Being an expat for almost 18 years, 4 of which have been in Helsingborg has inspired me to manoeuvre different ways to find friends. To begin the process, there are few criteria you need to put in place before we start our friendship journeys: As an expat, a) you are privileged to put off any friendship that doesn’t suit you (no social pressures or obligations), b) putting yourself out there is the only way, so put off Netflix and move away from the comfy sofa and; c) don’t expect to find copies of your friends and family from back home - just to avoid disappointments.
1. Social media During 2018-2019, Facebook was ranked as the first most used social media platform in Sweden. In 2014, one year before we landed in Helsingborg, I was already on Sweden/Helsingborg related FB groups and pages, which definitely gave me insight into the city as well as made it easier for me to meet people virtually ahead of time. You will always find FB groups catered towards certain areas of interest and communities, e.g neighbourhood, arts, family related issues, school, cosmetics, you name it! It is a good initial friendship call based on common interests and you can always choose to move the virtual connection to real life.
2. Diversity Don’t look for people like you! Get out of your comfort zone, always appreciate diversity. Diversity will add to your life experience and exposure and will make your move exciting! Being in a country that speaks a different language and has a foreign culture can definitely add even more excitement to your move. I was amazed by the concept of paternity leave and the fairness of the system and it was an area that I always wanted to know more about. A new language?! Don’t be alarmed! Most of the Swedes are comfortable speaking English, so introducing yourself to the local community won’t be a problem. On top of that, there are free Swedish classes if you are willing to learn the language and it is always advised, especially if you have long term plans in Sweden. We are living in a small world, open your eyes to new perspectives and absorb as much as you can from your new friend’s cultures and learn about the Swedish ways, it is your chance to live Helsingborg as Swedes do.
3. Fika - Fika is the golden word and a great option to start friendships. If you are attending fitness classes or recreational activities take the initiative and start conversations, ask the person next to you to join you for ‘fika’ nearby and perhaps it will end up with you making a new friend with common interests. You will be lucky if the person is local or has been living in Helsingborg for a long time, then you would be introduced to a new circle of people.
4. Coworkers I believe as an expat, you or your partner are already working/studying in Helsingborg so make the effort with your colleagues around you, invite them to taste special recipes from your country, always say yes to after-work gatherings and lunch or dinner initiations. Be the person who welcomes everyone with no judgments, be the includer!
5. Networking There are a lot of networking opportunities in Helsingborg based on professional backgrounds, try to join and show up consistently at events, you will meet like-minded people and perhaps know more about the working culture and opportunities in Helsingborg. Recently Sweden was nominated as the most innovative country in Europe, so if you have the entrepreneurial eagerness, here you go! You are at the heart of innovation. Helsingborg has opened spaces where you can meet entrepreneurs e.g THINK Open Space, E-Commerce Park etc
6. Religion/spirituality and volunteerism During times of loneliness, usually finding a religious or spiritual circle where you can practice your spiritual traditions is a great relief. Helsingborg has lots of churches, two mosques as well as temples along with yoga classes where you can find your new friends based on common practices. Usually, you can figure out volunteer opportunities through these institutions and it will bring you great opportunities to make new friendships within good-hearted initiatives.
Finally, it will always depend on what you would like to do and who you would like to meet, it might be difficult for many of us to put ourselves out there, start conversations or make new friends but it really means a lot to have a community to lean on during your stay in a new city. Feeling at home and being happy is a state of mind and doesn’t depend on places but on social relations and the people around us. Don’t miss the opportunity to make a home away from home, by sitting inside and isolating yourself. Enjoy people, culture and fika as much as you can!
Passent Elsoury, Communications specialist, Egyptian born and raised. Lived and worked in Qatar for 13 years and moved to Helsingborg in 2015.