By Valentina PrANJIC, Third year student in professional communication, fcad
Going on exchange has been a dream of mine since I was in high school. I always saw the world as being full of new places to see and experiences to live. So when a friend once suggested that I complete an exchange in Utrecht, Holland I found myself on a seven-hour flight to Amsterdam a year later.
The weeks prior to my flight, I was ecstatic and ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. However when I landed, the reality that I was alone in a foreign country with no friends sank in.
When preparing to study abroad, we stress so much about what to pack, what classes to take, where we are going to live and how to budget, that meeting new people doesn’t even cross our minds. While there is no secret rulebook on how to make new friends abroad, below are some tips that I picked up along the way.
Know that there are people just about everywhere waiting to meet you too!
1. Start With Your Housemates
If possible, try to live in a student residence while studying abroad. It gives you a chance to meet other international students in the same situation as you! Prior to going on exchange, I had only ever lived at home with my parents. I decided to take a leap of faith and live in student housing with ten other people as my housemates. While this was initially scary and overwhelming, they turned out to be my family when my real one lived thousands of kilometers away.
2. Say “Yes” Often…
…While using common sense of course! To be blunt, exchange is exhausting – mentally and physically. Especially the first couple of months when everyone is still getting to know each other. However with that being said, do not be afraid to say “yes” to activities or events you may not have said yes to in the past. Although school is a priority and you shouldn’t compromise your learning to go out, try to take advantage of as many social invitations as you can so that you can meet new people!
3. Keep An Open Mind
It can be hard not to compare your friends from back home to the new friends you make abroad. However, do not be so quick to make judgements about them. Friendships, like anything, take time to grow and you may be surprised at who you form deep connections with! Going into exchange with an open mind allows you to open yourself up to have the best experience possible. You will most likely have a clear idea of what you hope to gain from your experience abroad, so make sure you go after those goals! Remember, you won’t stop meeting new people while you’re abroad, so take advantage of the endless social opportunities being thrown your way!
4. Join the International Committee at your Host University
Chances are there’s an international student committee at your host university. If so, definitely attend and be a part of their international events! The international committee in Utrecht hosted several parties, trips and weekly activities for international students each term. It was a fantastic way to connect and meet students going through the same experiences as you! My host university also had a buddy program that matched international students with local Dutch students (big shout out to Daan and Niels)! Being a part of these groups allowed me to immerse myself in the local culture while also expanding my social circle.
5. Use Social Media
Prior to going on exchange, many universities set up Facebook groups to connect incoming international students. Do not hesitate to reach out to other students or ask questions before leaving for exchange. Social media apps are also a great way to get in contact with people you meet during your first couple of weeks abroad. Don’t be afraid to ask for that person’s Instagram or Facebook – chances are they were going to ask you too! If you’re going out, invite that person you connected with at orientation. Before you know it, you will be planning a trip together!
Studying abroad was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had during my undergrad so far. When I got back to Toronto and began to share stories from my exchange, I realized the highlight of these stories were the amazing friends I made.
Think about it this way – after exchange, you’ll have friends all over the world which makes for a great incentive to travel again in the future! Just be yourself and remember, you will have the adventure of a lifetime so live in the moment and enjoy every last minute.