Back in the States, my friends are navigating what we call the awkward world of adult friendship. Unlike forming relationships between children or students, making new friends in the adult world doesn’t necessarily involve sharing a toy or class notes, or meeting up at a college party. Instead of ordering frozen yogurt at a mall or bonding over greasy pizza together at 3 a.m., a new social scene unfolds. We’re now expected to meet office mates for after-work drinks, attend a birthday celebration for someone’s fiancé, or throw on a blazer for forced socializing through networking events and team-building exercises.
But there are ways around this initial awkwardness when you’ve just arrived to town; the best way is to simply announce your arrival and ask for help. Medellín locals, called paisas, are known for their friendliness. And other English teachers, who at one time also embarked on their first international job search, are often eager to provide advice. At one language exchange event at a bar, I met Jhona, who didn’t hesitate to connect me with his friend who teaches English at a private institution. After meeting the fellow teacher and the director, I now teach there, too.
And then Shane, another American expat, invited me to crash at his apartment while I searched for a room to rent—a much-needed break from the hostel scene and a huge money-saver. He dubbed me his “pet project,” eager to help me settle into the city.
Sometimes, out of nowhere, someone drops in and offers more help than you feel you deserve. For me, that was Shane; he toured me around his neighbourhood of Belén, lent me a bike, invited me to play basketball, allowed me to tag-along to volunteer-teach a class with him at a local colegio, introduced me to his friends, and encouraged me to join the Couchsurfing community.
Offer to help the girl who mentions that she’s moving to a new apartment the next week; you’ll get to see your new city by car, meet her family and get your workout in by lifting a few boxes.
Even if you don’t have spare space to offer a guest, or aren’t looking to crash on a couch, creating a Couchsurfing account opens up a whole new door to making friends. The Medellín Couchsurfing community holds discount nights at a bar in the Laureles neighbourhood. There, while I hesitated to participate in karaoke, I met some of the same people that I would later join at a finca the following the weekend.
At the finca, we shared lunch, mingled with other locals and tourists, and toured Pablo Escobar’s self-designed prison, La Catedral. Then, a competitive card game with strangers led to plans for the next Sunday. We met up again and climbed into the metrocable, or cable car, to explore Parque Arvi, the city’s ecological preserve and pre-Hispanic site located in the mountains. And later, I pencilled-in a mid-week lunch date with a new friend.
When you’ve just arrived to a city, the key to meeting people is saying yes. Jump at the opportunity to see someone else’s neighbourhood, join a stranger for lunch, or volunteer at a language event where you might 1) get free lunch, and 2) chat with individuals with whom you will always share at least one interest (meeting people from other cultures). Offer to help the girl who mentions that she’s moving to a new apartment the next week, and you’ll get to see your new city by car, meet her family, get your workout in by lifting a few boxes, and relax with a cup of coffee at the end of the day. Seek out free weeknight salsa lessons at hostels, no matter how basic the steps. Sit at a bar that plays the occasional U.S. rap music, and attempt to translate the lyrics as the whole table laughs. And always accept an offer to slide onto the back of a new friend’s motorcycle, leave the city for the day and explore a nearby town.
The Internet also makes making plans simple. Try sites like Meetup for updates about events in your area, InterNations for connecting with ex-pats, and TravBuddy for finding a partner to accompany you on a weekend trip. Put your Facebook skills to use, and search for social and supportive groups in your area. Whatever you’re interested in—running, languages, movies, art—there’s bound to be a crew you can join.
Even if you’ve arrived alone, you’ll rarely find yourself navigating your new home solo. There’s a community out there, eager to invite you in. All you have to do is ask, and say yes.Add this article to your reading list