During my last few days in Toronto, one of my biggest fears was that I would have difficulty making friends abroad.
“I’ve opened myself up to others before and no one’s appreciated the gesture,” is what I’d say. “I have enough people in my life, what’s the point?”
The frustration of rejection becomes deflected with negative thoughts about how relationships with new people do not matter. But a lesson that I've learned so far is that they do. We are human and it is in our nature to herd together in groups we feel most comfortable in. Our growth as individuals is a reflection of the lessons we learn from those who challenge us; pushing people away only decreases our ability to stay open-minded.
As a solo-traveller, it did not occur to me that others would find themselves longing for the same support that I sought. I was too into myself and my fears to understand that the possibility of shared curiosities with other travellers existed. It wasn’t until my first week in Scotland acclimating myself in this new environment that I realized I needed to get over my insecurities.
Relationships are a two-way street and I found three simple actions that allowed me to meet strangers half-way.
1. Introduce yourself first
It sounds so simple but, when you’re in a room waiting for someone to say hello first while others are thinking the same, a silence game starts and no one will speak first. The result is anxiousness to want to run away.
I’ve fallen victim to this too many times, so on move-in day, I made sure to break the ice first. Now my flatmates and I have got a clubbing photo together and scheduled cooking nights on Thursdays.
2. Ask questions
I love to talk if you give me a reason to. It might be the same for others, so open-ended questions are the best way to open up. My newfound knowledge of different practices and similarities around the world stems from my curiosity to know more of other people. Asking questions also encourages other people to do the same, while allowing me to learn more about myself by answering them.
In a short period of time, I have created international bonds by talking about the same guys we’ve fallen in love with over Scottish drinking games. It doesn’t hurt to ask about other activities they have done to get themselves accustomed to life in a foreign country. Courage can be influenced by other people’s and learning how others navigate can bring about new ideas.
3. Say "yes"
For seven days straight, I made myself available for group activities because they are easily the best low-stress environments to be yourself in a crowd full of strangers. I’ve said yes to drinks. I’ve said yes to day-trips. I’ve said yes to shopping. I’ve said yes to joining school sanctioned activities. I’ve even taken the initiative to look up online networks like Campus Society to connect with other students in Scotland as well as my field of study. I’ve said yes to opportunities that will allow me to get outside my comfort zone because that is the only place that growth begins.
Doing these things, little by little, exercises my bravery and my boundaries every day. The older I get, the more I find myself susceptible to staying inside, omitting any kind of human contact. Sometimes being alone is easier. Though, most times, loneliness is only amplified when you are hours away from home.
Do yourself a favour and enjoy your experience abroad by embracing the different kinds of people you will meet. I know I have and I am already dreading my return flight back to Canada.Add this article to your reading list