Guide to international friendships
You may have a few trusted friends or you are surrounded by an armada of buddies back home, but the challenges of studying abroad will most certainly open a new page in your social life. At first it may seem downright scary that you have to make international friends or meet people abroad, but it will pass.
This article could help you in many ways, depending on what you are looking for. Maybe you are afraid of feeling homesick or lonely abroad or you have doubts about whether you will enjoy your study abroad experience. Or maybe you are just looking for some cool ideas to make the most of your study abroad program. Anyhow, in this section we are your guide on how to:
How many friends do you need abroad?
Depending on the size of the international student group, you might have 20-50 international acquaintances in a semester. You get to know most of them through university projects, social or cultural events, dorm parties, international dinners and registration during the introduction week. The local buddy system is usually there for you, so you can easily make friends with locals as well.
This is really not a competition, but if you are able to match 50 faces to 50 names in the first month, probably you solved the „friend issue” while studying abroad.
Surely this game is about quality over quantity, however you need quantity to reach quality. Most international students spend their time with 1-2 good friends and at the same time they have 5-10 buddies who are occasionally up for a weekend trip, a dormitory party, some sports, a concert, sightseeing or any other event.
Stick with whom you click
First impression matters, but when you study abroad, often it is a good idea to give a second chance – maybe the first blooper was just an intercultural misunderstanding or simple stagefright. However if you don't click the second time either, probably you need to look for other friends. It is a big mistake to stick with someone who you don't like, just because you are afraid to be alone abroad.
Also, don't be afraid to ditch those who only come to you when they need something, while they don't lift a finger when you need a tiny bit of help. Don't be afraid to leave people who make fun of you but get mad when the same joke is on them and don't spend time with someone whose sole intention is to hurt or exploit you in any way.
Make international friends in advance
Again, you have to think about the reasons why you want to study abroad and you have to do a basic research regarding the host country. Cultural distance might strike you in the beginning, but you have to be ready to meet people from other countries with wildly different thinking and gestures. Read about the host culture, and most importantly, test your cross-cultural skills by making international friends online.
Nowadays you have unlimited options to get in touch with people overseas.
One caveat though: if you use social sites to meet people, safety comes first. So even if someone has a hundred positive reviews, it is better to meet in a public place for the first time. You have to see the difference between dangerous and daring – and then be daring!
1. Contact a friend of a friend: the power of personal recommendation
A great way to meet people in a foreign country is to ask your friends to introduce you to their friends abroad. Maybe your parents, your best friend or partner knows someone who knows someone who has been living in the host country for years. These „indirect friends” are often busy, so do not have high hopes, but it is a good start.
2. Online student groups of your host institution
Look for social media groups that were established by your host university or its student associations. Getting in touch with fellow international students who go to study abroad in the same semester as you is truly the best way to connect with people. You face the same challenges, thus you are both motivated to talk with each other.
If you did not find or you were not added to any social media groups that represent your host institution two weeks before your study abroad program, contact the host international office to provide you some info on that!
3. Couchsurfing.com: find friends abroad based on their personality
You see a detailed profile description, so it is easy to find out if you have anything in common and some of these people may be able to offer you a place to crash in the first days of your study abroad adventure (or help you to look for a place to rent). Keep in mind that if you stay at someone's place, you are expected to share your culture and spend quality time with your host – no one wants foreigners just to crash at their place.
So if you need more freedom, find your own place to stay and get in touch with local couchsurfers who „only” want to hang out. They are also more likely to engage in a deeper conversation online, while people offering their places to sleep usually prefer real life contact.
4. Polygotclub.com or Livemocha.com: make international friends via learning languagesLanguage learning sites are great for making foreign friends online, but this medium requires you to at least make an effort to learn a foreign language or help someone to learn the languages you speak fluently. Build trust and suggest a meeting for when you arrive to the host country.
