Moving abroad can be tough. If you don't know anyone at your destination, forming a new group of friends can take time - toss in the language barriers and the different cultures, and your problems are only exacerbated. While going abroad as part of a formal program or tour group provides a built-in social network, it won't always be easy to form those first few key friendships. From this group, you can usually score a few friends for traveling and hanging out. However, if you aren't traveling with a program but still want to meet the locals, or if you're eager to leave the social bubble of your program, you might need some more ideas.
If you're a student, volunteer, worker, or a traveling expat, try these tips to meet new people, including locals, in your new home-away-from-home.
1. Find events on Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing isn't just a way to find a free place to stay. You can also use Couchsurfing to meet people without having to sleep on anyone's couch. When you search for a city on the site, you'll land on a page that features events and groups alongside the couch search. From there, you can find popular events to attend, including concerts, drinks, and general Couchsurfing meetups. You can also join groups based on your interests, like movies, clubbing, or surfing. Topical groups and events are a great way to meet people with similar interests. Having common hobbies or passions can be a great help to starting a friendship.
2. Find meetups on Meetup
Meetup is a directory of recurring and one-off events in cities around the world. It's very similar to Couchsurfing's groups and events. Meetup recently passed their 100 millionth RSVP, so you'll find plenty of events in any city. Events on Meetup are organized by both profession and interest. Between Couchsurfing and Meetup, you can find an event that matches up with nearly any of your interests in any city.
3. Go to a local event
Not every event has to be an organized one. Just show up where other people are and be open to starting conversations. Try a sporting event, concert, festival, or anywhere with dancing. These events will immerse you in the local culture and people. They are learning and networking opportunities. Not knowing anything about the sport, music, or festival is a positive. You have an easy conversation starter with locals or more knowledgeable expats. People respond positively to genuine curiosity. Learn more about the event you're at but try not to offend anyone in your naiveté.
4. Get a local's take with Vayable
If you want to learn about your new city from a local, hire one as a tour guide. Vayable does for tours what Airbnb does for accommodations: crowdsources them. On Vayable, you can find unique tours and activities in 500+ cities. In Buenos Aires, you can take a graffiti tour, taste Argentinian wines, explore haunted Buenos Aires, and learn about the military dictators of the city's past.
Getting a local's perspective can help you find places to explore in-depth later. Plus, he or she can tell you who to talk to and where to hang out to meet more people.
5. Take a language class
If you're not already fluent, learn the local language with a group. You'll be able to make new friends and practice your new language. Learning with a group that you see regularly is more fun than sitting alone in front of your computer with Rosetta Stone. The best way to learn a language is by practicing it. Speak it with your classmates then do your best outside of the classroom. Locals will appreciate the effort and help you. Your lack of fluency isn't a hindrance, it's a conversation starter.
6. Take any kind of class
If you're already fluent, try another class based on your interests. Want to become a better writer, learn about the history of your new home, or code an iPhone app? Head back to school. The topic doesn't have to be academic. You could take a dance class then unleash your new moves on the city's nightlife. Most importantly, take a class about something that interests you and will put you in a room with other people with similar interests.
7. Find other expats
If you're homesick, you can meet up with expats from your home country. Some cities organize expat events via the aforementioned Meetup or Couchsurfing, but not every group is that big or organized. Expats don't have a central hub for networking, so you'll have to Google "expats" plus your city to find people.
When you're feeling homesick or lonely, connecting with someone from your home country can be a huge help. Laughing about your home's shortcomings is a good reminder that it's not perfect either. When I worked abroad in Australia, I often spent time with a group of American expats. We talked about home and joked about our small frustrations with life in Australia. We were a connection to home for each other, even while living in another hemisphere.
Volunteering is a great way to meet likeminded peers. Volunteers are dedicated and passionate about a cause. If that describes you or someone you would like to know, explore local volunteering opportunities.
Start your search with a site like Go Overseas. There, you'll find many large volunteer organizations. If you prefer a smaller, local organization, search online and ask your teachers, co-workers, and friends. Whether you're in a wealthy or poor country, you'll find plenty of short-handed non-profits that could use your help. The best part is that even if you don't become friends with the other volunteers, you will have helped someone who needed it.
9. Take a part time job or internship
If the school or program that brought you abroad is too much of a social bubble, try meeting other people at a part-time job or internship. If you aren't in need of resume-building work, focus on jobs that need English-speakers. Popular tourist hubs like hostels and restaurants always need English speakers. You could also teach English. If you have trouble finding work, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops always need reliable help.
10. Connect with others in your industry
If you're already working abroad, try the sites listed above or Google to find groups and events related to your industry. Travel Massive is great if you work in the travel industry. Industry groups will help you meet other ambitious people in your field who could make great friends or business contacts.
Don't let a fear of making friends derail your new life abroad. If you're studying, working, or volunteering, you'll already have a built-in group of friends. You'll bond with these people over a shared experience just like you did with your high school and college classmates.
The suggestions above will help you find people who share your interests. Have a niche hobby like woodworking or graphic novels? You probably won't stumble upon many people who share those interests. Be proactive about finding them. Remember, the most important thing is to be friendly and open to new experiences - you'll have lots of friends in no time!