Making local friends ain’t always as easy as it sounds. When I went on exchange I told myself I was never going to spend time with any international students. After all, I was there for the culture, the local people. Why would I spend time with people from other countries?
Well, because international students get you much better. They know the struggle. Making local friends isn’t always easy, for a number of reasons. But looking back, I honestly regret not putting in more effort to make local friends. So learn from my mistakes and get the most out of your exchange. It might be hard, but it certainly can be done, and having a group of local friends will make the process of feeling at home, fitting in and your entire exchange in general a whole lot easier (and more fun too).
1. Learn the local language
This might sound obvious, but it is a very important step towards making local friends. Even in countries where people tend to speak English as a second language, at some point they are going to talk their native language and when you don’t manage that language, you will feel excluded. In the beginning, people tend to adapt for you, translate things for you, but after a while it will be harder for them to keep adapting themselves for you.
Dedicating your first months abroad to learning the language will definitely pay off in the long run, trust me. I think learning the local language, at least a little bit, is a way to respect the people of the country you are staying in, and having local friends can actually help you a great deal to learn it! So ask people if they want to help you, tell them you are looking for conversational partners.
2. Join a sport/club/anything
Why not use your time abroad exploring things you have always wanted to do? Join a club, go play a new sport or try learning how to play a new instrument. Doing those things you will most likely meet new people. Not only that, these people will also already be interested in the same things as you! Meeting like-minded people on a regular basis is one of the best ways to meet new people, and it also gives you the opportunity to explore new hobbies and do things you have always wanted to do. Two birds, one stone!
3. Don’t expect it to be like other friendships
I have heard so many people about how the friendships are not the same, how you don’t have the same jokes, but guess what; building a friendship takes time! You can not expect to have the same kind of relationship with your new classmates as with your lifelong friends.
Even if you would spend the same amount of time with them, it wouldn’t be the same, because people are different and therefore the friendship is different. With some friends you cry while listening to Classic Rock music, others you punch in the stomach. Just because a new friendship is not the kind of friendship you are used to, doesn’t mean that it is not as good as all the other ones.
4. Ask for people to introduce you/take you somewhere
If you already know some people (whether it’s friends, classmates, host siblings or cousins), don’t be afraid to ask them if you can join them when they are going somewhere. Just try to meet as many people as possible, until you find someone who shares interests with you
5. Get out there
However logical this may sound, many people don’t actually do it. In order to meet new people you need to be outside. This will end up being a vicious circle. You stay inside because you don’t have friends, but by staying inside you won’t make any new friends, so you keep staying inside, locking yourself into your room with some new show on Netflix.
And yes, Netflix is amazing and in many ways your best friends, but it doesn’t hurt to sometimes close that laptop and get outside. Try going to a bar with someone you know, or just go for a walk in the park. You might actually meet people while doing so.
6. Always keep trying
Local people tend to have a life of their own, which means they don’t have as much necessity to meet with you as you do to meet them. It can be annoying or hard to keep asking people to hang out with you. But don’t give up! Don’t be afraid to take the initiative.
Just because they don’t always ask you out, doesn’t mean they don’t like spending time with you. They might feel uncomfortable asking you, since they don’t know you very well and they don’t want to bother you, while in fact for most exchange students it won’t be a bother at all. So make that call! What do you have to lose?
7. Remember nobody has a million close friends
That is right. You don´t need to be close friends with everybody. Sometimes just having that one person you get along with can be enough, so don´t be afraid to invest in one relationship instead of continuing to make new contacts. Although making new friends is never a bad thing, being abroad you only have a limited amount of time.
Depending if and when you are going to go to back home or to another country, you don´t have to invest in making as many contacts as possible, as long as you are enjoying yourself with one person or a small group, you are all set.