“I don’t know the language”, “It’s too hard to find good people”, “I am not comfortable putting myself out there” — We have all used these phrases before and we have a slew of never ending excuses for why we aren’t finding friends. The truth of the matter is that each person struggles to find friends when they first move abroad. There are a lot of factors involved in how easy or difficult it may initially be, but keep in mind that you are not looking for your lifelong best friend – you are simply looking for someone you can go out for a beer with and have a nice chat (who maybe will lead you to your new best friend).
Put your out there, don’t be afraid of a little risk, and always be true to who you are because people can sense a fake person a mile away.
These are my Top Tips and Tricks to Making Friends Abroad:
- Join a Club or Activity
Wherever I move to a new area I always start with the same clubs and activities and look to get involved right away. I do my research on the areas I am going and send an email or text to the ‘Contact Us’ person about how to start getting involved and what the commitment looks like and adjust from there. I always look for a bible study/Church group and a Frisbee team and, not by coincidence; they have always been my closest friends in each new country.
2. Find something you are passionate about and find people with the same passion!
For me it is Frisbee and Church – I like tennis, softball, reading etc. but when my schedule gets tight the activities I am most passionate about are Frisbee and Church and thus they are the last to get bumped out. If I were not passionate about these activities, when I start to have other work pile up, it’s common to skip them or have spotty attendance. If you are not passionate about the activity it will show and the best parts of you will be hidden. You need to consistent and people will see your devotion to the same interests as them and you instantly have a mutual connection. Quality friendships, as with any relationship, takes consistency and work for it to be long lasting and when you both love the same things you are already making it easier for yourself.
3. Go out of your way to organize hangouts
Everyone has that friend who usually starts the plans for the group; they are good at scheduling or getting everyone on board for fun activities. Be that person! If you start making plans people will join. A common trap people fall into is everyone waits for someone else to make the plan. It may seem intimidating but friendships will stay surface level if you don’t take the risk. A simple way to start is by putting out an invitation for something you were already going to do with or without them. For instance, I just asked my entire French class in a big group chat if they wanted to join me for pizza after the course next week. I was going to eat lunch anyways and so was everyone else but now it is a social activity for all of us without the pressure of any one on one interaction.
4. Do Fun Stuff!
This should be self explanatory but usually isn’t. If you want people to hangout with you and join you for activities – DO FUN STUFF! Don’t just ask someone to come over and awkwardly sit over a piece of bread and say ‘well that was fun’ and roll your eyes. Ask them to do something interesting like swimming in the lake, a bike ride in the woods, or visiting the local amusement park. Enjoy what you do and they will too! It is contagious!
This has been my experience in summary:
It took me 2 months to develop quality relationships with people I met at Frisbee where we went out for beers, karaoke, etc. and I felt completely at ease.
- We all spoke English so it was easy for them to understand and for me to express who I am.
- Everyone was diverse in Amsterdam so being a foreigner was common and not different.
- I was studying at the time, and many people in my group were also students so we had similar schedules and availability.
- We were living in the city so accessibility to activities and my age group were easygoing.
- People knew we had limited time together so it was harder to dig deep in such a short amount of time.
- People were coming and going very often as students.
- Frisbee had brought us together put people would have spotty attendance and it would be hard to grow those relationships.
I developed lifelong friendships in about a month through a pre-existing friend in Frisbee and also with people in Bible Studies. After researching local churches I was able to find the right match and after attending the first service I learned it had a young age group and also was planted by my church in New Hampshire (cool stuff). This got me started with the Video Production for the church and I ended up leading a bible study of life long friends. My situation with Frisbee is a best-case scenario. The person invited me to play Frisbee with his team and as a result I was welcomed and embraced by a generous group of people who had similar interests and welcomed me as an extension of my mutual friend.
- I had someone I was already a friend with in Frisbee so I did not have to start from ground zero.
- Everyone had the same culture so cultural differences/language differences were non-existent in both scenarios.
- I was near the city so accessibility and location were manageable for both groups.
- Everyone worked regular hours so timing was rarely an issue and we had multiple group chats for a variety of offers that we all participated in making our familiarity increase quite rapidly and develop closeness.
- Bible Studies help you become more introspective from the start (if you let them) thus you can develop deep roots with a consistent group of people very rapidly.
- Initially I was commuting from Cape Cod before I moved closer to Boston and that made consistency difficult to manage and I had spotty attendance.
- I missed out on a lot of friendship development because I was not able to hangout outside of Frisbee until I moved closer to Boston.
I am still developing friendships in France. I am blessed by nature as I am an extremely outgoing person and often put myself in situations where I can go out of my way to grow and understand new people. Generally put – it is fairly easy for me to develop quality friendships – however France has taken me the longest thus far.
- I am able to meet more purely French locals rather than expats and gain more cultural enhancement / French language use.
- I can negotiate my hours with my Au Pair family as needed for vacations and time off.
- Since foreigners are less common on the Frisbee team I joined, you had people are curious about your differences and will eventually talk to you about them.
- Frisbee practices are taken much more seriously in terms of attendance in France so spotty attendance was less of an issue than with other teams I have joined.
- I am far enough from Paris (the closest big city) that I cannot regularly commute to see people there where there are plenty.
- Au Pair lifestyle has difficult availability to find people available for a coffee/beer because I don’t work during school hours but am busy all other hours including bedtime.
- France is one of those countries where a lot of people either don’t speak English or prefer not to speak it to you. Thus knowledge of the language is essential to developing quality friendships that are reciprocal.
Share your experiences and tips for finding a good group of friends!