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How to Make Lasting Friendships While Studying Abroad

Grace Lower | Aug 29, 2022

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Behind every study abroad experience is a lot of hard work. 

A semester in South America may sound glamorous, but it takes equal parts organization and drive to handle late nights of pre-trip planning. As a student traveler, you’ll be tackling tasks that once sounded intimidating, like researching travel insurance or signing up for a visa. And the work doesn’t end once you arrive at your destination. In addition to managing your courses, you’ll be navigating a new culture, and in some cases, an entirely new language!
Amid the hustle and change, a social support network is essential. The best way to feel at home in your host country is to make local friends. You’ll be meeting peers in your classes and around campus, but you might also connect with residents of your host-city. With a few key shifts in your mindset, you’ll be able to more easily connect with others, and remain in touch long after you’ve returned home. 

1. Be brave

Making new friends demands a degree of confidence that doesn’t come easily to most people. And if you’re speaking your second language, even mustering up the courage to introduce yourself can be overwhelming. Making new friends begins with overcoming your doubts. After all, if you’re willing to take the leap of studying abroad, how hard can talking to someone really be?
Give yourself a pep-talk from time to time. Whether you’re striking up a conversation with your cool next-door neighbor, or you’re inviting a group of your classmates to join you for dinner, the worst outcome is to never have tried in the first place. Remember that a few minutes of courage can be the start of a meaningful friendship.

2. Set social goals

Although many friendships happen organically, it can be valuable to create milestones for yourself as you endeavor to make friends abroad. This is where a “social bucket-list” can come in handy. 
At the start of your trip, create a list of social goals for yourself. One goal might be to learn the names of everyone in your history class, while another could be to plan a weekend outing for a small group. Taking small, actionable steps toward building your social life abroad can motivate you to be more outgoing in the long-term.

3. Go local!

Local events have three key benefits: 

1. You can learn about your host city’s culture 
2. You can meet people who share your interests 
3. You can use a local event as an opportunity to invite people to hang out with you. 
If you’re looking to make friends, local events are a win-win-win!
No matter your interests, chances are, your host city has a community for you. If you’re a huge sports fan, try to find a bar or restaurant that broadcasts popular games. If you’re an art aficionado, spend an afternoon exploring your city’s museum and gallery scene. If you’re a foodie, make it your goal to visit your host city’s 10 best restaurants. No matter where you go, your challenge is to either invite someone to join you or to meet someone new once you’re there.

4. Ask lots of questions

Whether you’re chatting with a fellow student, a local musician, or the person in front of you at the grocery store, remember that people love to talk about themselves. The easiest way to get the conversation going is by peppering your chat with plenty of questions. 
If you’re practicing a second language, it’s helpful to review some basic conversation starters. Questions like “where are you from?”, “what do you do for a living?”, “what are your hobbies?”, and “what at brought you to this city?” are all easy ways to get your conversational momentum going. As you listen, try to find areas of commonality — you might be surprised by what you learn.

5. Keep an open mind

Part of living in an international community is encountering people with drastically different interests, values, and communication styles. These differences can sometimes be startling, especially when they’re rooted in a person’s heritage or culture. 
However, working through differences can be a terrific opportunity for growth. Rather than breezing by points of disagreement, ask people about the “why” behind their attitudes and values. You might find that you have more in common with them than you think!

6. Know your limits

Living abroad has its downsides. Beyond the usual student struggles of balancing coursework, sleep, and social activities, you’re adding the daunting task of navigating an unfamiliar environment. Making friends is a necessary part of the experience, but if you’re feeling burnt out, make sure to carve out time for yourself. That could look like spending an evening binge-watching a new series from bed or taking a solo day-trip to a nearby town. No matter what energizes you, remember that taking time to recharge can help you be a better friend in the long-run.

7. Take lots of pictures

As you continue getting to know people through class and at events, don’t be shy about taking a few photos along the way. The benefit is two-fold — it gives you an excuse to add your new friend on social media for tagging, and it can capture what could go on to become an incredible memory. 

8. Plan a reunion

As your trip draws to an end, look into ways to keep your newfound friendships going. One simple way is to plan a reunion. You and your study abroad squad can keep the adventure alive by revisiting your host city in a few years, or by meeting up in a new destination. In the meantime, don’t forget to check in with your new friends periodically via text or social media. With a little mutual effort, that pal you made abroad can be an integral part of your next great adventure.

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