Building Relationships and Community

Megan Hayhurst headshot
Megan Hayhurst
September 25, 2023

Spending a semester abroad is like experiencing your first year of college all over again. During this time, you’re figuring things out. You’re suddenly placed into an unfamiliar environment, and must figure out a new system in the midst of dozens of other students who are also trying to figure things out.  This is an ideal situation to be in: there are endless opportunities to meet new people, form long-lasting relationships and create exciting experiences in a new country. Being a foreigner in a new country automatically draws attention to you. Many people are interested in meeting you and learning more about you! It’s important to put yourself out there to make the most of your limited time abroad.  

Here are some tips that I have for building relationships and a sense of community during your time abroad: 


  1. Step out of your comfort zone

    Even when you feel exhausted from a day full of activities, keep going. This is the best way to throw yourself into new situations with different people. Whenever I feel too tired to join in on an activity, my mindset is: “I’m only here for 4 months, so why not?” There’s a French saying for that—Pourquoi pas? This could mean asking people if they want to grab lunch at Resto U' (only $3 with your student ID), discover the centre-ville after class or do some homework at a local café. Or find someone who takes the same bus as you and ask if they want to catch the same one. If you have to do all these things anyway—why not bring some friends along? Additionally, don’t be afraid to branch out and meet new friends outside of IES Abroad—it's a great way to practice your French in a real-life situation.

  2. Join the Conversation Club at IES Abroad 

    You’ll have the opportunity to meet local French students from Nantes Université while practicing your French. During the first conversation club that I went to, we played a “speed dating” game where each American and French person would talk to each other for 5 minutes before switching to talk to someone else. Just from this game alone, I made a few friends that I still keep in touch with today. After each club, we all go out together and grab a slice of pizza. This is how I learned to say “pepperoni” in French. 

  3. Do an internship

    I’m doing the teaching internship and developing professional and personal connections in France. This not only looks great on your resume, but it’s also an excellent way to enter the global workforce. Plus, you get to learn more about the French work environment. There is a Teaching Internship Seminar (IN 395) offered by IES Abroad Nantes which I strongly recommend. This internship pairs you with a local school where you can teach English to French students. The students that I ended up teaching are the same age as me, so I'm learning a great deal about French slang. #CulturalImmersion

Chances are, everyone around you will be just as confused as you during the first few weeks. Do not be afraid to ask for help, even for something as simple as buying your Billet Mensuel for the bus. Luckily, asking questions is a great excuse to meet new people and make friends. You're not supposed to know everything when you first arrive, but figuring things out with other students is how you form long-lasting friendships. Plus, sometimes you won’t even have to go out of your way to make new friends. It’ll happen naturally—like running into classmates in the IES Abroad Nantes tiny elevator, getting paired for class projects, or being in the same university course as another student.  

In the midst of all the chaos of figuring things out, don’t forget to enjoy your time abroad. After all, the chaos is what makes it fun. 

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Megan Hayhurst headshot

Megan Hayhurst

I became inspired to travel abroad after reading the book "Banner in the Sky" by James Ullman. Since then, I've dreamed of visiting Switzerland and climbing the Matterhorn during the day and snowboarding down the Swiss mountains at night!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Gettysburg College
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