day 9: expat communities

Flags of Luxembourg flying

There’s this interesting phenomenon of international community organisations that you discover as an expat. Yes, you may have moved hundreds or thousands of miles across the globe, but the first thing many foreigners do is join the local British/American/Scandinavian/Irish group. Even where there aren’t official organisations, you can often find people gravitating towards people from their own country.

There are a lot of these organisations in Luxembourg and I am somewhat divided in my own opinion of them. Full disclosure: I’m a member of two groups here – one that I don’t even have a small national connection with. And they are a massive source of information on many practical issues. Here are people who are going through exactly the same transition as you are currently making, and can support you through it. There’s so much good in that.

But if I moved to Luxembourg just to make friends with more British people, it seems to me something is a bit off.

The last two places I’ve lived have shared the characteristic of being somewhat overwhelmed by foreigners. Getting on the metro in Brussels feels a bit like walking into the UN, it is such a mix of skin shades, hair styles, clothing fashions, languages. Here in Luxembourg, this little country is inching slowly but surely towards a 50% foreign population.

It means that a big part of my life here will be surrounded by other expats but from a huge variety of backgrounds and cultures. I love that. I love that my friends are Germans and Dutch and Americans and South Africans and Japanese. It constantly challenges my own perceptions, it introduces me to so many new ideas and beliefs (and food!), and it reminds of what a big and beautifully varied world we live in.

This multicultural life is a huge blessing, but I also don’t want to miss out on the local culture of this country. It feels hard to do most days, because the two communities exist quite separate from each other in many ways. And yet I am sure that if I do not make the effort to get to know Luxembourgers and Luxembourg history and culture, my stay here in this little country will not be as a rich as it could have been.

Even at nearly 50% of the population, we’re still guests in this country, and it is just good manners to get to know your host, and not ignore them while you enjoy all the good things offered to you.

So today’s tip is a challenge to myself more than anyone else, to step outside the relative comfort of the expat community and do the (sometimes hard) work of getting to know the locals. I think it will be worth it.


This post is part of my 31 days to embrace expat life. I’m writing every day through October on this topic. Click on the button to see all the posts so far…

Yesterday’s post – On loneliness.

Photo: Luxembourg flags at the Tour de France, via the Guardian