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Making friends as an adult is extremely hard! To further complicate matters, making friends in a new and foreign city is even harder!
Most recently, I had a reader who asked me about how to make friends and adjust to life abroad. She was very nervous about moving somewhere with a totally foreign culture. That’s what inspired me to write this post. I want to talk about strategies I used to get accustomed to a new country/culture and how I made a group of close friends.
1. Learn the local language
This is super important if you’re moving to a country that does not speak your native tongue. I moved to French-speaking Switzerland and French is my third language.
I was very surprised that a lot of the local Swiss people do not speak English very well (or are extremely shy about speaking English). Therefore, if it weren’t for the fact that I could speak French, I would never have been able to make friends with local people!
For example, I also lived in the German-speaking part of Switzerland for a few months and there, I kid you not, I made ZERO friends. Why? Because I couldn’t speak a word of the local dialect.
This is why I STRESS how important it is to learn the local language. If you don’t make an effort to learn the local language, then people will always look at you as a “foreigner” and you will only be able to make friends with expats like yourself!
Learning the local language gives you access to all the locals who will show you what the local culture is really like.
2. Learn the local culture and customs
I grew up in North America in a multi-cultural city and was deeply immersed in the Asian culture because my parents never fully adjusted to western culture.
I thought I was pretty prepared for my move abroad since I had travelled to Europe so many times and had so many European friends.
However, when I first moved to Switzerland, I experienced some serious culture shock. There were a lot of things that the Swiss do that I don’t understand.
The only thing I recommend is to learn the local culture and customs. For example, I learned that Swiss people never invite people to their house “out of pity” so if you ever get an invitation to a Swiss person’s house, you are already considered a very close friend! This is very different from the culture I’m used to where people invite people over all the time just to be nice!
These days, it’s super easy to just do a Google search and read other people’s blogs to learn about cultures and customs. That’s probably the bare minimum you can do. I’d also recommend that you go out and actively observe local people in the natural habitat – you can learn a lot about local customs that way!
3. Attend Meetups for Facebook events
Meeting new friends is extremely hard but the Internet has made things a whole lot easier.
When I first moved to Switzerland, I attended a few Meetup events and was always on the search of cool events to attend via Facebook. Meetup/Facebook events are great fun because you get to discover new activities all the while meeting new people!
I even used Tinder for a while to meet people (not the best idea if you’re only looking for platonic relationships!)
4. Join clubs that you’re interested in
My “thing” is yoga, ballet, and tap dance so I started attending classes at the local studios. From there, I made a ton of new friends.
It’s especially easy to make friends at these clubs/studios because you already know that you have a common interest with the other person! What’s great is that you can go for a drink or grab a quick bite once the class is over!
With most of my yoga/ballet/tap dance friends, I almost talk only about yoga/ballet/tap dance and it’s already enough to fill hours and hours of time!
5. Go to bars
This is not one of my favourite ways to make friends but going to bars is probably the easiest way to meet people. Everyone is in a good mood and already socialising.
I don’t like going to bars to meet people because I don’t drink but I know a lot of my other expat friends have had great success with this route!
6. Find expat groups
If you’re feeling home-sick, you can always find expat groups (search on Facebook). I am sure that is a “Canadians Living in Switzerland” group somewhere. I also joined an exchange student network where I met a lot of exchange students from all over the world (but barely any locals).
However, I would take this approach with caution. Although it’s nice and reassuring to stay with people from you home country, it will prevent you from meeting the real locals.
In my first year in Switzerland, I was friends with a Canadian girl on exchange and we used to spend a lot of time together. Then, she went back to Canada and I was all sad and lonely again! At that point, I had regretted only sticking with expats and decided to diversify and meet local people elsewhere!
Think about it this way, if you meet expats and only hang out with expats, then there will come a point in time when they will inevitably return to their home country. However, with locals, they will most likely stay for a loooong time since this is their “home.” You will have to say far further “goodbyes” if you make friends with locals rather than just expats 😉
6. Be open-minded
Similar to #2, you must learn the local culture and accept it. Sure, there are probably many aspects of the local aspect that you don’t approve of.
For me, I can’t get over how people smoke inside the train stations and sometimes even in the train! But I hold my tongue and understand that I’m not in my home country so I can’t judge people who are doing something that is accepted in their home country.
If you act as if you’re still in your home country, the local people will get very upset with you.
I often get teased when I do weird “Asian” or “North American” things. Usually I explain that “this is how we do it in Canada” and the locals have a nice laugh about it. Then I try to adjust to the local way. Local people really appreciate it when they see that you’re making an effort to adapt to their culture and learn their customs!
7. Know that most locals are probably dying to get to know you
Meeting people is nerve-wracking and you’re probably feeling self-conscious when you’re in a new city where you don’t know anyone. However, keep in mind that foreigners are considered super interesting/sexy/attractive/cool/suave/cute/(insert positive word here)!!!
When I first moved abroad, I was always very scared and I wanted to lay low. However, I realised that I stuck out like a sore thumb anyways so there was no point. And people were super fascinated by my story so I stopped being afraid to tell it.
I used to think that my life was boring and uninteresting but, to the contrary, all the local people think that I am beyond cool. They love that I’m Asian and from Canada which, for a lot of Swiss, is their DREAM country to visit.
So yes, next time you’re feeling shy about talking to someone, keep in mind that they’re probably DYING to get to know you and are feeling just as shy. So don’t be afraid to make the first move 😉
8. Share your culture and your background
Any time I talk about Canada, people are just amaaaaazed. Everyone wants to be my new best friend! Anything that is foreign is considered interesting/sexy/cool and local people love learning about foreign cultures.
The more foreign your culture is, the more interesting it would be to the locals! I can spend hours talking about the differences between North America vs Europe or Canada vs Switzerland or Asian people vs North Americans vs Europeans.
And my local friends love it when I talk about how cold it gets in Canada and all the crazy things we have to do to stay warm in that country! They also love it when I talk about the crazy things that Asian people do (such as my mom)!
So, go ahead and share your culture and background with other people! Trust me, even if it may seem boring to you, the locals would find it to be the best entertainment in the world! And who knows, you may even make a few new life-long friends 😉
9. Don’t turn down invitations
I have the bad habit of being super lazy and napping too much. And a lot of times, whenever people invite me out, I use the excuse that I’m tired and want to nap. This was a big mistake.
When people invite you out, you are already “in” and they will most likely introduce you to your friends. That way, you can expand your friend base! So don’t say no to any invitations unless you know for sure it’s not for you.
I always say yes to invitations unless it’s a place I’ve already been to which I know I will hate.
It doesn’t hurt to go out and meet people even if it’s just for 20 minutes. I don’t drink alcohol and here in Switzerland going out for drinks or “apéro” is huge. Usually, I make the effort to at least swing by for a “quick drink” of 20 minutes or so before I go home to take my nap 😉
Making friends as an adult is so much harder than when we were kids! Making friends in a foreign country is even harder! However, as long as you are open-minded, you will have no problem meeting people. Who knows, you might even make some life-long friends (like what I’ve done here in Switzerland)!
I wish you all the best!
You may also like
- 6 Things I Miss About Home After Living Abroad As An Expat
- The Complete List of Essential Things You Must Do Before You Move Abroad
- What It’s Like To Be An Asian Living in Switzerland
- How To Find A Job While Living Abroad
- 10 Surprising Things That Happened When I Moved Abroad to Switzerland
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