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Date of publishing: 2016.09.22     Published by Attila M.

Reasons and ways to stay in touch with study abroad friends

You just started to feel comfortable in your second home while studying abroad, but long before you could think about it, you are saying goodbye to your new friends you made in your host country. You have all kinds of questions in mind, for instance:

  • How to keep in touch with my international friends?
  • How to decide who is worth my time?
  • Why should I even bother staying in touch?

In this section we give you tips to maintain healthy international friendships and constantly grow your international network. We guide you through the maze of keeping in touch with different kind of study abroad friends, but first let's see what you can get out of your friendship building efforts.

Uncertainty hits right after studying abroad

International students make tons of friends abroad, but often they have doubts about how things will go down with their new friends after they returned home. We can go even further and say that international students rarely have a strategy to choose with whom they want to build lasting connections, instead they mostly rely on their instincts or pure chance.

Their mind is wandering on no man's land.

On the other end of the scale some international students are obsessed with fitting every international acquaintance into their networking masterplan - even the local bus driver, whom they said „hi” twice, plays an important role. You have to balance this out and go with some reasonable principles while maintaining a global status.

Reasons to stay in touch with international friends

1. International friends help to reduce reverse culture shock

Months or years after your study abroad experience you will miss the people the most.

Not your host country.

Not your host university.

The people.

You will miss your local buddies, international friends or host family, some international students even suffer from post study abroad depression and reverse homesickness. So staying in close touch with at least a couple of foreign friends will help you to get through some rough moments after you returned home. Reconnect, ask what is new at home and share what is going on with you.

2. Remember why you decided to study abroad

You wanted to gain international experience, you wanted to make new friends abroad, you wanted to learn about different cultures, you wanted to practice foreign languages or you wanted to learn about how things are done in a foreign country – that is some real international adventure.

But have you accomplished all these study abroad goals?

The real advantages of studying abroad are rarely visible during the study abroad program itself, but you can reap the benefits after you returned home. You have to keep going. You have to continue with all your good habits you took up abroad: the active lifestyle, the excited look in your eyes when you met new people and learnt new things. Keeping in touch with foreign friends is a key pillar of your international achievements.

3. Study abroad networking efforts could go down the drain

In case you already invested loads of time into making new friends and building a professional network abroad, it is fairly obvious that there is no stopping at the end of the semester. If you do not strengthen a relationship, it gets weaker. Yes, it will not stay constant or stable, it simply weakens day by day. So if you had some strong ties while studying abroad, then don't let them go into oblivion after you finished your study abroad program.

If you were less eager to keep in touch with friends by the end of your semester, you still have a chance to catch up. One month after your global adventure, your study abroad mates are still enchanted by the study abroad experience, so most of them are happy to warm up or deepen international connections. It's still a good time to contact them.

4. You have friends wherever you go

The simplest way to stay in the international circulation is to travel and keep in touch with as many of your international friends as possible. Quality is more important than quantity, but you need quantity to achieve quality and variety in the longer run.

Your increasing appetite for traveling will be treated with much sweeter memories if you can meet up with familiar faces from your study abroad program. At the same time be ready to hang out with fellow international students or offer your place to crash from some nights if possible.

How often do you contact your international friends?

Depending on the strength of the bond with some international friends you may be in daily touch, while others will get a Happy Birthday message from you once a year. That is normal, you have a busy life, you have to prioritize between international ties and balance them with your past connections at home.

Practice shows that if you exchange messages with people from your study abroad program:

  • almost on a daily basis: you became trusted friends;
  • once a week – once a month: you are good friends;
  • every season: you are buddies in loose touch;
  • once or twice a year: you are both very polite.

People have time for what they make time.

So if someone does not initiate a conversation ever, or worse, they respond with a cold 'OK' multiple times without asking back at least 'How are you?', then you can be fairly sure that they don't care about you.

But don't judge quickly! Anyone can have a rough season, even a rough year, maybe the next time you contact them there will be a sharp change in their behavior. Also, some people prefer to meet friends instead of online conversations, so maybe you can surprise them with a postal letter.

If a nice study abroad memory comes into your mind, reconnect with some of your study abroad friends! Share some nostalgic moments, worst case worst you can cry on each other's shoulder.

How to stay in touch with friends you made abroad?

Why friends are friends? They know that they can rely on each other no matter what. So by definition the strongest bonds are the ones where international friends can meet fairly often, let's say every month (minimum). Unless you can fly all over the world to meet your friends on a monthly basis, you will communicate online.

Considering the large geographical distance, the time constraint and the student budget, it is not a surprise that online channels nowadays cover the lion's share of communication between international students. International communication through mobile providers used to cost several USD per minute in the early 2000s, but voice over the internet providers came and made it ridiculously cheap to keep in touch from most countries in the world.

You rarely think about that you are given the opportunity to stay global for almost f ree. Isn't that cool?

There are countless ways to communicate with your study abroad friends, but you have to consider what you can achieve through each channel. For instance Facebook messages are perfect to keep in loose touch, while Skype conveys the impression that you are having a physical conversation.

But still, you cannot replace real life meetings, because we, humans, tend to devalue things that can be done effortlessly or for free by anyone. So let's see some tips on how to mix up the channels to maximize the benefits both for you and for your international friends.

1. Social media

There are direct and indirect ways to keep in touch with your international friends. When you start a conversation or answer messages, you engage in a time-consuming activity directed at maintaining a meaningful dialogue. On the other hand when you post something or like a post, you just give a sign of life that triggers likes and comments from your friends – it is a good way to stay on their radar.

Usually you will send simple text messages, pictures or maybe some cute pet videos, but if you want to get more personal, then send audio or video that you recorded.

