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Tapping into the Strength of Expat Bonds: A Conversation with Sarah Siegert, Expert Friendship Coach!



Are you an expatriate struggling to build meaningful connections and maintain friendships while living abroad?


If so, you’re not alone.


Adjusting to a new country, culture, and community can be challenging, especially when it comes to forming genuine relationships. That’s where Sarah Siegert, a dedicated friendship coach for expats, comes in. In today’s interconnected world, more and more people are relocating for work, education, or personal reasons. While the opportunities are endless, so are the hurdles of building a support network in a foreign land. Sarah Siegert understands these challenges firsthand, having experienced the highs and lows of expatriate life herself. With her expertise and passion for fostering connections, Sarah helps expats overcome loneliness and isolation by providing personalised guidance and practical strategies. Whether you’re a newcomer looking to meet like-minded individuals or a seasoned expat aiming to deepen existing friendships, Sarah offers invaluable insights and support every step of the way. Through tailored coaching sessions, Sarah empowers her clients to break down barriers, expand their social circles, and cultivate fulfilling relationships that withstand the test of time and distance. Join us on a journey of self-discovery, growth, and connection as we dive into the world of expatriate friendships with Sarah Siegert as our guide. Whether you’re embarking on your first international adventure or seeking to enhance your social life abroad, Sarah’s insights will inspire and empower you to thrive in any corner of the globe.

1: Sarah, you are a friendship coach for expats! Tell us about this venture and how you started your own business? What exactly do you do as an expat friendship coach? 


I moved from Germany to England in 2019 and the thing I struggled with the most was to make friends. I had lots of mind drama about going out, meeting people and creating connections; to the extent that I just didn’t do it. I felt lonely, isolated, different from anybody else and it created stress and issues for me - with my partner, my mental health and my career. It also made me question if I actually wanted to live abroad or whether I should move back to Germany.


Unfortunately, no one offered friendship coaching to expats back then and even now, I am the only coach offering this kind of support. Due to a lack of resources, I had to teach myself how to overcome the barriers that I was facing. Luckily I was able to do so through doing tons of research and by applying my coaching tools to myself.

Now I am supporting people who live abroad to end their loneliness by creating more meaningful connections in their lives. I teach people my 3 step process on how to make friends abroad -  Accepting yourself, meeting your ideal friends and creating deep connections. They learn everything from how to do small talk to how to set boundaries - everything they need to build and maintain healthy connections.


2: Where have you travelled/lived/worked as an expat? 


I am not the ‘typical expat’ - I  have only ever lived in Germany and England. This is my first time living abroad and I am not sure if I will ever move to a different country again, even though I am toying with the idea. I have travelled within Europe as well as to Canada and Tunisia, but there are more countries on my bucket list.


3: What do you see are the main challenges faced by female expats?

 

There are several challenges I see female expats face. The biggest one is fear of rejection, which is actually a fear that applies to all humans but it’s often being experienced more intensely after moving abroad as we are out of our comfort zone and therefore more vulnerable. The fear stems from our roots of human beings living in caves where our community meant safety and rejection from the community meant potential death. While our physical safety isn’t in danger anymore when we’re being rejected, our brain is still experiencing it as a threat and danger to our life. 


Female expats often move with their spouses so it might not always have been their choice to move abroad or to this particular country which can be an additional barrier to accepting the new life and adapting to it. Expat women might also be mums and responsible for the household etc. which is a full time job in itself. What I see happening a lot is that they focus on satisfying everyone else before they think about themselves. So they will clean, prepare dinner and look after the kids and when they have a 5 minute break they will feel guilty for sitting down and taking a breather. This belief system will definitely hinder you from creating healthy connections.


Other challenges include thinking that locals have a tight circle of friends already which is hard to get into, feeling discouraged and burnt out towards the idea of making friends after having made friends with expats who then moved away again, not finding the right friends, not having enough time and giving up too early.


4: As someone who has experienced deep loneliness and social isolation - what advice would you give a female expat or perhaps even an expat who has returned home and can’t seem to integrate socially? 


Loneliness is an emotion that is being created by our thoughts and beliefs. That is why a person who has a ton of friends can feel lonely while a person with only a handful of friends can feel highly connected. What that means is that it is important for us to choose our thoughts wisely, as they will create our emotions. So if you’re feeling lonely and isolated, you can change the thoughts you think on a daily basis, before changing any of your circumstances.


Once you have addressed that, I would encourage you to get curious and find out why you think you’re struggling to integrate socially - what does that even mean? What is it that you think hinders you from doing so? Where are you getting stuck? What do you think would need to change in order for you to integrate socially?


Once you have awareness of what it is that is preventing you from socially integrating, you can work on solving for it. A little side note - It’s often easier to ‘blame’ things outside of ourselves such as other people, culture, country, time, etc. as a reason for why we don’t do what we want to do. 


For example: The others are excluding me so I’m unable to socially integrate. While this might be true, thinking that our lack of social integration is due to other people’s behaviour isn’t serving us. Because it will keep you stuck in a state of socially NOT being integrated until the other people change, which is unlikely going to happen anytime soon, I speak from experience. So if you ask yourself those questions and you want to solve for the challenges, look at it from this angle:


  • Is this thought true? (The others are excluding me - why? why not?)

  • Does this thought serve me? (The word excluding is your interpretation, does it serve you to interpret it in that way or is it making you feel resentful and stuck?)

  • What is in my control to change it? (The others will behave in the way they will but what can YOU do?)



