Building a support system abroad
Studies show that social isolation, depression, loneliness and other mental health issues have been traced to a lack of a support system. Particularly with the rise of remote work and rippled effects of the pandemic, many remote workers say that they feel lonely and some report increased stress levels.
A support system can be anything from a network of friends which provides you with mental, emotional and practical support to a community of people which provide real, perceived, instrumental and expressive support. As humans, a support system is especially important when you are working towards a particular goal and they can be a buffer when going through a crisis.
A support system for immigrants and newcomers serves as a protective shield in helping you transition effectively, give you a sense of belonging and guards against depression, anxiety, mental disorders and other cognitive and physical stresses of migration.
The process of creating and developing a reliable support system abroad is not easy for many. And existing barriers such as; language, not finding adequate time, moving to a new place, cultural differences, lack of social skills, low self-esteem, unwelcoming communities, marginalization due to race, gender, sexual orientation amongst others are some factors which could interfere the growth and development of interpersonal support systems. Some ways to building a support system abroad include:
List out and build rapport with people that make you feel good
Energy is contagious, and positive energy from supportive people will help you gain some satisfaction with life. As an immigrant, you need to closely evaluate and build rapport with the people (friends, family, colleagues, etc.) who are conduits of this supportive energy.
Communicate regularly with those who check on your well-being
Communication is key to any healthy relationship and one easy way to build a support system is to always communicate with individuals who check on your well-being. Reciprocate calls, send and reply messages and try to stay in touch with them.
Interact with neighbors and people who live close to you
A safety tip for creating support systems is to develop a neighborhood relationship with the people who live close to you. In cases of home incidents or emergencies, people who live close by or neighbors can help provide relief or aid to victims before emergency services arrive. They can provide support and be a first respondent if you ever are in need of help.
Look out for formal support specialists and professionals
Doctors, occupational therapists, counsellors and other close-knit professionals that provide professional advice and guidance when you need and can share issues of personal trust and confidentiality with you are crucial forms of support system.
Set relationship goals and be intentional about your friendships
While you can get busy with work and other commitments, schedule time for social gatherings and opportunities. Be intentional about friendships. Simple, specific and realistic friendship goals like, “I shall talk to one person everyday or take a friend out for lunch monthly,” will be a good beginning and set you on track for success.
Contribute, share and exchange skills
Volunteering, and exchange programs are very rewarding and provide you with opportunities to build sustainable support systems. A good way to find them is to check available UN, WHO and other volunteering sites around you.
Seek work and skill development opportunities
By exploring different work and skill development opportunities, you will have the chance to develop vital support systems. If you are shy, you can start by working in groups or with a personal mentor.
Search for online support groups and communities
The internet is comprehensive and a great way to find like-minded support systems. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter contain spaces for immigrant communities and can easily connect you to different support systems that you need. However, the onus lies on you to monitor how much information you share on these platforms.
As an immigrant, explore opportunities to meet other people. Join a club, class, community or organization that matches your interest, Try different work cultures, interests, and other routines. Also, do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
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