Making Friends While Studying Abroad

Studying abroad is one of the most exciting and rewarding times in a person’s life. By taking the leap and committing to going abroad, you have already showcased your courageous and adventurous spirit. Yet, many students still feel nervous about their study abroad and may fear that because they won’t know anyone, they will have a difficult time making new friends.

My name is Ty, and like you, I also had this concern when I decided to study abroad. However, perhaps unlike you, I have a lot of experience being the “new kid” –– my dad’s career required my family to move an average of every four years! As a result, I was able to pick up skills along the way that allowed me to easily make friends when entering an environment where I didn’t know a single person.

After reading this step-by-step guide, I hope that you will feel confident about going abroad, meeting new people, and developing lifelong friendships. Let’s get started!

How To Make Friends While Studying Abroad

Step 1: Know Your Worth

In my experience, this first step is both the most important and (sometimes) the most difficult. However, starting here will help you build a solid foundation that will be able to support strong and healthy friendships.

So, here’s an interesting fact: YOU are a worthy person! You possess characteristics that draw people to you. You make people laugh. You make people feel comfortable. You are talented and you are interesting in your own unique way. You may or may not realize it, but there are things about you that the people around you find fascinating. Maybe it’s your artistic abilities. Maybe it’s your ability to quickly learn new things. Or, maybe it’s your ability to navigate a new place and take a leadership role in your program.

Whatever it may be, make sure to recognize and appreciate the unique characteristics that make you a special person. And most of all, know that you are worthy of friendship. Having this confidence in yourself will naturally attract people to you.

Step 2: Do the Things You Enjoy

When I studied abroad in Shanghai, I remember sitting at the table during our orientation dinner and realized I didn’t know a single person. But guess what? Nobody else did either. I began to ask people questions about themselves, as this is the most surefire way to stimulate conversation (people LOVE to talk about themselves). Naturally, the conversation began to float towards hobbies, and each person at the table began to offer what they liked to do.

At one point, I mentioned that I loved Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and that I was attending a class that evening. Guess what? The person across the table from me was very passionate about Jiu Jitsu and they nearly leaped across the table at the chance to ask if they could join me. And guess what? That person and I became best friends during our study abroad and did a lot of traveling, and Jiu Jitsu, together.

So, what are some of your favorite hobbies? Do you enjoy frequenting cafes? Do you love fashion? Are you an active person who enjoys the gym, or hiking on the weekends? Maybe you’re an artist or a bookworm? Maybe you want to learn a new skill, such as a language, or dancing. Regardless of your interests, try to get clear about the things you enjoy doing, and then go out and do those things.

Let the other students in your program know what you are doing as well. Naturally, you will find that you will be surrounded by people who enjoy the same activities as you, which will help you easily become friends with people of similar interests.

Step 3: Put Yourself Out There

OK, so you’ve recognized your worth and you’ve gotten clear on the things you enjoy doing. Now, you must silence your inner introvert for a moment and talk to someone. Just think, by pushing through a moment of potential awkwardness, you may have a friend for life. Here are a few ways you can break the ice.

  • Compliment the person on what they are wearing or a unique feature they may have (long hair, tattoos, etc.).
  • Ask the person where they are from. This is an easy conversation starter, as almost everyone is from a different place when studying abroad.
  • Ask the person what they think of the program location, why they chose it, or what they hope to accomplish during study abroad.
  • Ask them what their favorite ___ is (band, music, food, etc.).

Step 4: Join a Language Exchange Community

For me, becoming conversational in Mandarin was a huge goal of mine during my time abroad. I remember waking up early each day just to write out characters on the classroom chalkboard over and over again until my hands became pink with chalk dust.

Eventually, I decided to find a language partner to practice speaking with. Connecting via Facebook, we began to teach each other our languages. Together, we visited some of the most interesting cafes, museums, and bookshops in Shanghai, and I was introduced to a whole different side of the city. I even had the honor of meeting his family, which allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation and respect for Chinese culture.

If learning a language or befriending the locals of your program location is a goal of yours, then join a language exchange group. Language exchange groups are plentiful and you’ll likely be able to find them on social media. Once you join a group, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself and find a local friend who is interested in practicing their English language skills (or perhaps another language you may know). By meeting up a few times a week, you’ll be able to practice the language you are learning with them, and then switch to helping them practice their English. This exchange could very easily turn into a lifelong friendship!

In addition, locals are a lot of fun to become friends with. They always know the best spots to go for food, hikes, photos and other adventures.

Step 5: Be Consistent

Congratulations! You’ve managed to establish a network of friends to explore, learn, and adventure with in your new home. Now, just like at home, be sure to be consistent with them. Check up on them, make future plans, schedule study breaks and spark up a conversation in between classes. By consistently keeping up with your new friends, you’ll remind them that they are someone you are interested in getting to know and that you enjoy their company.

Step 6: Enjoy your New Friends

Now it’s time to have fun with your new friends! Part of what makes a study abroad experience so special is the ability to share this life-changing experience with other people. While the location itself will be one of the most exciting parts of a study abroad, it’s always the people you surround yourself with who you will remember the most.

I hope your study abroad is filled with memories and connections that will last a lifetime. I know mine was!

Ready to jumpstart your international education? Explore running programs and application deadlines on the USAC website.