A big part of settling into life as a Sydney-sider is having a network of friends. At first it kind of feels like being the new kid.
For those who are outgoing, it is easier but for others it can be an awkward process and may take longer to build a group of friends. I know because it did for me but for my husband he was off to the pub that first Friday, hanging out with a group of guys talking about sports and drinking Australian beer.
Most of our friends are other expats, not just from America but from all over the world. I’ve found that other expats were easier to make friends with mainly because they are in the same boat. Plus for expats everything in Sydney is shiny and new. They want to go explore the city doing all the touristy things like getting drinks at Opera Bar, go explore a new part of the city, or check out one of the many yearly festivals happening in Sydney.
Most Australians born and raised in Sydney are kind of over it. I have meet a couple Australians who have never set foot in the Sydney Opera House. I can’t blame them really as I have never been in Space Needle even after living in Seattle for over 15 years, not that the two are comparable but you know what I mean.
Making connections through people you already know
One of the things I have noticed about expats from the UK is they seemed to have contacts already living in Sydney. Either someone from school, high school or university (“uni” as the Aussies say), or a close friend of a friend. I even know someone who lived across the street from an old co-worker back in Brighton UK for a year not realising it until one day they were both waiting for the same bus in Bondi.
Having these contacts in place makes it much easier to build a social network. Even if it is just an introduction on Facebook, as cheesy and lame as that sounds, it is a good place to start. Don’t worry, you don’t have to become best friends, but then you never know.
Some of my closest friends I have met through a friend of a friend who had a brief introduction from an old coworker back in London. It all sounds very convoluted but seriously, when you think of your friends back home how did you meet them? Probably from college or you worked together or you meet through some other friends you both had in common. It going to be kind of the same thing now living in Sydney but with more of a time constraint because you don’t want to be sitting at home, alone on a Friday night. But you’re an expat now and have chosen to live overseas, making new friends is part of the fun.
Friday night drinks and work sponsored Happy Hours
This is probably obvious but hanging out with coworkers outside of work is often a great way to make friends and improve your working environment. In Sydney, Friday night drinks is widely celebrated once a week at every pub or bar in the city. It is good to participate because you don’t need an invitation and the evening tends to end early as people may have a long commute or have families to get home to or something else planned later that evening. If you find yourself having fun then it is usually easy to get someone to join you for a bite to eat or moving to a different spot. Ending early can also be a good thing as it makes coming up with an exit strategy easy, if you feel like you want to take it slow.
Paying for drinks with the round system
Drinks are often paid for with the round system, meaning that one person pays and gets the drinks for the group at a time. The person paying rotates until eventually it gets back to the first person. Then rinse and repeat or it’s time to go home. This can be tricky with a large group or if you want to leave before your round (turn) thus drinking on someone else’s dollar. That’s just bad form.
So how do you escape getting caught up in the round? If you have to leave before the round gets to you just volunteer to jump ahead and pick up the next round. I’ve been out with a group where someone headed up to the bar for a round getting a drinks for everyone but himself because he had to hit the road. But wait a sec, he just paid for someone else’s drink and won’t be there for that person’s round. True but after several more Friday night drinks, and yes there will be several you’re now living in Australia, it will all even out. Now if someone makes it a habit to leave before their round often, that gets noticed and Aussies are quick to speak their minds.
Another option is to not get included in the rounds by simply saying “Thanks but I need to leave early so I’ll just head up with you a grab a beer (or whatever your drinking) for myself.” Of course this works best if you are actually leaving early. If you don’t then it will again look like you are after a sneaky pint.
Don’t make my mistake at Friday night drinks.
The first few times I went out to meet people I would head first to the bar and buy myself a drink then walk around looking for my work group. As it was pointed out to me later, buying a drink for myself without seeing if anyone else was ready for one was considered a bit rude. Not horribly rude but definitely on the more selfish side. You’ll probably notice after a few times out that most people will first join up with their work group, greet everyone then say “I’m heading up to the bar to get a drink. Does anyone need another or want anything?”.
Don’t be frightened when you do this, as not everyone will be ready at the same time but you should be prepared to pay for one or two. Those people will most likely make a point of asking you if you are ready for another the next time they head up to the bar. Again the round system works after participating several times. You’ll have people pick up your drinks and when the time comes you’ll pick up theirs. It all works out. Remember you’re out on a Friday night getting to know the people you work with better, making new friends and a very friendly thing to do is pick up someone else’s drink.
Be proactive and find your group
Sydney is a large city and it can be hard to find your small inside group of friends. A good place to start is within the expat groups. There are a number of different expat groups in Sydney mostly because there are many people from all over the world living in Sydney. Here is a short list of some of the groups I’ve meet people at.
Expat Meetup Groups
The Sydney Expat American Meetup Group
The Sydney British Expats Meetup Group
Network Canada – Canadian Expats that plan many events with the American expat group above.
The Sydney Expat Connection – A very large expat group made up of expats from all over the world. This is a fun group that meets up regularly and is a great way to meet people from all over the world, if you feel like branching out.
As you have probably noticed most of these groups are from meetup.com. This website is a great resource to find like minded people almost anywhere in the world. Check it out as there are many group on meetup.com that do other things like book clubs, film groups, theatre groups and foodie groups that go out to dinner regularly.
Now I know what your thinking. I’m suggesting you go meet a group of strangers from an online posting. How awkward and very blind date sounding. That’s exactly what I thought and that first time walking to a meetup I came very close to turning around and heading home. As I mentioned before, my husband had an easy time meeting new people but they were mostly from his workplace. I did not and it was kind of getting me down. As a couple having, living abroad it is very important to not be too dependent on each other.
Other Social Groups in Sydney
Here are a few other meetup group that I’ve hear many good things about. The Secret Foodies group has many events that you can book tickets to and end up going to eat at some of Sydney’s top restaurants or bars. There is also a nice newsletter from Secret Foodies that does not just tell you about events they have planned but also events happening around the city that might interest you.
If you have a special hobby or interest but don’t see it on meetup.com then go ahead and start your own group. I started a high tea group with some success and made a couple of new friends that way.
As always share your ideas below but also share your stories of ways you made friends in Sydney. The best place to get advice as an expat in Sydney is always from other expats.