Moving to a new country or city is a thrilling and potentially life-changing experience. It gives you the chance to discover a unique corner of the world and to connect with new people at a deep level.
I find that, as an expat, when you move to a new place (for the first or for the 100th time) emotionally everything is amplified.
When you arrive in a new city and meet someone who moved there also, you already found a potential common ground with them. Connection is key to the overall outcome of your expat experience.
Conversation starters become more natural, shared curiosity triggers adventures and little by little, without noticing, you grow a network of peers that might stay throughout all your life.
Making friends has never been easier
Getting to know other expat students as well as locals might seem tricky when you land by yourself in a new city. However, it does not have to be so.
Fishing from my own experience and adding a pinch of courage and social media back up, here is some tips on how to make it easier to make new friends:
“Milk your cow” and take advantage of your context. Moving while studying is per se a huge advantage because you already are immersed in a social environment. Do not underestimate such head start!
Connect with other fellow students. Participate in extracurricular activities, join a club, suggest an afternoon out or to accompany you to a language exchange. It might feel awkward at the beginning, but the effort will eventually pay off.
Network through your network. If any of your current friends already know someone in the new city, ask to connect with them. It is extremely reassuring to know you already “have” a person that is somehow tied to your own circle.
They can share tips on how to get around the city, hidden spots worth discovering and possibly support you logistically.
Learn the local language (or improve your English) and join a community. As much as this sounds like a herculean effort, the benefits of speaking another language are countless.
Nowadays there are plenty of channels to do so and you do not have to spend a cent to start learning. Language groups such as SPEAK are becoming more and more popular.
You can join from the comfort of your home or at a designated location. You will meet other people who relate with you and move your first steps in a new idiom safely and judgement free. Alternatively, practice regularly with a native speaker, diving into cultural themes and improving your pronunciation.
Learning a (local) language and the effort put in trying does not make you sound silly or unskilled. On the contrary, it triggers human empathy and admiration and makes you more approachable.
Join a class or pick up a sport. Be it a climbing lesson, an introduction to crochet, a photography course or an acro yoga free trial session. You might discover a new passion or continue practising yours with the additional bonus of getting to know other like-minded people.
They might be locals or other expats sharing the same interest. That same common ground is a very fertile patch to grow and nurture new friendships.
Do not turn down opportunities. Especially at the very start of your experience and unless you really believe they will not add any value to you. A healthy YesMan attitude can go a long way even though some activities are not your cup of tea or sound boring at first.
Some of my best memories go back to times where I was tempted to say “No” but an inner voice pushed back with a louder “Why not?”.
This does not mean to put yourself in situations you feel uncomfortable with and suffer your way through just to make a friend. It means when you hesitate or you feel lazy, step up and go for it. You might be surprised by what lies ahead.
Share an apartment. Finally, if the situation allows for it, co-living is another helpful tool in your box. Be it at the university campus or in a shared flat in the city, this is an amazing opportunity to get to make new friends. Spend time in the common areas and have a home cooked meal together, take an interest in what your flat mates do or ask them for advice.
Most likely they also have experienced to some extent all the novelties you are learning to handle and they can be an excellent source of advice. Plus, it helps with paying the bills.
Deep dive into the new
Getting out of your comfort zone does not have to be unpleasant. When you move to a new city, what you are really being presented with is a chance to explore and understand a different perspective from your own. The outcome of your efforts to meet new friends will possibly affect your experience, but it does not have to be a source of stress.
Here are some bonus simple but smart tips about moving abroad to blend with what you now know about making friends!
At the beginning I described how amplified all relationships feel in a foreign land. That feeling is the engine that will prompt you to be fearless, to give the best of yourself and to make new friends.
A foreign language is not a barrier, it is a resource to explore and the key to cultural awareness. Suggesting an activity or a meet up does not make you lonely, it creates opportunity. Going for it when you are unsure does not equal being a pushover, it shows resilience and curiosity.
Embrace your inner explorer, trust your instincts, expose yourself to the challenge of learning a new language and start connecting from day one. You are in for a delicious treat!
Making a difference with SPEAK
Check out if SPEAK is already present in your city! Be it online or offline, start learning now or join us and share your world with the world!