I don’t know about you, but my study abroad fantasies started when I first saw the Lizzie McGuire movie and imagined meeting my own Paolo, riding on the back of a motorcycle down cobblestone streets, then finding out I looked just like a famous pop star. With constant articles about how amazing and life changing studying abroad is, my expectations only grew from there.
My first study abroad trip did not let me down: it has been everything I wanted and more (minus Paolo and the pop star), but a large part of that is because of the incredible people I met along the way.
Meeting new people allowed me to go places I might not have otherwise visited, learn more about other cultures, and overall feel more immersed in the experience. Had I spent more time alone or with people I already knew, I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much. I also probably would’ve been pretty lonely and homesick. But with language barriers and culture differences, combined with the fact that you’re in a new place where you likely don’t know anyone, how do you possibly meet new people? It can be difficult, but once you start to immerse yourself in the local culture, by the end of the trip, you’ll be belting, “this is what dreams are made of… I’ve got somewhere I belong…”
Join clubs or community meetups
If you’re directly enrolled in a university, you probably have the opportunity to join on-campus organizations. However, if you’re abroad for another reason or program, such as volunteer work or an internship, you might not have those resources at your fingertips. With a simple online search though, you can probably find some local meetup groups. There are websites dedicated to meetups, in addition to websites geared towards expats in many locations around the world. These sites will often have various meetup groups and all kinds of event listings. Try new things. Go see a local band. Try out the morning yoga class. Take a class on how to cook local food. There are so many different options, and chances are, the people at these events will be just as eager to meet new people as you are.
Go to university events
Again, if you’re enrolled at a university, this is a given. Try to not only go to events geared towards international students, but also general university events. Though it might be intimidating, especially with a language barrier, it is extremely worthwhile to interact with locals. If you’re not enrolled at a university and there are universities nearby, you can still attend some events or visit the campus to meet people around your age.
Learn the language
One of the hardest things about meeting friends might be the language barrier, depending on where you are studying or working. This is why it is essential to at least try to learn the language. In many areas, people might know English, but so many doors open up when you have at least some understanding of the local language. Chances are, there are locals who would love to practice English with you. In exchange, you can ask to practice their native language with them. This is a great way to meet locals and immerse yourself in the local language and culture.
Get out there
When you don’t know anyone and everything is unfamiliar, it may be tempting to sit in your apartment or just visit the common tourist destinations. But though it can be tough, once you start to challenge yourself and explore new places, you become more comfortable. It might not seem likely that you meet new friends when you’re just out and about but I met three new friends in a subway station. It can happen.
Use dating apps
So maybe going on Tinder wasn’t your first idea for making new friends while you’re abroad. Some people obviously are still only using dating apps for hookups while they’re traveling. Others, though, genuinely want to meet new friends. Though it’s not for everyone, there’s no denying that these apps are a way to meet new people. It might not seem like a likely place to meet your travel BFF but it’s not impossible. And if you’re looking for your own Paolo, he’s probably on Tinder too. Just saying.