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Finding Community as an Expat

“I’m bored. I think I might go back to Canada.”

Two of our neighbours in Mexico were chatting in the courtyard outside the front door of our condo.

“Why would you want to do that?” Shocked and dismayed, our other neighbour couldn’t fathom why someone would move to Mexico and wander back to a land they wanted to leave in the first place.

Engulfed in a tropical setting of palm trees, colourful flowers, hummingbirds, and a swimming pool, one neighbour declared boredom in what many people respond with, “Just another day in paradise.”

I did not interrupt their conversation, all the while thinking of going out and giving the doubting neighbour’s head a shake.

I’m bored.

How can someone be bored living where the weather is near-perfect, people are smiling, fresh food is affordable and abundant and there is freedom all around?

Lack of connection. That’s how.

My bored neighbour has been here a little over a month basking in the eternal sunshine and exploring a 16th-century “Pueblo Magico” in Mexico, and he’s considering a move back to the land of ice, snow, and Justin Trudeau.

I’m flabbergasted.

It’s Carnival in our town right now. Fat Tuesday festivities are going strong today. Activities fill the week, culminating with an evening concert. Parades. Concerts. Flour fights. Confetti. Mexican music pounds almost all day long. Cohetes go off with a series of bangs in the distance. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, so the locals get their partying out of their systems to prepare for the Holy Week of repentance ahead. Boring does not describe the current situation.

Being an Expat is Not for Everyone
Some people don’t know what to do when they relocate to a new country. Rest assured, it will be nothing like the home you left. For most people, that’s a good thing.

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There are many opportunities to learn about the culture and make new friends. Not everyone is a social butterfly, so how does a person find community as an expat? How can you connect and flourish in your new surroundings?

Join Online Groups

Before you come, connect with like-minded people online. There are tons of Facebook groups to join. Beware. Take what a lot of them say with a grain of salt. People are strange.

My connections for local information sources are in Telegram groups. These groups post anything from where to get your jewelry fixed to scams and crime watches. Events detailing festivals, live music, buffets, and anything you can picture on a bulletin board flood my channels daily. You can be as involved or uninvolved as you want to be. Events are going on in my town all day, every day.

Joining online groups is also a great way to stay on top of the rental market prices and determine fair market values. Knowledge is power.

Leave the Car at Home

You see so much more on your feet than in a tin can on wheels. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants, clothing shops with no signage, travel deals, and banners advertising tequila tastings would all pass you by if you were in a car. When you walk, you can absorb your surroundings by seeing and hearing events around you. In a car, you’re too busy trying to avoid an accident.

Annual Regata de Globos in Ajijic

Annual Regata de Globos in Ajijic

Sit down in the main squares and be prepared to talk with people. Other expats usually like to get to know who you are and welcome you to the neighbourhood. Locals will greet you and speak with you, too. Even if you don’t know the language, having someone smile at you and wish you a good day with a big smile on their face will brighten the mood.

Play Sports

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.A. It is also a super popular sport where I live. There are 20 pickleball courts in my area, and they are always busy. I had never played pickleball, but our friends invited my husband and me to play with them every Wednesday morning to do something together as a couple. It’s great fun and great exercise.

You can sign up for lessons and join leagues depending on how competitive you want to be. We are still in the newbie phase, but the heat is about to get turned up. Game on.

Join Hiking, Biking, Walking, or Running Clubs

People are always looking for others to walk, hike, or bike with. We see groups cycling and running quite often. Is there anything better than an invigorating walk in nature to clear your head in the morning? Do it with a group and make an event out of it. Go for coffee after, and maybe visit a popular donut shop nearby to refuel after burning so many calories.

Get Involved with a Church

Local churches are a wonderful way to make friends and find ways to help you become a contributing member of your new community. There are numerous volunteer opportunities you may not find out about otherwise.

Our church family is a loving family. A person can get lonely when you are away from your family back home. Going to church and the activities offered fills the loneliness with hugs, smiles, songs, and most importantly, the Word of God. You will never be alone, nor will you ever be bored.

