You’ve already submitted all the paperwork, applied for your passport, and purchased your plane tickets. Even though you’re excited to depart on a new adventure, the thought of studying abroad has you a bit nervous. What will you do in your free time? Will you find a travel buddy? How will you ever learn the host language? After all, you don’t know a soul in your host city!
Before you let the pre-departure anxiety slip in, remember that you won’t be solo for long. Just like the first day of elementary school, summer camp, or college, remember: you’ve got this! Figuring out how to make friends while studying abroad may take a bit of work, but the payoff is totally worth it. Few things are as satisfying as spending your days abroad in the company of good friends, speaking a new language, and feeling relaxed in your adopted home.
So, just how do you make friends when studying abroad? There are no magic spells to turn strangers into amigos, but there are some tried and true methods to get you started. Whether you’re headed to South Africa to study wildlife or plan to perfect your German in Austria, there are potential friends just everywhere if you know where to look.
Look to Your Left. Now to your Right. VOILÀ! Study Abroad Friends!
Chances are you’re not jumping into this adventure completely alone, and there are other students on your program who will accompany you along the way. The people in your study abroad program are pretty much guaranteed friends, so don’t shy away from getting to know them.
You already have something in common: you both wanted to study abroad in [fill-in-the-blank country] and likely have similar academic or linguistic interests. Start there! While not everyone in your group will become your best friend, the probability that you’ll find a buddy or two is quite high. Not only does this mean you’ll have an automatic travel partner, but it can also be helpful to have someone who understands what you’re going through when culture shock hits.
Especially when first arriving in your host country, making plans with other students on your program is a great way to explore the city and take care of chores like setting up your cell phone or a bank account. That said, make sure you consider what it is you want to get out of your time abroad. Surround yourself with people who will contribute to your experience, not detract from it.
Oh, you meant how to meet LOCAL friends while abroad?
While you shouldn’t go out of your way to avoid other students on your study abroad program, it’s worth the extra effort to make friends with locals and meet international friends, too. You traveled all the way here to get to know your host country and culture, right? Locals are going to be your best bet to truly understanding your surroundings, so you should try to get to know them every chance you get.
1. Go Where the Locals Go
You know that bar or café in town, the one that’s filled with foreigners, conversation in English, and a weekly pub quiz. Avoid it. It’s easy to slip into a comfortable routine hanging out with other expats after class, and you’ll probably have a lot of fun, but it’s no way to meet locals.
Walk around your neighborhood or campus and pick out the spots where other young people hang out. Check out the vibe, and once you find someplace you like, start going there regularly. Eventually, people will start to talk to you, and you may just wind up with a new friend or two!
Even if no lifelong friendship transpire from your continued patronage, frequenting neighborhood joints will help you practice your language skills, recognize your neighbors, and provide you with a home base when you’re feeling out of place in your host city.
2. Sign Up for Clubs at Your University
While this may feel a bit more intimidating in a new country, it’s what you’d do at home, right? Think your interests and how they might manifest in your host country. If you enjoy cinema, joining a group that watches and discusses films each week is a great way to meet people and improve your language skills. If you’re into hiking and are craving an outdoor adventure, a local trekking group might be right up your alley.
Keep in mind that depending on what country you’re studying in, getting this kind of information may involve some detective work. Not all universities offer extracurriculars to the extent that American schools do, and campus involvement may be limited to attending class. Be sure to look for other organizations, like community centers or nonprofits, that host clubs or events, too.
3. Go to Locally Hosted Events in Town
Salsa night? Wine and cheese pairing? Neighborhood potluck? All of these are fantastic opportunities to meet locals and learn your host country’s culture. Keep your eyes peeled for flyers posted around town, check out event boards on campus, and look for local papers or magazines that list community events. Again, this is a great way to practice your language skills and it’s also a way to gain insight into your host community.