5. Facebook groups: meet people from other countries who are in a similar situation
Look for people who moved from your home country to your host country, i.e. find expat groups abroad. This way you can see the host culture with the eyes of someone who had already been through the initial culture shock. Probably there is already a group of expats meeting regularly, you could join them occasionally, but don't overuse this option, because you went abroad to meet foreigners.
6. Meetup.com: meet people abroad based on common interest
This last option is for those who already arrived to their study abroad destination. You can see upcoming events in the host country and you can choose between a wide range of topics. Most of the meetings are for free, however sometimes they ask for a symbolic fee to cover the cost of the rent or guest lecturer. It's a safe and quick way to find like-minded friends abroad!
Hunt for roommates or host families
Your host institution may offer a dormitory or family stay, but you can always decide to rent a place yourself or with fellow students. It might be challenging to choose an accommodation abroad. Your host institution and related student organizations usually create an online group well in advance, so there you can drop a comment that you are looking for roommates and families. Host families are chosen before your arrival, but if you are searching for roommates to share an apartment, it can be a good idea to accept the dormitory placement (if any) and find roomies on the spot based on mutual sympathy.
Practice shows that people from the same country or the same region (or langauge group) like to stick together, because it is more convenient to speak a common native language and there is less space for intercultural misunderstandings. But!
Once again, think about why you decided to study abroad and let us kindly remind you that this is a great chance to learn about different cultures. Host families can give you a massive insight into the local culture, while international roommates may open up gloal opportunities for you. You do not necessarily have to pick your roommates from another continent, but at least try to look further than neighbor nations that even speak your native tongue.
Make co-national friends
Your native tongue may not be spoken in the host country and your foreign language skills might be limited. In that case every word you hear in your native tongue is music to your ears. Make friends with co-nationals, but remember that you didn't go to study abroad to spend time with people from your own country. Push yourself a bit to improve your foreign language skills and get out there to make foreign friends.
Introduction week or orientation programs are obligatory
You moved to a new country and you are extremely excited about all the new things around you and you want to see everything immediately. That is great, but hold your horses just for now or more precisely channel your energies into meeting new people.
International students are usually offered to participate in an orientation week, so your task here is to meet as many people as possible. From a big pool of acquaintances in the first week you will have some closer friends and maybe a dozen of buddies to hang out throughout your semester abroad.
Looking for ways to bond with locals is always a good idea, especially if you do not have a host family. Learn some local phases, discuss and correct interesting stereotypes about each other's country (it's a game, don't offend anyone), try to teach them some words in your native language (if applicable).
Local tandem parterns are usually eager to learn about your culture and you can help each other with languages. Don't be afraid to make friends as you travel in and out of your host country. Taking a part-time job or volunteering at a local community or student association will give a boost to your local friendship meter.
Also it won't hurt if you get along with the international office and other offices at your host institution. Sign up for sports teams or visit a local gym, do whatever it takes to be active abroad. You have to show your face everywhere in the beginning and after a month you need to prioritize and do what you really want to do.
The universal sign of friendliness
Everyone likes people who smile.
Now wipe that creepy smile off of your face.
Smile again. Your smile should say: „hey, I'm just like you, let's be friends”.
You have to put yourself out there. You might be the most loyal friend with unshakeable values, but if you don't open your mouth, it may go unnoticed. Friendships don't just happen, you have to make an effort to build them.
Be confident and open-minded
Step up with the confidence of an extrovert for a moment and keep an open mind, so you will have no trouble making foreign friends during your international studies. You may be worried about who are going to be your first new friends abroad, but in reality it is easier to make friends abroad than at home.
That is because international students share a common trait: they are alone in the beginning and they are extremely opened to connect with fellow students in the first weeks. So why should you be shy? You are all sitting in the same boat, everyone is waiting for the person next to them to say something. No one is going to bite your head off if you ask „how are you” or „where are you from”, so take the initiative!
