Expats around the world have long had a difficult decision to make; whether or not to integrate fully into their chosen home. For some, learning the language and making new friends with the locals as an essential part of the expat experience, and one that can have numerous long term benefits. Many expats love to learn about a new culture and to encourage their children to become bi-lingual.
On the other hand, many expats opt to establish friendships with fellow expats, leading to minimal integration with the local community. Whether this is because certain popular expat destinations such as the southern coast of Spain and the Algarve already have such a large expat population that it is natural to make friends among them or not is up for debate.
Now however a new study by relocation experts Robinsons focuses specifically on expat integration. It seeks to examine patterns of integration to see just how many of us end up making friends with the locals, getting to grips with the culture and the language.
As it turns out, British expats have a rather poor record in this department. The study suggests that 25% of Brits living overseas have no friends from their adopted country and instead ‘keep themselves to themselves’. This is one reason why countries with a strong existing expat community can be particularly appealing, as there is less need to learn a new language or figure out a new culture.
That said, it could be argued that this lack of integration is robbing British expats of the ‘full experience’ of moving abroad. It has also led to distrust of foreigners in some countries where they refuse to learn the language and customs of their adopted home.
What is interesting to note is that the level to which British expats will actually integrate depends largely on the country which they move to Canada or New Zealand, for example, seem to find it easiest to integrate. The similar culture and language, not to mention the friendly locals, make it easy to integrate into these countries.
This is in stark contrast with destinations such as Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Eastern Europe, where British expats are least likely to integrate. To be fair, these are areas where culture shock may be severe but over 40% of British expats in these areas report that their friends are mostly other Brits, rather than from their adopted country. 10% say that they have only British friends.
The Foreign Office recently launched a new campaign to help British expats make the most of moving abroad. One of the key messages of the campaign is that expats should seek to integrate fully into their adopted culture. Doing so not only lessens any potential negative feelings towards expats but can also result in a far more colourful and satisfying overseas experience.
Sadly, it seems the report has come at the perfect time. According to the same study, over a third of British expats say they haven’t made an effort to even learn the language in their adopted home.
These findings are in stark contrast to expats moving to the UK, who report a rather different pattern. Half of those moving to Great Britain from elsewhere now report that the vast majority of their friends are Brits, rather than hailing from their home country.