Choosing to spend your retirement in someplace other than where you had been living for most of your working life is a huge step with many joys and some challenges.
For me, the choice to live on my particular rock was an easy one, as I knew the island and had lived here on and off for some years. The actual relocation though was much more difficult than I had imagined it would be. Finding new doctors / dentists / salons, adjusting to new foods / holidays, and finding my place in a new community felt overwhelming at times.
Figuring out how to gather new friends, how to develop a pleasant, meaningful social circle, and how to manage friendships here on the island has been so important to my happiness in retirement.
I’ve found that the most critical components of developing a successful social life here on my island is flexibility, a willingness to suspend some previously held attitudes, and the ability to embrace new ways of interacting with people. I think it’s important, especially as an expat, to accept different cultural norms and to not judge relationships based on any former customs. Also, not fretting over social standing, age, or any other pre-conceived notions of who would make a congenial friend will open you up to more opportunities for friendships on a rock.
One must also be open to inviting people without expecting reciprocity. People may have several reasons for not inviting you to their houses that you may be unaware of. They may feel your house is better than theirs, they may feel ill at ease amongst your friends, they may not be good cooks, etc.
I love to cook and entertain, so early on I invited a group of diverse new friends to an American Thanksgiving dinner. The fun was not only in having a full house at a time when one misses family most, but also in watching the reaction of the group to some unaccustomed foods that are holiday staples for us like green bean casserole, cranberry chutney, turkey, and more – things the Grenadians, in particular, found strange. This has now become a custom and I always host my Thanksgiving dinner, though the same people don’t always participate.
One funny moment at the first island Thanksgiving dinner I hosted was when I announced that it is our custom for people to take any leftovers home that they would like. No one moved and I got some inquisitive looks. People on my rock are not accustomed to taking any food home, so they naturally felt a bit ill at ease. Finally, one brave soul announced that because her family rarely got to eat turkey cooked this way, she was going to take some home with her. Soon, everyone was helping themselves.
From this came the idea of Easter dinner, Sunday brunches, and many other occasions when I’m in the mood to entertain
Besides entertaining, as I know not everyone enjoys it as I do, there are other ways to get to know people and make friends on an island.
Early on, I joined the Grenada Association of Retired Persons, began volunteering, then became a member of the Executive Committee, where I’ve met many wonderful people. Not all have become friends, but it’s nice to meet acquaintances everywhere I go. It also makes parties given by the Association more enjoyable, knowing most of the people there.
One island life friendship challenge is the fact that many expats spend only a part of the year on the island and the rest of their year back “home.” When you’ve developed a fun relationship with someone, always doing things with them, and then they leave and are gone for 6 months, it makes maintaining friendships difficult. Some will be good communicators and keep in touch via email or phone, some not.
Another challenge is to not restrict the circle of potential friends to other expats or part-time rock dwellers. While I’ve found that the local people may be shy and often will not reach out first to offer friendship, they do respond to you reaching out to them.
I’ve learned to adapt to all of these factors, to enjoy people as and when I’m with them, to accept cultural differences, to accept the absence of some friends, and to treasure the times we spend together. It’s made for a happy island retirement life.
Though I now have a wide circle of people I enjoy spending time with, the depth of friendships is not the same as with old friends whom I have known much of my life. Does this bother me? Not in the least. When you decide to retire someplace other than where you’ve spent most of your life, there are some losses and gains that go along with this decision. Not having your BFF nearby is just one of them. On the plus side, knowing and interacting with such a wonderful variety of people is a big bonus.
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How have you cultivated friendships and established your social circle on your island?