How I found ‘my people’ in Stockholm
Publish date: 22 March 2021
South African national Samantha Govender wasn’t bowled over when she first arrived in Stockholm nine years ago. This likely comes as a surprise to anyone who knows Samantha, now an enthusiastic advocate for the city. Reflecting on those early days, she admits that Stockholm wasn’t the problem - rather it was her mindset.
“To be honest, when I first moved here I didn’t love Stockholm. And that wasn’t because Stockholm isn’t great, but because I wasn’t ready to put myself out there and make friends. When I did, that’s when the difference came about and I realised how much I love it here.”
It was when Samantha resolved to find “her people” in a city thousands of miles from her home country that this shift happened. She had initially relocated with her then-husband, and following their separation made the decision to stay in Stockholm. But with her support system in South Africa and her friends at that time all made through her ex, she felt isolated and unsure of how to meet new people.
“As a kid, you just go to school and play with everybody in the playground. But as adults, all these insecurities come into play. But you just need to put that aside because you will meet people you gel with. It’s just a matter of actually trying. And once you do, that’s when the place becomes better.”
Find a community
Although now common, just nine years ago turning to the internet to make friends was still a relatively new concept. When Samantha discovered Meetup, an online service used to organise events, it marked the beginning of life as she knows it today. Through its various different communities - “there’s everything from bouldering to knitting clubs” - she began connecting with people who shared her hobbies and interests. She also discovered the South African society on Facebook, of which she eventually became a board member.
It was on Meetup that Samantha first discovered Girl Gone International (GGI), a global female expat community organising meet-ups in most of the world’s major cities. When she attended her first event back in 2014, Samantha - a self-described ‘tomboy’ - was surprised to realise that she had finally found what she’d been looking for.
“Everyone is there with the same aim. They just want to make friends. Nobody’s trying to sell you anything, nobody has a hidden agenda. So I started hosting GGI events myself and later, when the community manager stepped down, I took over the group.”
She’s been the community manager of GGI Stockholm for several years now, facilitating friendships through events and nurturing a platform where women and those who identify as women can connect. Remembering how daunting it was when she was starting out in Stockholm, Samantha actively plans a wide range of events to engage the different subsections and draw out even the shyest members.
“Some people feel too shy to come to the events, so you have to create events that hopefully bring in that specific type of person. And you have to keep people engaged, give them an opportunity to feel like they can communicate with other people and let them know it’s okay to be vulnerable and reach out.”
Girl Gone International is just one of many such communities operating in Stockholm. Facebook is awash with various expat and interest-oriented groups, while Meetup and InterNations often host events in the city. Samantha’s advice is to seek out a group that matches your personality and interests, and then be brave.
“When I first came over, everybody gave me the horrible advice that it’s closed off here and nobody really talks to each other. And that’s not the truth. If you conform to that, you become introverted or shy. We all want the same thing out of life, that is to make friends and feel welcome. You just need to take that first step.”