Making new friends in a foreign country may seem like a daunting task, but it's an essential part of familiarising yourself with the local culture of your newhomeland. In addition to your support system back home, it's important to have friends in your new city or country who can help you learn the ropes of your new surroundings. Having moved over twenty times in my life, to five different countries and eight different cities, I've definitely experienced being “the new kid in town”. It isn't an easy situation to find yourself in, but with a bit of preparation and an open mind, you'll have your own social circle in no time. I definitely could have used some pointers the first time I moved abroad by myself and that's why I decided to put together a list of six tips that can help you make new friends in a foreign country
1. Start Planning Before You Even Move
Just as you start planning other parts of your move ahead of time, such as booking flights, finding a place to live and thinking about what kind of clothes to pack, you should also start thinking about how you would like to spend your down-time and what kind of people you would like to meet. While it’s equally as important to keep an open mind and leave room for spontaneity upon your arrival, it’s not a bad idea to do some research in advance on your new city. What kind of down-time will you have? Will you be living a big city with endless options or maybe a small town with more limited resources? What is the music scene like where you’ll be living? Are there art classes or movie clubs or sports teams?
Arriving in a new country can be an extremely overwhelming experience. I definitely remember the feeling of getting to my new apartment, unpacking my bags and getting everything sorted and then just sitting on my bed thinking, "Now what?" If you have some addresses or ideas jotted down it can be easier to get up and moving and feeling a bit of control and familiarity in a completely new environment.
2. Be Proactive at Work/School
Most people who move abroad do so either for work or study. Unless you are working as a freelancer from home, you're likely to meet a lot of new people already on day one. During my time abroad, my work and university environments have been the primary places I have met friends. Sometimes some of my closest friends have actually been friends of friends or even a co-worker’s relative who happened to be at the same Sunday lunch I was invited to. The key is being proactive and having a positive attitude. Say yes when you are invited to go hiking at the weekend, barbecues at your colleague’s house or to catch a movie with someone from school. You don’t have to and probably won’t even become best friends with everyone you hang out with. But the more you put yourself out there, the likelier you are to connect with someone who you really do enjoy spending time with.
3. Join a Club
Sometimes it can be tough to make friends at work and school as all of your colleagues might be up to their ears in work and your classmates stressed with exams and projects. In that case you might want to look into joining a club. People generally take up hobbies and other leisure activities out of interest rather than obligation, so the atmosphere is much more relaxed already from the get-go.
If you have a particular hobby back home that you’d like to continue while away, check out what kinds of clubs and groups offer that activity in your new city. It’s always easier to start a conversation even with total strangers when you already have something in common. Are you passionate about singing or playing a particular instrument? Look up choirs or bands in the area who might be looking for new members or arranging open-mic nights that you could join. You could even contact them in advance, let them know when you’ll be arriving and ask if they have any upcoming events that might interest you. It can definitely be daunting to show up as the newbie to a club that’s been running for years but you might just be the exact person they’ve been looking for!
4. Start Something From Scratch
Although having a common interest is a great ice-breaker for making new friends, there’s also something about being a group of complete newbies that brings people together. Just like having a common interest is a great conversion starter, not knowing anything at all about something can also bring people together. Is there a hobby that you’ve always wanted to take up but never had the opportunity? Is your new home country or city known for some kind of particular sport or instrument? Especially if you’re arriving in January or September when beginners’ classes tend to start up, you can easily make new friends and learn a new talent while you're at it.
5. Use Facebook's Expat Groups
Although Facebook is considered a bit outdated for some, it is a great way to get in touch with people in your area. Just go to Facebook and type in the name of your city or town in the search bar and see what comes up! In many big cities there are specific expat groups that bring you together with other out-of-towners and can actually be really helpful for finding accommodation, public transport routes or just top tips on getting a good bite to eat. The great thing about expat groups is that everyone there has been in your shoes at some point so they can easily relate. These groups can also be priceless when you’re feeling homesick or just out of place. A word of the wise though, don’t get too caught up in these groups as your objective (at least in my opinion) should be to experience the local culture and language through the locals themselves. Also, expats come and go but if you make friends with people will permanently live in the area, you will always have someone to visit!
6. Take a Language Course
In my opinion, knowing the local language is a key part of getting into the culture and meeting locals. And that’s why you’re there in the first place, right? So sign up for a language course and get to practising! Regardless if you take classes in a large or small group or even one-on-one with your teacher, you will meet people who you could get together with also outside of the classroom. Your teacher is also probably a local who could give you tips and advice on fun things to do and experience in the area. It’s a win-win!
As you can tell, there are many ways to meet people and make friends in a new country. The bottom line is to get out there. We are often so full of excitement about moving to a new country that we expect our excitement to be mirrored in everyone we cross paths with. But the reality is that in any country or city the locals already have their own lives and aren’t necessarily looking to meet people in the same way as we are. So you really do have a make a conscious effort to get out there and make new friends. Keep an open mind and listen to yourself. If you are an extrovert who thrives with tons of people around you, sign up for anything and everything you can. But if you like to keep more to yourself and are content with just a few friends then take it slow. But make sure you get out there.
The pictures in this post are from Las Fallas in Valencia earlier this year. Because the truth is that once you make some friends, you might end up getting invited to all kinds of fun events!