Having gone abroad and not with a friend group I knew well, it was definitely tough finding my footing when it came to friends. There’s the whole thing about independence and being comfortable doing things solo, and I endorse that completely, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s nice to have company you can tag along with, travel, share experiences, in fact, friends are typically the ones that take the pictures of that we often use to remember good memories of trips, and so being in a new country and trying to navigate building friendships from scratch is difficult. I have some tips for how I made most of the friends over my exchange, but everybody has their way of doing things and my suggestions may not be for you, so do what you feel comfortable with, but don’t forget you’re studying abroad and should be stepping out of your comfort zones every once in a while if you can.
- The first couple of days/ weeks are very important. Try to feel out the energy of other students, socialize with a couple, say hi and ask light questions to strike up a conversation. Typically, classes will be the place to meet the most people with similar schedules, other American-sourced students if you want the familiarity of culture, and honestly, the first couple days/ weeks, they’re also trying to find friends too so they tend to be super nice, bright-eyed and easy going.
- Join a social media group for exchange students in the city, and engage with it if you want to meet others. Sometimes, exchange students going to a specific host university have created a Facebook group(typically with another group on a message-centric platform like WhatsApp or Telegram) where they can meet other students in their uni, but more commonly for Europe seems to be a location-based exchange group like ‘Barcelona exchange and international students’. There are often people looking to hang out, so there’ll be things like requests to go have a drink at a bar or go see a game together or requests for people who share a hobby, and sometimes there are subgroups for the people with this shared hobby. A warning is to be smart about it because you don’t know these people from anywhere apart from over the phone, so don’t go into it blindly or if you feel unsafe, but so far, I haven’t had an issue with it.
- Use social apps like meetup or Bumble-Bff and try talking to some people that spike your interest or people that you share a hobby with. If all goes well, go out to a low-risk meeting like brunch or a drink, whatever your choice is. It was a Spanish friend of mine who suggested I try Bumble, and I was hesitant at first but honestly, going on the platform and looking through the profiles, these are just other people in my age range that are trying to make friends as well.
- Try to make ‘Erasmus’ friends, which are basically people of about the same age either doing an exchange or an internship, but exclusively from other European countries. This is a great way to meet people from around Europe, exchange cultures, and all of the good stuff. It helps to know that there also tend to be Facebook groups for Erasmus students in a particular location, join it and meet some new people, and most likely they’ll be excited to meet you too!
- Try to have some sort of social skill and be nice to people that seem like they won’t be standoffish. Smiling at a nice-looking person or laughing with the person over a shared weird situation like having the metro doors slam right in your face right when you got to it might be the entry into a really nice relationship.
Hopefully, I’ve said one or two things that’ll actually be useful when you go abroad, or even here in Philly I guess. One thing I wish someone had told me would be not to be discouraged if something doesn’t pan out how you want it to like a meetup isn’t super interesting or people aren’t matching with you on Bumble. I’d say give it some time and if you don’t feel good about it or it’s starting to stress you out more than bring you pleasure, don’t engage with it anymore. There’re many people looking for company, and you’ll likely find them one way or another.
Disclaimer from the Office of Global Engagement: students should use precaution when using online social apps and meet in public locations (ideally with another friend).