Attending locally hosted events can also expand your comfort zone and help you discover new interests. By checking out the local forro night in your Brazilian city or learning traditional weaving techniques in Thailand, you may just stumble upon your new favorite hobby!
4. Be a Language Exchange Partner
It’s a simple fact that the better you can communicate with those around you, the more connections you’ll be able to make and the more you’ll know your surroundings. Basically, learning the local language when you study abroad is a must, and participating in a language exchange is a great way to improve your skills and make friends at the same time.
Not only do you get to help someone else practice their English, but you’ll get to speak with a native speaker. Having a local help you means that you’ll get instant feedback on your phrasing, grammar, and pronunciation, while also getting to pick his or her brain slang, colloquialisms, and all of the other things they’d never teach you in class. In short: you’ll learn how to speak like a local instead of a textbook.
Your language partner can also be a source of information your host country. Want to know where to find the best empanadas in Buenos Aires? How the easiest way to visit the Great Wall in China? You’ll gain new insights into the country through your language exchange partner, and you may even find someone to join you on your adventures!
5. Search Out Internationally-Minded Folk
At some point, those study abroad lonely feels might creep up on you. A sneaky way to meet locals and turn them into friends is to find people who have also had international experiences. They’re usually interested in meeting other foreigners and understand the challenges that expats experience. In many cases, they want to help, since they’ve been there, too.
Search your host city for international associations or events, which could include activities hosted by an official organization, a weekly language circle in a café, or an informal gathering of travelers in a pub. Be sure to check out events run by departments at your university that might attract potential friends too, from the English department to international business programs. It’s not a given that everyone who has international ties will want to hang out with you, but it’s an excellent place to start your search.
6. Live with a Host Family
Sure, host parents or siblings might not exactly be considered friends, but living with a host family is a fantastic way to meet locals. Not only will you be forced to practice your new language on the regular, but you’ll also get the scoop on local events, restaurants, and cultural celebrations. Immediate bonding with your hosts isn’t always a given, but with a little effort, you can certainly benefit from living with a local family.
Even if you don’t have any host siblings your age, your host family may know people your age or with similar interests. This can be a great way to meet people that you might not run across otherwise, and having a variety of acquaintances equals more opportunities to get involved in fun local activities.
7. Don’t Rule Out Apps
Bumble has the section for “looking for friends” right? Use all of that new technology to your advantage! From groups to , there are all sorts of ways to meet people and make friends online. These resources can be especially handy if you’re looking for locals with very specific interests, like paragliding or vegan cooking.
That said, it’s important to be cautious when you meet potential friends online. Meeting locals through school or your host family ensures that someone you know can vouch for that individual. When you meet someone online, that’s not the case, so be sure to follow your instincts and don’t ignore red flags. Meet up for the first time in a public place and let someone know where you’ll be. In all likelihood, you’ll have nothing to worry , but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
8. Seems Silly to Mention, But… Be. Your. Self.
If you don’t want to go out to the bar on a Wednesday night with everyone else, that’s ok. Your study abroad experience is yours and yours alone, so don’t let anyone detract from what you want to accomplish. If you love the theatre and can’t find anyone to go with you, go anyway! When your friends want to go out dancing and you can’t stand the thought of a crowded club, watch a movie in your host language and try some new treats from the bakery instead.
There is no one way to study abroad, and you’re going to be the happiest when you’re doing the things you want to do, at your own pace, with the company you choose. It sounds cliché, but being yourself is always the best way to make friends and meet like-minded individuals.
Now that you’re an expert on how to make friends studying abroad, get out there!
Don’t succumb to study abroad lonely blues! While there’s no foolproof formula for how to make friends studying abroad, following the tips above is a great first step. It’s to your benefit to make friends while abroad, but don’t stress the number of people you meet.
Remember that it takes time for friendships to build, and even if you return home having made only one or two close friends, you’ve still accomplished so much. In the end, what matters is that you stepped outside of your comfort zone, learned a whole lot the world, and are ready to make your experience count.