  • Social media small group messages: you created or you were added to a private group of people when you were studying abroad (e.g. trips, projects), now use this conversation to stay in touch with multiple friends conveniently (without spamming them to tears)
  • Social media "big exchange student group": probably the whole exchange student community has a group on at least one social media channel, so use that for requests that concern the whole group, such as planned trips, interesting opportunities or ask for help there (yes, after studying abroad too)
  • Private message: sounds pretty obvious, but done only by a few. It costs you nothing to write at least once a year (e.g. say Happy Birthday) to everyone with whom you studied abroad together. You might be able to help out each other in the future, but only if you know what others are doing currently.

Some people use Facebook, others prefer Whatsapp, Viber or Snapchat. Sign up and grow a network of people who remember your name and ready to have meaningful conversations.

  • Voice or video call: Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, Viber, Facetime, phone call – it does not matter. Hearing a familiar voice or seeing a familiar face from your study abroad program is a good way to nurture a strong bond until you meet again.
  • Like and comment: Instagram and Facebook are great tools for a steady (passive) connection, just like a pin on Pinterest or links pointing to your personal blog. Remember that these passive forms of connection only fix you on the radar of your friends and buddies, you have to reach out actively to strengthen the bond.

2. Physical channels

We said it earlier, but we have to repeat it: people usually devalue things that have almost zero cost in terms of time or money. It is a major step forward if you take the time to stay connected with your international friends through calls or video, but the real breakthrough t o a truly meaningful and unbreakable bond is the constant use of physical channels:

  • Postal letter: it is so intriguing to open your mailbox and find a real letter from a study abroad friend. Surprise your international friends with a handwritten letter and maybe add some treats from your home country.

Get ready to become paper penpals in the digital world!

  • Personal meeting: nothing will ever replace flesh and blood meetings, so from time to time you should meet your international friends. When you visit a foreign country, go ahead and check if you know anyone there from your study abroad program. Ask them if they could show you around in their home countries. Everyone is busy, but most can do a one hour walk in the park if they are at home. Don't take it to the heart if they say no. Then just ask about the 'must see' and 'must do' things in their city or country.
  • Reunion: to top it all, you may be able to organize an international reunion with several study abroad friends. Make a return trip to the host country or choose another destination together. If you get an invitation for such events, try to clear your schedule and save some money to really make it happen.

Have a nice trip down to memory lane and possibly make future plans together. You never know what may come out of it!

Who will be your friends after studying abroad?

You may have had some small chats or the opposite, you sat next to each other on all classes, lived, partied and traveled together throughout the semester. After studying abroad you will encounter with surprises from all sides: people with whom you only had chit-chats may be your colleague or business partner, whereas your best study abroad comrades may disappear into the void (hope not).

Keeping people close to you takes an effort, and there are no guarantees in human relationships. Polish your intercultural communication skills, listen and understand what your friends need.

1. Study abroad close friends

You know exactly who your best friends were from your study abroad experience, because you explored the host city, traveled, partied and relaxed together, registered for the same classes and most likely lived in the same apartment or you were roommates.

You definitely want to keep in touch via multiple channels with these friends after your study abroad experience. The more you can meet personally the better, but skype can get you far too!

2. Buddies overseas

Depending on the size of the international student community, you may have had dozens of buddies abroad from all over the world and at the same time you got acquainted with several local students as well. You did weekend trips, worked on university projects, lived on the same floor or went to the gym or partied together, but your relationship is limited to only one of these channels above.

Private messages are commonly used to keep in touch with buddies, but if someone is in the other person's country, then personal meetings present a good option to reheat or deepen the relationship.

3. Small talk masters

With some people you could not get further than some short chats. Language barrier, shyness or simple disinterest are the top reasons. We could publish a book on small talks with any of the following quotes and corresponding titles:

  • 'Yes it's very sunny today.' - The diary of a meteorologist
  • 'Hey how are you? I'm fine, and you? I'm fine too.' - Polite surface
  • 'How was your test? It was okay' – Exam-miner (Season 1)
  • 'You heard about what happened last night?' – True international student gossips
  • 'I will visit you in your country!' – New year resolution of an exchange student
  • 'How was the party? It was cool' – Fairy tales abroad

Never say never! In some cases you do not really know these people, but this is exactly why they hold so many surprises. Private messages and posts keep the connection alive, but you shouldn't turn down a meeting if you visit their country or they visit your country.

4. Online friends only

The title speaks for itself, with some people you had little to zero interaction abroad.

You barely know them, but you know that they were taking the same class as you did or you had seen them around the dormitory. Maybe you had never even met face to face. But whatever, a familiar face or name showed up on social media and you sent or accepted a friend request, because you have two common friends who happen to be fellow local or international students from your study abroad semester.

This is typically the Happy Birthday group, but miracles do happen. Be open to connect with them, again, you may both be in a situation where your goals can be aligned. In any case, even 10 minutes long conversations with many people can contribute to your intercultural understanding in the long run.

Additional rules to keeping in touch with international friends

  1. Strike a balance between past friends and new friends, introduce them to each other if possible. Clear the misunderstandings with local and international friends and forget about petty quarrels before flying home.
  2. Make plans to stay in touch. If you do not have plans, you rely on luck – and usually that leads to the steady deterioration of the relationship.
  3. When you visit a foreign country or your host country, always ask around among your international friends – maybe someone has time to meet you or even host you.
  4. Prioritize and diversify. You have to pay attention to your closer international friends first, but also strive to have eyes all over the world.
  5. People have time for what the make time – this is true for your friends and for you as well.

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