As I write this article, I am almost exactly two months into my year abroad in Madrid, Spain, and have been lucky enough to meet some amazing friends during my time here so far.
Whether you’re also on a year abroad or are new to Manchester as an international student, here are my honest thoughts and tips on making friends when studying abroad.
Don’t expect to find ‘your people’ immediately.
The first few weeks in a new country can be very overwhelming, and I found that my early days after arriving in Spain were dedicated to admin, flat-hunting and adjusting to my new surroundings. Because there was so much to sort out, making friends naturally fell lower on my list of priorities.
However, I do think it is crucial to establish some sort of support system as early as you can, as having people to talk to and help with the transition is essential. For me, this meant meeting people from my program group chat, as well as befriending my flatmates in my temporary accommodation. It doesn’t matter if these people don’t end up becoming friends for life or even if you don’t really see them after the first month or so, as long as you are not isolating yourself during this intense period. This is also a great way to open-mindedly meet people of all ages, backgrounds and interests that you may not naturally meet or interact with otherwise.
Once I’d found a flat and sorted out the bulk of my paperwork, I was ready to explore the city and meet people. I started by downloading Bumble BFF, an app that functions in the same way as a dating app in that you ‘match’ with people you are interested in, except it is designed for friendships. I was sceptical at first but found that the best technique was to make plans with people after just a few messages (being safe and using your discretion, of course). I went for many cervezas, on walks around the city, and shopping with various people from all over the world, some of whom are now my closest friends here.
If meeting strangers one-on-one feels a bit too intimidating for you, I’d also recommend Meetup.com. Whatever you’re interested in and wherever you are, you’ll find others doing the same thing. So far, I’ve been to a meditation class and a walking tour, and I am planning on going to an art meetup and language exchange next week. The group setting takes the pressure of always having to come up with conversations, and so many of the events are free! Facebook is also a great place to find similar groups and meetups, and both platforms can be used worldwide.
A friend of a friend of a friend…
I believe that in most situations, you only need to make a handful of friends for your network to then naturally expand outwards. Last weekend, I went to a friend’s flat for a drink, where he introduced me to his five flatmates. I got on with them so well that we went out for dinner the next day, and now I have a group of friends I never would’ve met otherwise, thanks to a singular person.
This works so well because everyone is in the same boat and is interested in meeting new people, and this will be the case in big cities worldwide at the start of any academic year. Make the most of it by saying yes to every invitation you are offered, and before you know it, you will be surrounded by people.
Be comfortable being alone and chatty.
The reality of studying abroad is that it can be a lonely experience at times, regardless of how many friends you make. You’re a long way from home and may be surrounded by a completely new culture, language and way of life, and although this is so exciting, it can feel pretty isolating too.
In the wake of this, I believe there is so much value in becoming comfortable with your own company and happy doing things alone. If you can confidently enter a space by yourself, you will find that social interaction naturally follows. For example, I wanted to watch England’s world cup game last week, but none of my friends were available or supported the same team. Instead of taking that as a reason to stay in, I went to a bar alone and ended up meeting a great group of fans who I spent the evening with.
Although walking into the bar felt intimidating, I was secure enough in my own company that I felt comfortable to socialise and chat with others, but also to have enjoyed the game by myself if I hadn’t met anyone. The same can apply to activities like attending a concert or sports club, or even walking into a lecture hall. I am so proud of this skill, and I think it is an integral part of any study abroad experience.
I also make a Tik Tok on the subject, take a look.
If, after reading Imogen’s experiences you’re interested in finding out more about your options for studying or working abroad, take a look at My Placements, the University portal for exploring and managing off-campus opportunities, including work placements and study abroad opportunities.