I’ve spent the last week in Rome, Italy getting acquainted with the locals and new friends within my program. While the week has been difficult and draining, it taught me a lot by offering opportunities to go beyond myself and step outside of my anxieties.
Going abroad came with a myriad of fears and worries, but one of my primary concerns was if I still remembered how to make friends. I didn’t want to be alone in a new place, exploring alleyways and corner shops, trying out a new language and seeking different opportunities. I knew it would be more fulfilling to experience those things in the company of others. Just a small problem: I didn’t know anyone coming. So, the only solution was to meet people, which is easier said than done.
Approaching a new person, no matter how extroverted or confident you may be, can be accompanied by fears or worries. “What do they think of me?” “Was that a weird thing to say?” “Oh no, was that oversharing?” “I’m talking too much, hopefully they don’t think I’m too annoying.”
Despite this, I gave it my best shot and reached out. Our conversations always started with introductions, major/minor inquiries, and the brief, “Do you happen to know this person I vaguely know who also goes to your school?” Then it progressed into number exchanges and plan-constructing until we had something thrown together that offered opportunities to grow bonds and find friendship.
Over the course of meeting people, I have had to push myself over and over again to step outside of my comfort zone. Introductions are never seamless, things can get lost in translation, and not every restaurant you go to will be a 10/10, but once you let these anxieties go and remember that most of the people around you are nervous and worried too, you can step outside of your internal dialogue for a moment and be present, which is such a gift while exploring such beautiful and different places.
Now, how to actually go about this endeavor. Taking a deep breath and centering yourself is always a good first step. It's important to remember that most of the people around you are just as nervous as you are and are having the same anxious thoughts, even if they came with friends from back home. Introducing yourself, learning about the other person, and finding common ground is a great way to start. Of course there will be moments where conversation comes to a lull, or you don't quite know the right thing to say, but that's normal! Continue to reach out, make efforts to hang out outside of classes and general orientation activities, and embrace the experience around you. You'll be so grateful you did.
Getting to connect with new people in a different culture than yours is such a unique, once in a lifetime experience that you have to seize. The first week was packed with orientation activities starting early in the morning and going into the evening, with plenty of walking and socializing that can drain your battery. The introvert in me wanted to stay in at night, watching movies and resting up, but I pushed myself to go out to dinner with new friends, walk around the gorgeous sights at night, and forge some really strong connections with the people around me. Making an effort to step outside of your anxieties and embrace what is happening around you can be intimidating, but it is more than worth it.
Pushing yourself to make new friends and connect with peers you might never have known is not only a great life skill, but it also makes your study abroad experience more fruitful. On one of the first nights, we walked past the Vatican, all lit up against the dark blue of the night sky, and we got to experience that moment together. We walked to a restaurant, laughing and talking, getting to know one another. These are moments and memories that might feel fleeting but can leave a lasting impression and make a true impact on how your study abroad experience affects you. Embracing moments not only to engage in the culture around you, but with people who are experiencing it for the first time too, gives unlimited perspective and understanding.
More Blogs From This Author
My name is Tatyana Masters and I'm from Washington D.C. I can often be found with a book to read and camera on hand, looking for a new adventure or stranger to meet. I go to school in New York City, so in my free time, I like to ride the subway to different areas of the city and interview interesting people I meet for stories!