5: You recently spoke at The Expat Woman Show - How to Make Friends Abroad! Tell us more…What did you speak about? What did you learn? 

 

I did speak about making friends abroad, the typical challenges we may face, solutions and tips we can implement to make friends more easily. I also spoke at the Expat Woman Summit in 2023 where I spoke about how to overcome loneliness by creating more connections. Similarly to what I shared in the previous question, there are tools and strategies on how to change your emotions (loneliness to connection) without even changing any of your circumstances. I have also shared some insights on how to actually connect with people in a way that will help you to overcome your loneliness.


The Show and the Summit were both an amazing opportunity to meet other expat women. What I realised is how many other expat women are out there who are all experiencing such similar things, despite them living in different countries and having grown up in different countries to me. It’s so reassuring to realise that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing and that there are people out there who have been in your situation and have found a solution that is now being offered for you to learn too.


6: What are your top tips for women to make friends as an expat?

 

There are 3 steps to make friends as an expat:


  1. Have a good relationship with yourself: In order for you to create more connections and friendships, you need to be fully at peace with yourself. You need to accept everything about you, the good and the bad. It’s important to note that you can still create connections and friendships even if you skip this part, but the quality of those connections will be far worse than if you create connections from a place of self love and self acceptance.

  2. Find the right people: You need to be clear on who you want to create connections with. It’s important to have an idea of who your right friends are, where they hang out and how you can connect with them. Otherwise you will just try and be friends with anyone and will be disappointed if it won’t work out or feel good.

  3. Create connections: To move from acquaintances to friends you need to be consistent, vulnerable and attentive towards the other person. It can take up to 200 hours of good quality time spent together until we call someone a good friend.


It’s all about feeling good within yourself, intentionally connecting with the right people and to keep going and not to give up until you have created the connections you want in your life while maintaining the right mindset.


7: It can be hard hanging on to friends as people move around. How do you foster deep, meaningful friendships or loving connections? What advice do you have for people who may be suffering/struggling? 


Part of being an expat is the idea that we might not stay in one place forever. That goes against many people’s idea of deep and meaningful friendships, because they think those should last for a period of time and they won’t if someone moves away. That’s a thought error. First of all those connections CAN be built relatively quickly and they CAN exist even if someone moves away. Realising this and acknowledging the possibility of that is the first step.


The second thing is: As human beings, everything we do or not do is because we think it will create or prevent a certain emotion. We want deep and meaningful connections because we think it will make us feel a certain way (for example connected, loved, appreciated). And those emotions don’t require a certain time frame for them to be produced, they are being produced as soon as we believe in a thought that creates that emotion. 


When we know that all we want is to feel a certain way and we can feel that way immediately, it frees us up from the expectations that the connections and friendships we form should last for a specific time frame or otherwise they ‘don’t count’ and opens up the idea of us just enjoying the connections and friendships no matter how long they last.


If you want to feel connected, choose a thought like ‘Me and my friend know each other in and out’ and not ‘once my friend moves I won’t know what’s going on for them anymore’.

Feel what you want to feel towards the other person, love the time you are able to spend with them and let them or you move on when the time has come and allow the friendship to change. That’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s life. 


8: You are a mental health aid worker! What do you see are some the mental health issues women are facing at present now and what work do you do for mental health? 


I’m a mental health first aider, that means that I am trained in supporting people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. I also have worked in the field of supporting people with mental health diagnosis or issues for a long time.


The mental health issues I see women are facing are a mix of low mood and a low self esteem. They don’t see themselves for who they are and they have lost hope towards a better future. What we do together in our coaching sessions to support this is to first of all allow those thoughts to be there without feeling a need to change them immediately. Those thoughts and emotions are valid, they are there and they need space. Once we can lovingly and compassionately accept them, we can move on and change them if we want to. I teach my clients a technique on how to change their thoughts so that they can change the way they feel, the actions they take and the results they create.


9: You are a transformational life coach – Tell us about a successful client that you helped transform their life? What do you do for people as a transformational life coach? 


While I concentrate on helping my clients to feel less lonely by creating more connections, it applies to their overall life and has a positive impact on everything they do. How we do one thing is how we do everything.


Some of my clients transformations include: positive relationship with themselves, feeling at peace with themselves, being their true self, setting boundaries, stopping people pleasing, sharing how they truly think and feel, being vulnerable, more self confidence, hope and a positive outlook on the future.


All of those things lead to: New friendships (of course), better relationship with their partner because they stopped arguing, getting a promotion at work and therefore higher income, stop dismissing family members and therefore having healthier family relationships, stop having negative intrusive thoughts about themselves and therefore better sleep, knowing exactly how to get out of their current situation and therefore feeling less stressed, more social interactions and therefore improved health, receiving compliments from others and therefore feeling better about themselves, less anxiety at social gatherings of any kind and therefore more fun.


All of the results my clients create for themselves while working with me have a huge overall impact on their life that transforms their lives and what is possible for them.


10: What challenges have you personally faced in your life and career? 


The biggest challenge was to not know how to overcome the loneliness and isolation I was experiencing in the beginning of my expat journey. I had lost hope, it felt impossible and I couldn’t see a way out. 


It felt suffocating to live in a country where no one knew me, it felt scary to put myself out there when I believed I was so different from others, it felt impossible for me to change my life and create the results I wanted.


But then I found coaching. And it’s honestly the best thing that ever happened to me. I now have a tool that I teach my clients and use myself on a daily basis that helps me to solve any problem and create any result I want - Friendship related or not.


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