One of the most rewarding and lingering effects of the study abroad experience lies in the friendships you will cultivate overseas. Not only will you get the chance to meet and develop relationships with your fellow program participants and/or students from your home country, but you'll have a myriad of opportunities to converse and spend time with the locals.
For some, meeting new people is an exciting venture. For others, it's an overwhelming endeavor that will require you to step out of your comfort zone.
Whatever your feelings on the subject, these 6 tips will help you cross paths with the friends your study abroad dreams are made of. So read up and then get out there and meet people!
1. Get to Know the Other Students in Your Program
You've probably daydreamed about all the cool, charming locals you're going to meet while living abroad. And while the prospect of making friends with the residents of your host country can be exciting, it can be intimidating, too.
We suggest making friends with your fellow program participants first. Not only will this add an extra layer of safety to your visit (you will have trusted confidantes to look out for you), but your fellow students are in the exact same boat as you. They know what you're going through.
And, if you experience symptoms of culture shock or feelings of homesickness, they'll be right there by your side.
So be sure to attend optional program meetings and/or outings to allow others the chance to get to know you, and take advantage of any weekend trips offered through your program or institution. After all, people tend to get to know one another quickly while traveling together.
Plus, trips offered through your program will most likely be cheaper - and safer - than a trip you organize all on your own.
Lastly, if you're going to be housed in a dorm or apartment, it's likely that you'll have a roommate (or roommates).
Get to Know Your Roommate with These Simple Tips:
- Upon arrival, gather your roommate(s) or group to go grocery shopping and purchase dorm/apartment supplies.
- Have a welcome dinner. Either choose a restaurant in the heart of your host city or prepare dinner together. This will allow you the chance to hang out in a casual setting, ask questions, and get to know one another.
- Set a date night! (i.e. Every Thursday night you'll play board games, watch a movie together, or explore the nearest landmarks and museums.)
Check out our information on dealing with culture shock.
2. Join a Club or Volunteer Organization Offered by Your Host Institution or City
It's more than likely that your host institution will offer student unions and clubs for you to join. Not only can you sign up for these with your new friends from the program, but you'll have the opportunity to befriend local students in the process!
You will probably hear about your various options for student clubs and groups at your orientation, so be sure to pay attention and make note of any that interest you. Write down call-out meeting dates, times, and locations, as well as any contact information.
Another great way to meet the individuals of your host country is to get involved with local groups and attend local events. Many study abroad programs have offices in their host countries with staff who can direct you to organizations well-suited to your interests.
And sites like GoAbroad.net can help you discover volunteer opportunities nearby!
Since club members are often passionate about their cause, you'll likely get to take part in some interesting, thought-provoking discussions.
If you find yourself feeling anxious or shy, ask a friend to accompany you to the first group meeting - or to join the organization with you.
3. Sit Next to Local Students in Class
If you're directly enrolled in a university abroad, you're getting the unique chance to learn alongside local students. Not only does this provide you with an exceptional opportunity for intercultural learning, but it allows a natural atmosphere for meeting new people.
Something as simple as asking for the time can quickly lead to an interesting conversation, as you know the local students will take note of your foreign accent. You can easily discuss classes and assignments, ask to work together on a partner project, or form a study group.
You may also want to consider finding a language exchange partner; you help this person learn your native language and they help you to learn theirs.
Try not to fall into the habit of only sitting with and speaking to students from your home country. Though this might be the most comfortable option, you studied abroad to meet people you wouldn't otherwise get the chance to meet, as well as to learn the language and culture.
And you can't do this if you close yourself off from the chance to meet someone new.
4. Visit Museums, Landmarks, and Attractions
You'll be doing a lot of exploring abroad, so be sure to take advantage of all the ideal spaces for striking up conversation—museums, landmarks, attractions, etc. Because there are constantly tours, student groups, and individuals of all cultures and backgrounds flowing in and out, you should have plenty of chances to talk to new people.
And since museums and similar attractions tend to draw intelligent, inquiring minds, you're sure to have some interesting discussions!
Remember that many of the people you will meet will be just as curious about you and your home country as you are about them and theirs. In addition, a number of museums and landmarks require entrance fees and/or have security guards, so they tend to provide a safer atmosphere for approaching and meeting new people.
5. Converse with at Least One Local Each Time You Go Out
Remind yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. It's easy to fall into the habit of going out with your friends from the program, but you didn't travel abroad to solely spend time with people from your home country.
And while going out with the friends you know well is a great safety measure, only by immersing yourself in a new culture (having conversations with new people, trying the local cuisine, learning about your host country's language and religion, etc.) will you truly attain a valuable, worthwhile study abroad experience.
Remember: Stay alert to your surroundings, never walk alone at night, and never leave a bar, club, etc. with someone you don't know well.
Always use the buddy system when going out or walking after dark (that is, sticking with a rusted person or group and assuming responsibility for one another in order to ensure your safety).
We suggest making it a personal goal to converse with at least one local each day, whether you're discussing a cultural aspect or simply chatting about the weather.
Don't give up if you feel awkward, as most people will be interested to learn about you and your culture. Remember that every conversation will help you acclimate to your new setting, and hopefully you'll make some lifelong friends in the process!
6. Use Social Networking to Make Local Connections and Stay in Touch
Our last tip for meeting people while studying abroad is to utilize social networking. These sites and apps are particularly beneficial when following up with the people you meet, as they serve to solidify connections and open the lines of communication.
So, after you hit it off with someone new, send him/her a message through Facebook or a similar app and ask if they'd like to hang out. This is a great option for those who are shy or unsure about calling someone you've only recently met.
Remember: Always use the buddy system when meeting up with someone you don't know well. It's also a good idea to tell someone where you're going, who you'll be with, and what time they should expect you back.
Social networking sites are also great for helping you to discover local events, festivals, and upcoming concerts—all great places to meet new people!
So before you leave for your destination (or once you've settled into your new living quarters), check out the local scene on your favorite social site or app. Free apps like Now and Like a Local zero in on your location to help you find cool spots and events nearby.
Finally, social networking is a great way to expand your social and professional networks and stay in touch with the friends you'll meet while studying abroad. Apps like WhatsApp (which uses your regular internet data plan) and Viber (which uses Wi-Fi) allow you to exchange overseas messages at no extra cost.
Whether you're a social butterfly ecstatic at the thought of meeting people abroad or you're an introvert in need of a little extra push, following these 6 tips will help you meet people abroad—and provide you with tons of opportunities to develop local and international friendships that last a lifetime!