When we daydream of our time studying abroad, thoughts of cool foreign friends with charming accents tend to come to mind. And while making friends abroad isn’t necessarily difficult, it proves to be more challenging than you’d think. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and socialize with a new pool of people, but it’s even more important to stay safe in a foreign place! Here’s your go-to guide for making friends abroad—while stillstaying safe.
1. Get to know your roomies
While we’d all love a single room in a lovely apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower, chances are that’s not what you’re going to get. Many study-abroad programs house you in dorms or apartments with other international students. Take advantage of all the interesting people around and make a friend within your building.
Cassidy, a junior at Emerson College who studied abroad in London, says a great way to make friends while studying abroad is starting with your roommates. “You have to live with them for the whole semester, so you might as well start getting to know them,” she says. “Plus, you never know—you might click and then you have instant friends and travel buddies.”
Cassidy says that soon after she and her roommates moved in, they started planning a move-in dinner. “We all decided on a meal, went and bought the supplies and then all gathered in the kitchen to cook and chat,” she says. “It was a great way to get to know each other. The dinner helped us bond and also kick-started our friendship.”
Befriending a roommate/housemate/floormate is not only fun, but safe, too. The students you’re housed with went through the same (or at least similar) application process that you did in order to be accepted into the program. They most likely had to have a good personal and academic background—meaning that there likely aren’t any creeps lurking around your building.
That being said, you’re still in an unfamiliar territory, so make sure not to give out too much personal info before really getting to know your roomies! Get to know them before you go out drinking or on a big trip with them. Have dinner together or go on a grocery-shopping trip to get more familiar with them before jumping in. If you’re looking for a friend in your new home, your own residence just may be the perfect place to start!
2. Join a club
Just as we have Greek life and extracurriculars in the United States, many schools in other countries have their own clubs and organizations. Most schools in Europe have students’ unions, sports clubs and organizations based on academic interests. Do your research and figure out what your host institution has to offer, and go and check it out!
Some student unions have lounge areas or even an on-campus pub. If you have time after class and want to catch a soccer game or have a drink, consider stopping by and meeting other students. Visit the lounge or offices during your downtime to hang out between classes or catch up on what’s going on around campus.
Even if your host institution doesn’t have a union or on-campus pub, chances are there are some other places on campus to hang out! Visit the library or hang out in an academic building before class—you’re bound to run into like-minded people. Remember to consider all the opportunities available to you abroad, including the clubs and organizations that your host school may have.
To play it on the safe side, learn about your school’s options during orientation. Many programs and schools offer an orientation for all students, if not just for international students. This should give you a chance to explore the school’s organizations in a safe and inviting environment. Head to meetings with a friend and check out the different clubs your school has to offer.
3. Visit a museum
There’s no doubt that you’ll be doing some exploring abroad, so take the time to meet some people while you’re out. Museums, landmarks and other attractions can make for great social spaces and opportunities to meet new friends.
When Madison, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, visited Paris for two weeks, she spent a good amount of time around museums. “I met so many interesting people by just sitting in a little corner within the Louvre and writing,” she says. “Many people abroad are just as curious about you as you are about them.”
Museums and similar attractions are generally safer and attract a good crowd. For the most part, they require an entrance fee and have security guards, so people won’t be entering for the wrong reasons. “[Museums are usually the kind of place] that attract smart people who would be fun to carry conversations with, and they’re often other students doing research for class!” Madison says.
There’s plenty of opportunity for conversation at a museum or similar landmark; there are constant flows of tours and students going around to discuss pieces, check out the exhibits and visit the gift shop. As long as you keep your belongings close and are aware of your surroundings, you should be safe to approach someone. If some students your age have been discussing a piece you’re interested in, don’t be afraid to join in the conversation when it feels right. If you’re itching for some more conversation, join a tour and talk with some members of your group. If you’re looking for some cultural enrichment and some like-minded friends, a local museum may be the perfect place!
4. Use the buddy system
The buddy system is an old trick that totally works. Being in a foreign place, you’re going to want to do some exploring. Landmarks, pubs, clubs, parks—they’re all important to check out when you get the chance, but some are unsafe, especially for tourists and foreigners. To ensure that you can get to know your area (and other people!) safely, have another friend tag along. This way you can bond with the friend you brought and you won’t be worried about putting yourself in danger. Chat with people at the bar or take a stroll around the city—just as long as you and your go-to friend know where each other are!
5. Participate in program activities
For those of you studying through a U.S. institution, consider checking out what your study abroad program has to offer. Many program providers have specific offices in the host country with a staff that caters to your interests. They often offer small gatherings and bigger get-togethers.
Alex, a junior at New York University, went through a separate institution to study abroad in London. She explains that both her host school and her program provider offered different trips for international students.
“I went on a weekend trip to Wales with my program,” she says. “It was awesome to be able to travel while also catching up with people I met during my program’s orientation at the beginning of the semester.”
While organizing trips and gatherings on your own can be fun, make sure you check out the opportunities that your school and/or program have to offer. These activities can be cheaper, safer and a great way to meet new friends!
Foreign places can be intimidating at times, but that doesn’t mean you should hold yourself back! You can still explore places and meet new people while staying safe in your new environment. Consider some of our tips when looking to make new friends during your time studying abroad!