I am lucky to have friends in every continent (apart from Antarctica!) I call it luck, because sometimes meeting the people I hold dear in my life has been a lucky chance encounter. However, I’ve also worked hard to make friends when I move to a new country.
If you’re asking yourself how to make friends when it seems impossible, please don’t be hard on yourself. If you’ve moved to a new country and you’re wondering how to make friends when no-one speaks your language or when the culture is so very different, try to be patient.
Whether you’re an expat or permanent global nomad, here are my tips for how to make friends in a new country:
How to make friends in a new country
- Allow all the emotions. It can be hard switching from a country where you have lots of friends to starting out from scratch. One minute you’re brushing off social invitations, the next your calendar is looking decidedly blank. Whether you’re feeling embarrassed, lonely, a bit scared, sad or envious, it’s completely normal. Don’t be too harsh on yourself!
- Have a really good reason to say no. If you are invited out to an event or somewhere that isn’t usually your scene, have a really good reason to say no. If you need time to rest, that’s fine. But be mindful that sometimes we meet great people when we least expect it. Ask yourself ‘what is the worst that could happen?’ by showing up.
- Be open to all type of friendships. You might be accustomed to making friends with people similar to you, but consider all the benefits of different types of friends and friendships. Through my journeys abroad I’ve met women aged 19 to 92, I’ve developed close bonds with some, happy one off coffee dates with others. I have met women I can rely on for a bit of practical advice, and others for a hug in confidence. Try not to exclude people from your friendship circles before you’ve even developed a relationship.
- Learn to be happy alone. When you’re new in town it’s normal to feel lonely or lost for a while. Finding a local place, be it a nice café or spot in the park where you can just hang out can feel comforting. Go there with a view to relax, learn, people watch, chill or be with yourself. Don’t put pressure on yourself to meet people all the time; try to embrace being happy alone, too. While I felt very awkward at first, after several international moves I now feel totally comfortable dining out alone, or going to the cinema on my own. I love meeting new people, I love hanging with my friends, but it feels like such a relief to feel at peace alone, too.
- Embrace online. If you’ve moved somewhere a bit quieter than you’re accustomed to, going online can be a useful way to meet friends in real life. If you’re wondering how to make friends in the countryside, in the suburbs – google it ! Meet up, local Facebook groups and online shared interest groups (e.g. parenting, dog walking, sports etc) are great ways to discover people in your neighbourhood. Equally, connecting with people from other countries can be very rewarding, too. I’ve taken my laptop to a cafe and enjoyed a coffee with friends thousands of miles away – friends who I have never met in real life, but with whom I truly connect.
- Practise a hobby. Meeting up through shared interests is a wonderful way to meet people. When you’re new in town and might be feeling a bit overwhelmed, hobbies are also a great distraction. If you don’t have a hobby, try one. I recently took up karate, which I am loving! I also met new women in Chile through a book club, and I’ve had fun meeting all sorts of people on cooking workshops too. Personally I’ve developed stronger bonds with people I’ve met up with on a regular basis. When you get to know people over a length of time, it’s much easier to develop the friendship.
- Learn the language & culture. Learning the local language is such a great way to make friends. Firstly, you may make friends through the course itself, especially on a group course. Secondly, you learn how to speak with locals, so you don’t feel so restricted. Even if you’re not fluent, knowing a bit of the local language shows you’re willing, respectful and it breaks the ice. Thirdly, it helps you get out an about so you’re in the mindset of making friends. In Antwerp, knowing just a bit of Flemish made me feel confident to get out and start chatting. Inevitably we’d switch into English, but it made me feel more confident. Finally, learning the language gives insights into the local culture. I’ve learned so much through quizzing my language tutors about the local culture, and the language itself has often given me clues.
- Be proactive. Back home you might have received more invitations that you ever sent out, however the reality is that to make friends abroad it pays to be a bit more proactive. Don’t be shy to give out your number. Be open and honest. I have responded to expat mums on Facebook asking to meet up with other parents, and I have sent shout outs too. Fellow expats especially all get what it’s like, so no need to be shy.
- Be safe. While I encourage you to be proactive and open, don’t put yourself at risk. Meet up in public spaces. Don’t give your address out to people you don’t trust. If your gut says something is wrong, trust it. Fortunately nothing bad has ever happened to me, however I’m mindful that at times when I was younger and desperately lonely abroad I might have been more vulnerable.
- Pay it forward. If you’ve met someone you click with, invite them to join your circles too. Invite them to meet your new friends; connect the friendship dots. We all know how hard it can be starting out, so if you meet up with a newcomer, be mindful of all they might be going through. Sometimes meeting up with just one person is all it takes to change their life abroad.