How to make friends in a new and foreign city: 10 tips

Meeting new people and making new friends is both one of the scariest and one of the most exciting things about moving abroad, especially if you know not a single soul in your destination city. Wherever you’re heading, however, there are bound to be people in the same situation as you. The problem is, where do you find them? As it turns out, there are a number of platforms that are a real lifeline to lonely foreigners like us, and building yourself a new network of friends is a ton easier than you may think.

Having already been through this once before when I moved to Austria, and making some truly fabulous friends, I approached the move to Berlin with little fear or anxiety, just a ton of enthusiasm and a clear friend-making plan. And so far so good.

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This is what Sundays look like.

10 ways to make friends in your new city

Couchsurfing

Without a doubt the most important tip is to make a Couchsurfing profile; even if you don’t want people sleeping on your sofa, or vice versa, the network is bursting with people on a friend-hunt. Even in the small city of Salzburg, there’s a weekly event in a different central venue, and whether five or 30 people show up (heavily season-dependent), you’re guaranteed a great conversation over cheap beer. And as for a big city like Berlin, there are events daily with upwards of 50 people attending. You don’t need to be an experienced traveller and speaking the local language is no necessity, but you’re sure to return home inspired and better-educated about your new city!

If attending a meeting isn’t really your scene, then posting a shout out on the city’s local Couchsurfing page to say you’re in town looking for friends is a guaranteed winner. My Berlin ‘shout out’ got me at least 15 personal replies (not counting the ones that ended with 😉 ) and the people I’ve met up with for a coffee or a beer so far have been fabulous.

Meet Up

A close second is Meet Up, through which people host events in a style similar to the Couchsurfing ones, weekly drinks or cinema trips, just without the common interest of travel. The focus is definitely more on people living in the city, rather than travellers popping through, but from my experience they are just as welcoming and friendly, and I have made many many great friendships from this service alone.

• Common interest groups

It goes without saying really, joining a team or a club is a top way to make new friends. (Side note: there are not enough dodgeball clubs on the continent for my liking.)

• Mutual friends

You may well hear from friends ‘oh, I have a friend who lives there!’ and it’s definitely worth dropping them a line. Chances are, they were in the same situation as you once.

• Facebook – Language Exchange groups

I made a great friend through Salzburg’s ‘Language Exchange’ Facebook group, and there are similar pages in all big cities. My ‘tandem partner’ and I met every few weeks for a meal or some drinks, spending half the time speaking in English, and half in German. Given that both parties are looking to improve their language, correcting each other and asking questions is neither embarrassing nor potentially offensive. Even if learning their language is not really on your agenda, you’ll find plenty of people who will want to be learning yours and will appreciate you getting in touch.

• Work in a bar

I made a whole ton of friends when I started working in a bar. Aside from getting to know your colleagues, chatting to customers from the other side of the bar week in week out rapidly builds you a strong network of pub friends, and you’re guaranteed to find someone to chat to when you go for an off-duty beer there too. What’s more, telling someone ‘I’ll be working in x bar tonight, pop by for a drink’ is a winning line.

• Live with housemates

Living with strangers, especially local ones, though a risk, can work out really well. If you’re lucky, like I’ve been, you get thrown into a new social circle and get to know their friends as well. An added bonus is if there’s the potential to practice your language – mine improved considerably when I started speaking German at home as well as at work.

• Dating

A significant other isn’t the answer to all of your problems. But this still sort of counts as networking… Right?

• Language course

This is a great way to meet people in a similar situation to you, and potentially from all over the world. Given that you’re forced to spend x amount of hours a week in the same room as them, friendship sparks are bound to fly. A few weeks into my German course I started to go out for lunch after class with a girl from Mongolia and a guy from Uganda, and we’d be able to further practice our German in a social environment.

• Go outside and talk to people!

You’re not gonna make friends sitting at home on your own. Chat to people in cafes, on the train platform, in a bar. Taking a ‘What have I got to lose?’ approach really is key. An ‘Is this seat free?’ may be all it takes.

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