When we moved to Rwanda 4 years ago, we were blessed to move into an existing community. Our partners had already been in country for about 18 months, had formed great relationships and figured out the lay of the land (literally), and we got to use their knowledge to great benefit. They helped us figure out how to buy a car, cautioned us on where to live and not to live (though we didn’t listen), and showed us where to buy meat and cheese. They made our landing so much softer- and I am eternally grateful. To this day, we remain extremely close to this family, and a few others that arrived in Kigali around the same time.
As I got to know more families in Kigali, and as I’ve observed over the years, I’ve realized that there is a special bond between families (and individuals) that arrive around the same time. You’re all going through similar cultural adjustment phases (or have recently been through them), you are all figuring things out together, and you’re sharing a very significant life experience. I’ve found that this forges bonds that are hard to break- and remain very strong over the years.
I call this idea the “expat cohort”- and though I’ve never seen it formalized, I think it would be a good idea, at least for new arrivals to keep in mind. Intentionally seeking out people who are going through the same steps of building a life in a new country as you, and pouring into those relationships, can lead to meaningful friendships much more quickly, simply because you have very significant common ground between you. Even as I observe my own friends, I notice that there are stronger friendships between those who arrived within the same year or so- we naturally gravitate towards those experiencing the same things as us.
This is much easier in places where there is a clearer “leaving” and “arriving” season, especially around schools. I would personally love to see International Schools adopt a program like this for getting new families plugged in and connected- to each other and to the community. Imagine, if you arrived and were already set up with some new people going through the exact same transition as you? We had that to a certain extent, but not everyone is so lucky. I think we can find ways to make this happen and bless new arrivals with some semblance of community.
Now, I’m not saying that you should limit your significant relationships to those arriving around you- far from it. It was extremely important to us to form relationships with families who had lived in Rwanda much longer than us, to help us process cultural transition and give us both hope and context in which to understand the difficult things around us. Similarly, it’s been a priority for us to form relationships with new arrivals even as the years have gone by- we have now become the ones pouring our hard-earned knowledge into new friends, making the transition easier for them.
But- I think there’s a great benefit to being intentional about forming a semi-official “cohort” and pouring into those relationships, too. These are your peers- your accountability, maybe- and you’re in this together! Maybe you decide to all get together once a month, doing a fun outing or rotating homes for a potluck. Maybe you take turns sharing your stories. Maybe you pray for one another. It can look lots of different ways!
I’ve been listening to a lot of The Lazy Genius lately, and I love what Kendra says about deciding once, snd automating things you can automate. I think this can particularly apply here: can you decide early on to have dinner with a certain family or friend once a week? Or always have a new family over for dinner on the first Saturday of the month? Consider ways to automate these relationships. It doesn’t make you a robot- it makes you smart and intentional, and your relationships will thrive because of it.
Now, I’m also sensitive to the fact that many of us DON’T live in places where there’s enough community for something like this to even be a consideration. But, I think the same kind fo principles can be applied in other relationships. Maybe you have a FaceTime call once a week with a friend in another country you met in pre-field training. Or maybe your entire cohort of people who train together get on zoom once a month and pray for each other, or simply share stories and feel some camaraderie? Consider where you can identify people in a similar life stage as you, and how you can build community and support one another intentionally. An e-cohort still counts!
Friends, as you move through this life overseas, you need all the community you can get. I pray that as you build relationships and flesh out what community would look like for you, that you would be blessed with people you can walk alongside, encourage, share burdens with, and celebrate with. Maybe the cohort idea will be a tool to you- I hope that it is!
Wherever you find yourself this week, I pray you are surrounded by love!