Do not avoid, but look for cultural differences
Some people look different, act different and surely have a different cultural background. You will especially feel this if you come from a place where multicultural society is shown only on TV. You should not be afraid of differences if you did your research about the host country.
Make an effort to diversify your international connections and make friends from as many countries as possible. How on Earth could you learn about cultural diversity without having an actual conversation with members of a given culture?
Some may feel entitled to judge others based on their foreign language skills. It would be a mistake not to give a chance to people who are a bit slower or shy when speaking foreign languages. You have the right to choose your friends, but don't turn away from someone just because they speak with a harsh accent or have problems expressing themselves. Maybe they get better in a few weeks, they just need some time to gain courage.
In case your language skills are good enough to dominate even a group conversation, think about whether you shut out someone or you are impossible to follow. The key to intercultural interaction is not what you say, but what others understand.
Making new friends abroad is just the beginning, you will have to work hard to stay in touch with international friends after you returned home.
Exceed cultural expectations
When you study abroad you represent your country and your own culture.
Small countries may be virtually unknown for many locals and international students, so if you are coming from a less widely known country, then you set the cultural baseline of your country in others' mind. It is a great responsibility to shape their opinion about your home country, so act like it. You don't have to do special stunts or step out of character. Just be nice and friendly. Also, be patient, probably you will have to answer an array of unexpected questions. Be ready to show your country on the map and say some random words in your language. Enjoy it, this is how it goes!
International students from leading world economies are often expected to explain some negative stereotypes and live up to the positive stereotypes – so you better check the stereotypes about your culture and get ready for the show. When you meet people from countries you have barely even heard of, try to show some interest instead of making fun right away (you can do that on the second day). Probably many of your study abroad groupmates were in your country and they have all kinds of information to support or confront you. Anyhow, just take it easy and the fun is guaranteed!
Conversation starters when studying abroad
You might not be a small talk king in your home country, but labroaduckily in a foreign country you have much more questions to start with, because you mostly meet people with different cultural background. You were brave and curious enough to study and these are the exact features you need in order to start a conversation and make friends from all over the world.
You ask questions, wait for the answer and sooner or later you will get to a topic where you both feel comfortable. You won't even notice and the conversation goes from artificial to natural, and when that happens you don't need guidelines anymore, you just give yourself.
Start a dialogue
Here is a sample set of questions (no interrogation or robot style please) with possible responses. It is important that you do not ask one question only, but you ask follow up questions related to previous answers.
-You: How are you?
-New friend: I'm fine thanks. I did my first sightseeing yesterday/checked the library/ had a talk with some super nice people in the dormitory. And you?
-You: I'm fine too.
Reflect on the story, relate to it, praise it or tell what you did recently
-You: Where are you from?
-New friend: I'm from [home country]. And you?
-You: I'm from [your home country]. I have been to [new friend's home country], I had a great/interesting/funny experience there / I have never been there. What should I visit if I go there? Here you may go deeper in the conversation if you know more about their country, for instance the capital, bigger cities, something specific you heard recently (connect it to positive events)
-You: Why did you decide to study in [insert host country] and at [your host institution]?
-New friend: Everyone went for an exchange semester so I figured I do some traveling and maybe brush up on my English/French/German/Spanish/Russian/other language.
-You: That's great! So what languages do you speak? Have you been here before? Traveling sounds cool, you got any plans already?
At the end of the conversation always offer to exchange personal info (add as a friend on social media/ask for the new local phone number) and suggest a meeting later on, but only if you mean it.
This was a very basic scenario that could take place in the first week, when the experience is relatively new for everyone. You can also ask 'How do you like it here', 'What courses you took' or share whatever you feel about being in a new environment. If you meet someone at a later stage of your international studies, the conversation may contain loads of host country cultural references. For instance ask about the food, dormitory, flat, host school, classes, professors – you literally have millions of questions in your bag, just ask and pay attention to the answers.
+1. Mixed guide to make foreign friends