One of the greatest challenges of studying abroad is meeting locals. You’re surrounded by other exchange students, and from the beginning, you live with them, go to dinners with them, and have classes together. Exceedingly, these other exchange students are from your home country. I noticed many study abroad students make friends within their program, get comfortable and don’t seek friendships in their exchange country. During my first month in Sydney, I had a difficult time meeting people outside of the program because class was not the best way to meet people. It was nice, but I was desperate to have new cultural experiences. While it’s great to make friends within the program, the reason for studying abroad is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and form lasting relationships with the place you’re living (including the people).
As my second time studying abroad in an IES Abroad program comes to an end, I have figured out some ways to meet the people from your new home and make long-lasting friendships.
My first tip: join clubs at your university. At UNSW in Sydney, there are hundreds of student clubs and activities, and there’s something for everyone. There are clubs at most universities, and many are led by local students. While in Sydney, I joined the outdoors and surf clubs because I tend to get along with outdoorsy people. I instantly met people I got along with, and have continued to be good friends with them throughout my time here. The point of that is to encourage you to join clubs where you know you will have mutual interests with others. There are loads of clubs for every interest, ranging from appreciation clubs and academics, to social societies and athletics.
Do not be afraid to initiate plans, and be eager to join in on every occasion, especially at the beginning. If you’re nervous about seeming too eager or overly enthusiastic, don’t be. People are more likely to want you to come along if you are excited about the same things. Meet everyone you can when you get there, and be proactive about making connections. I tend to be social so this is easy for me to say, but I used to be extremely shy and know what it’s like to be scared to make friends. While I’ve been in Sydney, the outdoors club facilitated my endeavors to meet people because they hosted a welcome barbecue where tons of new people showed up. The executive members were so friendly and instantly made me feel at home, and I continue to be friends with them three months later. We climbed and went to a pub together, went to karaoke at a bar to end the night, and the next morning we went snorkeling for sunrise. This was just my first night with them, and since then, I have made it clear that I enjoy their company and gone on so many adventures with them.
My advice is not to avoid the other people in the study abroad program, because it is also copacetic to be friends with people from home (and it helps with the homesickness), but to push yourself to meet locals in your home country. The people I met in Australia have all impacted me in their own way. I feel like a more competent and well-rounded person and can now identify the kinds of people that I want to be around.
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Stella is currently a mechanical engineering student at the University of Colorado Boulder, where her goal is to always have at least one foot out of her comfort zone. When she is not on the engineering grind, she is passionate about playing guitar, backpacking, climbing, dancing, or really anything that will get her outside and soaking up the sunshine. Being raised in a French/English bilingual household, she grew up with an appreciation for other cultures and traveling. As she continues on her journey toward adulthood, she hopes to keep experiencing the unfamiliar and become an increasingly global citizen.