Rae Plaza is a recent graduate from St. Edward’s University with a degree in Global Studies. She participated in the Common Book Program and faculty-led programs while studying at SEU.
While most, if not all aspects of traveling fill us with intimidation during the
planning process of studying abroad, building relationships in a new place seems to be
one of the most fear-provoking parts. Whether it is while you are finding a flat mate, or
planning which excursions to take part in, all kinds of questions arise – what if my flat
mates and I don’t get along? Will language barriers keep me from meeting new
people? I’m more of an introvert, so how will I even gain the strength to make new
friends? The following pointers are listed in hopes of taking the edge off of the fears you
have of meeting people while abroad, and use personal experiences abroad to help paint
Lets start with finding friends abroad. Thankfully, this aspect of going to a
new country is met with a literal world’s worth of possibilities. Before boarding your
flight with sweat on your brow and butterflies in your stomach, remember that
everyone studying abroad is scared of this too. Whether you are leaving for a
week or three whole months, the chances are that other students studying abroad are
traveling somewhere where they don’t know anyone. Your program will connect you
with plenty of people who are eager to meet new people as well, so remember that you
aren’t as alone as you think. You will not have to look very far to find friends – the people
you share a room with is a good start, and you will have time to connect with any
classmates or individuals you cross paths with during orientations or excursions.
As for making friends abroad, it is important to be aware of how you interact with others while in another country. What I have noticed while traveling is that I build better relationships with people by being a good listener and asking questions. Lets face it – if you are in your late teens or early twenties, you’ve probably noticed that we young adults love talking about ourselves. Take the week I spent in Japan, for example: Traveling to the southern part of the country in a town called Beppu, my program was connected with a group of students called “Beppu Buddies”. These “buddies” were matched with each student from my program and spent the week by our sides. I built a great friendship with my buddy because of my never-ending interest in Japanese culture. If I saw something interesting on the side of the road, I asked about it. If I had a question about my buddy’s studies, I asked about it. If I saw a plate at a sushi restaurant that I didn’t recognize, I asked about it. Normally, the people you meet abroad are eager to share their culture and experiences with you, so show them that you are willing to listen, and you will build a great friendship. With this in mind, you really have to use your best judgement when starting conversations or asking questions. Take the time to study the culture of the country in which you are traveling to – many cultures could be much more or much less open about sharing information than your own. With time, the friends you make (as well as yourself) will be more open to sharing stories with you. Initially, spend some more time listening than talking, and the friends you make will be more inclined to know more about you and build a lasting relationship.
Thanks to the power of social media, keeping friends from abroad is far easier than it used to be. Whether it is my tour guide from Bangladesh, my Beppu Buddy from Japan, or my Habitat for Humanity group leader from the Dominican Republic, almost all of the special people I have met abroad are friends with me on Facebook. Before you leave your study abroad experience, remember to check your social media platforms to see if you have sufficient means of communication with the friends you make – this could be as simple as a follow on Instagram, or a saved phone number or e-mail. Using social media to keep track of your friends abroad will keep you up-to-date on what they are up to after your time together. It will also be easier to schedule trips to see each other or Skype calls to catch up.
Don’t have social media? You can still make sure to get an address or phone
number from the friends you make while abroad. While social media makes it easier for
you to keep track of your friends’ whereabouts or accomplishments, writing letters or
setting up phone calls with them will also be useful in maintaining friendships.
In reading all of this, remember that making friends in any situation
requires effort and an open mind. Don’t be afraid to talk to people who look
differently from you or don’t speak the same language as you. Enter every situation
abroad with an optimistic mindset and don’t feel discouraged if you don’t find the
friendship of your dreams on the first day. Meaningful relationships take time, and you
are sure to find great people in every corner of the world. In addition, don’t forget about
your own self-worth while abroad! You have so much to offer as a traveller, and many
people will learn from your own stories and experiences. By establishing friendships
abroad, you have the power to enrich yourself as a human being, as well as grow and
empower those around you.