Visit Local Societies

The Lake Chapala Society helps expats learn the ropes about their new home. How to adapt, how to get a license, how to learn Mexican manners, how to find doctors, and the list goes on. You can volunteer to help, attend events, go for lunches and coffee, borrow books from their library, or whatever your heart desires.

Take Language Classes

There are usually free and paid conversational language classes you can join. We discovered a free conversational Spanish meetup by attending our local Wednesday market. At the classes, you will meet language speakers of all levels. It can be intimidating to start but stretching your comfort zone helps you grow. We still run into people we met at the classes when we first moved here, and they always stop to say, “Hola!”

Have a Spa Day

We all need a little pampering, so why not make it a day with friends? Visiting the spa is affordable where I live in Mexico. There are more than indoor options. Head to hot springs where you can jump into a bubbling specialized jacuzzi of oatmeal, chocolate, or red wine. Yes, those do exist.

Go on a Real Estate Tour

Have you ever wondered what’s behind all those walls when you visit Latin America? The beauty is behind the walls. Local real estate agents usually have free tours to show people around the area. Seize the moment to learn from locals about the area and the different housing options available at varying price points. It is unlikely you will be the only one on the tour, so it’s a chance to meet other people who recently arrived or are considering a move to the area.

Behind the Walls in Ajijic, Mexico

Behind the Walls in Ajijic, Mexico

We attended a behind-the-walls-tour when we first arrived in Ajijic and met a lovely couple from the Yukon whom we still meet with when they come down to escape the winter. We’ve also kept in contact with the realtor who took us on the tour. She grew up in Guadalajara and took us on a tour of the city because she loves to show people her hometown.

Square in Guadalajara

Square in Guadalajara

Have Happy Hours with Your Neighbours

We have a diverse community of expats in the condo complex where we live. Once a month, we get together to visit and talk about what’s going on around town and of course, back home. We look out for each other but also respect each other’s privacy. Our little community is one more group to call family away from home. If someone needs help, there will always be someone close by to count on.

Master Your Hobby

Love to write? Draw? Paint? Sew? Crochet? Then find others who like to do so. If you can’t find an established group, start your own. Guaranteed someone else likes to do the same hobby as you. Love to take photos? Start a local walking tour for free. Get the word out on social media. Hang up posters. Scout out some picturesque areas, take your gear or your phone and go. Who doesn’t want beautiful pictures of their surroundings to show off to friends and make them jealous of your fantastic new lifestyle?

Help at Animal Shelters

Let’s face it. There are animal problems south of the border. Some areas are worse than others, but the four-legged furry friends need help everywhere. There are plenty of animal shelters looking for help. If you love animals and have a heart calling you to rescue the animals from the street and find them good homes, consider finding ways you can help.

Start or Join a Book Club

I belong to two book clubs, one back in Canada and one where I live in Mexico. It’s a great way to stay connected to old friends back home and to foster relationships with new friends in Mexico. We all agree on a book to read and get together weekly or monthly to discuss, have fellowship and create lasting bonds while sharpening our minds.

Finding Community as an Expat

Combate de Felores in Ajijic

Combate de Felores in Ajijic

It all boils down to what you love to do and who you want to do it with. If you put yourself out there and seek those with the same interests as you, watch doors open, and so will your interesting life in a new country. Be courageous and ready because if you seek, you will find the community you long for.

If you want to hear more of Charlotte’s personal expat experiences, subscribe to Escape Artist Insiders magazine today!

All photos by Charlotte Tweed

Charlotte TweedCharlotte Tweed is an adventurous soul with a goal to take you on a journey where you don’t just visit—you live it. Graduating with a Travel and Tourism Honours diploma, Charlotte began her expat journey on June 15, 2021. After travelling through multiple countries, Charlotte now calls Mexico home. Reading, writing, and researching the best expat destinations in the world are how she fills her days. As a published author, her mission is to transform your life with expat travel—one destination, one adventure, one story at a time.

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