Staying in a foreign country, whether you’re passing through as part of a gap year or staying on a bit longer, can be tough.
You’re on your own, you don’t speak the language and everything is new and different. That can be cool for a while, just you against the world. But human beings were designed to be social animals and everyone tires of their own company after the 2nd or 3rd day.
So, how do you make friends in a foreign country? The truth is, the rules aren’t all that different to making friends anywhere. In fact, it may even be easier to make friends abroad because you’ve got one key, cool thing going for you; you’re foreign. That automatically makes you 23% more interesting than normal.
It also gives you an excuse to behave in ways you might avoid at home; to be a bit more proactive and outgoing. And here are nine ways you can channel that new found, exotic behaviour into finding friends:
Learn the Language
To our everlasting shame, we’re well aware that most of the world speaks English. About 1 in 4 of the world’s population, according to British Council statistics. In most of the Western world and much of the Eastern world, chances are that when you speak English people will understand you.
But, learning another nation’s language, especially if you’re going to live in that country, is going to help you make friends a whole lot faster. Why? Because you’ve made an effort.
Don’t get us wrong – in many foreign countries people are keen to speak English with you. Except France, of course. But being able to say hello and thank you and all those little polite things will help endear you to the indigenous population just that little bit more. Use cool, free app DuoLingo to get the basics down and, when you make friends, you can practice speaking the local language with them yourself.
Go to a class
The age old advice to “take an evening class” when looking for new friends is a stereotype for a reason. It works. Think about it for a second; you’ve always wanted to be able use your camera properly, or learn Tai Chi or bake tiny little cupcakes. Taking a class puts you in a room full of people who always wanted to do that too! You already have something in common.
It all adds up. You plus a room full of people with similar interests equals networking potential.
Stay in communal accommodation
Whether teaching English in Japan for six months or backpacking around Europe, staying with fellow travellers is a fast track to making new friends.
If you’re a backpacker, you’ll soon get used to a whirlwind of temporary friends. People you meet for a night and a day, before you go on your way. In some parts of the world the backpacking trails are so well trodden that your paths may well cross again. Keep in touch with the best of them and they definitely will.
For longer term foreign adventures, sharing a house or flat is a great way to meet new people. Just make sure you get the balance right or your quest for friends could quickly turn into a foreign nightmare. And remember this: party people make good chums, but terrible housemates.
In a foreign country, you won’t have that old boys or girls network – so the primary thing to do is collect contacts. This might sound a bit stalkery, so bear with us.
When you do get chatting to a decent human being you’d like to see again, make sure you can get in touch with them. That’s all. It doesn’t have to be weird or unnatural. For example, if you’ve been talking about football you might suggest heading down to the ex-pat bar the next time they’re showing a premier league match.
Being British it will, of course, be terribly embarrassing to ask for someone else’s phone number – and unanswered calls are even more embarrassing – so ask for an email address, or add them on Facebook or Twitter. It’s the modern way, don’t you know.
Inviting people around to break bread with you is a tried and tested way of multiplying your friend network in any country. When you’re a Brit living abroad, it has even more going for it.
Two tips worth following. Ask two people and ask each of those to bring a friend. That’s at least two new people you’re going to meet. Hurrah!
Your meal doesn’t have to be spectacular. In fact, it can be something quintessentially British and easy to make, like sausage and mash or shepherds pie. Any ex-pats will be glad of the taste of home and foreign nationals will see it as exotic.
Explore with Friends
You’re in a foreign country with lots of new things to find out and many places to visit. Why do it alone? If you have a hankering to visit a far flung temple or a need to go shopping in the sprawling market, invite an acquaintance along.
At first, you’ll be doing all the legwork, asking people to museums and galleries, tracking down things to do.
But invitations are a bit like echoes. You shout one out and you’ll get one back. After a while people will start to include you in their plans too.
Dancing makes everyone look like a total idiot – but it makes you look like a total idiot in any language. It’s an ideal activity for you and your new, foreign friends. Win and, indeed, win.
Other fun things you can invite your new foreign friends to:
- Karaoke (you can choose English songs)
- Movies (choose English speaking films with subtitles)
- Ice skating
- Watching sports
Be open minded
Remember when you were at school and all the sporty kids used to hang out together, the nerds used to have their own table and the smelly children used to have an exclusion zone around them, patrolled by flies?
Well, you’re a grown up now. And, guess what? You don’t have to hang out with people who are exactly the same as you. Everyone has something different to offer.
We may naturally gravitate towards people who are the same age as us, with roughly the same values. And that’s fine if you don’t want to learn anything new, but think about what you’re missing out on. Older people have wisdom and experience they can pass on to you. Geeks know cool stuff about things you’ve never thought about. Jocks are competitive – play sports with them and they’ll push you to raise your game.
The short version: exclude people from your “friends list” because they’re different to you and you’ll lose out.
Find out where the ex-pats hangout
And, finally, every reasonably large European or Asian city will have a place where the ex-pats go. It could be a bar or cafe or a more organised group, but if you’re really struggling with alien surroundings, finding other ex-pats to drown your sorrows with can be an easy way to make friends. There you all are, with your shared sense of dislocation, drinking each other under the table. What could be finer?
Web directory DMOZ has a list of ex-pat sites that’ll tell you where to find your fellow gaijin, rosbif, limey and pommie friends in any part of the world.