you can't really speak the language. The important thing is that you try; you will be amazed at how much people in Europe are able to meet you more than halfway in the language department when you are friendly and outgoing. And every person you meet will add to the experience of a lifetime.