Some people make friends easily. They gravitate towards people naturally (and vice versa) and within a few hours of entering college for the first time, they’re already making plans with their new friends.
When I was in college abroad, I would look at such people with awe, as if they were from another planet. How could they navigate the new setting, the new culture, and new country so quickly and get comfortable enough to make friends with not just international students but locals too?
Having resigned myself to the fact that I’d never been a social butterfly, I worked to make friends in other, more “organized” ways. Here’s what I found out about making friends abroad.
Of course, the first thing you need to do is get yourself a functional mobile phone so you can open channels of communication with potential friends. This could be a matter of buying a SIM card at the airport or convenience store or filling in a lot of paperwork. Either way, it’s the first thing you should do when you’ve settled down in your home country.
Then, just go ahead and make the most of every opportunity you can to meet new people and find like-minded ones.
Go to the Orientation
Orientation is the day where new students are introduced to the school campus and curriculum. Don’t make the mistake of missing orientation, thinking that it’s trivial. You’d be missing out opportunities for potential friendships.
There’s usually a separate orientation for international students. You’ll be taken around the campus and you’ll get an idea of where everything is. You’ll get to register for classes, get important updates for international students, and the chance to introduce yourself to new students and college faculty.
Given how popular foreign education is becoming in countries around the world, you’ll probably find at least one or two other students from your home country. Talk to them, suggest hanging out on the campus lawns or a local cafe so you can get to know each other more. It’s unlikely that they’ll have plans since they’ve just arrived. If they do, maybe they’ll invite you along.
And if you’ve arrived a few weeks early and already had a chance to explore the city, maybe you could help them out with questions and that way, you’ll get a chance to know each other better.
Get Involved with Campus Activities
You may have decided to only focus on academics and get that GPA you’re targeting. You’ll have a lot of coursework and homework to complete while you’re studying abroad. But this doesn’t mean you should stop the extracurricular activities that you’ve been building up on your resume thus far!
Join campus activities outside of class to make the most of your foreign education. This could be college clubs, community service or student organizations or volunteer work. These are excellent ways to meet more like-minded people and get the chance to make new friends.
You could join a club based on your hobbies or interests. Or join a club for a new activity to get out of your comfort zone. Just make sure not to go overboard and join every club you come across.
Find Roommates to Live with
Many people can live alone and stay active socially. I wasn’t one of them. I tended to get lonely living alone and quickly started looking for a roommate. If you’re living in a dorm, you don’t have to worry about this. If you’re renting your own flat, find a roommate (or two) to share your living space.
It could be someone from your own country or someone who is from another country. You don’t have to have a lot of things in common with your roommate. But you’ll soon be able to meet their friends, and possibly hang out with them, thus increasing your friends’ circle.
You could even throw a party in your own home. Team up with your neighbors, buy food and drinks and spread the word among your friends and classmates. Or if you cook, then this is a chance to show off the cuisine of your home country! You may need a friend or two from your home country to help if there are a lot of mouths to feed.
Make Plans with others to Explore your New Country
A good way to spend more time with your friends is to make plans together to explore the new country you are in. You could explore the local food, clubs, shops or fairs. Or you could go further and plan a weekend hiking or sightseeing if you’re in an iconic city with a lot of history or nature.
You could also invite your local friends. Maybe they want to check out a place or event they want to go to but have no one to go with yet. Locals don’t always know everything about their home city, even if they’ve lived there all their lives.
Use Social Media
There could be a social media group that you could join on Facebook or some other platform, with kids from your country, your department or your dorm. Request to join the group. You can talk to everyone on the group and find invitations to study sessions, parties, and dinners that you may not otherwise hear about.
If you’ve reached your college a few weeks ahead of the semester start date, you could start talking with people ahead of time. That way, you’ll have a few familiar faces to look forward to when term begins.
You can’t make friends abroad if you’re not proactive. Some of us more introverted types may have trouble with one or many of the methods I’ve listed above. But don’t worry. There’s someone out there who will be happy to be friends with you, maybe share language skills with you or study with you. You just have to keep an open mind. Take every chance meeting with someone new as an opportunity to make a friend, and possibly, a lifelong one.