Making friends and forming relationships happens differently for everyone, but I am a strong believer that effort will take you far. Therefore, if you put time and energy into getting to know people while you’re abroad, you will benefit from it. Going abroad is scary because you’re leaving the support system of family, friends, and professors that you’ve built up over years, yet it’s also incredibly exciting to have a chance to completely reinvent yourself. And, since you’ve already gone through the whole process of first-year orientation before, you know how to introduce yourself, make small talk, and form relationships with tons of new people. Here are my top five tips for making friends in a new place.
1. Join clubs and societies
You’ll hear this advice from just about every person you meet (especially your IFSA-Butler program advisors) because it’s absolutely true. While not everyone meets their best friends through an on-campus society, there are virtually no downsides to joining one. If one of your goals for studying abroad is to meet local university students, this is a great way to do so. If you’re looking to stay in shape, often times club sports fees are less expensive and more fun than gym memberships. And, if you want to see the country in which you’re studying, there are lots of clubs and societies that offer excursions and other cultural events. There are lots of built-in ways to socialize through societies, so this is a really great option if you’d like more structure.
2. Look outside your flat
You often hear about flatmates placed together who end up becoming the best of friends, but this isn’t the case for everyone (and certainly wasn’t the case for me). While it can be frustrating if you don’t click with the people you’re living with, there are lots of ways to meet people outside your building. For example, if someone else from your program is living in different accommodations, ask to check them out or meet their flatmates! That’s how I met my best friends while I was in Scotland – essentially, I invited myself over to their flat and never left (sorry Margi, Emma, and Kenzie!).
3. Be okay with going alone
This may seem counterintuitive given that this is a blog post about how to make friends, but I think it is important to remember that it’s okay to do things on your own. While having someone else to explore your new city with can be fun, don’t use that as an excuse not to spend time getting to know your new surroundings. If you wait until you’ve made friends to start learning your city, you’ll just waste some of the time you could be spending going to museums, visiting cultural sites, and trying new foods. In my opinion, it’s better to have control over what you’re doing and when rather than constantly compromising or missing out for the sake of having company. And if that means some of your pictures are selfies, so be it!
4. Remember that this experience has an end date
Because you have limited time, there’s no need to waste it pretending to be someone else; you can start being yourself from the beginning and form even more sincere friendships.
Ideally, the friends you make abroad will be lifelong ones (and for me, this is the case – I have visited both American friends I made while abroad and Scottish flatmates). However, not everyone you meet while studying is someone you will keep in touch with. This is the most important tip for making friends, because going into your study abroad experience with this mindset allows you to be your most genuine self as quickly as possible. Because you have limited time, there’s no need to waste it pretending to be someone else; you can start being yourself from the beginning and form even more sincere friendships. I found this revelation to be one of the most significant parts of my time abroad.
5. You still have your support networks
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re finding your bearings in a new place, so it’s reassuring to know that you have people stateside (or even in your new city) that care about you. And thanks to modern technology, keeping up with them is easier than ever! Spending time talking or video chatting with those people can really help restore your social confidence. And, more likely than not, you will know other people who are also studying in your host country; meeting up with them and talking with someone who knows you well can also help you feel less lonely.
And, as a bonus tip, remember that there is no one ‘right’ way to study abroad! It’s easy to get wrapped up in the things you ‘should’ be doing or the friends you ‘should’ be making, but everyone is going to have a different experience, and they’re all valid. Happy traveling!
Margot Maley is an Anthropology student at Kenyon College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2014.