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How to Make Friends and Not Terrify People

Making new friends may involve hiking. You have been warned. Adriana Montes Sánchez

"Dos" and "don'ts" for building a community abroad.

Making friends used to be simple. You went to school and you made friends. You went outside and just. . .met people. Then, once all studies ended, your "work people" became your "work friends." If you were lucky (or smart), you kept in touch with all those school friends, all those work friends, and all the friends you made at the bar that one time.

But when you move to a new country and are no longer 21, making friends becomes a bit more of a challenge. All of a sudden you are desperately searching to make connections, to find someone who understands you, or who who will make you feel at home in a place that feels like anything but. Let me just warn you: this desperation? It shows.

The rules of dating apply, though you don’t necessarily have to wait three days to text them. You should probably shower and put on a clean shirt and try to ask questions. 

Fortunately, there is an upside to this friendship-seeking behaviour that would normally embarrass you if you saw it happening in a movie or to someone else. This desperation will actually make you join activities that you didn’t consider back home. (I’m going hiking next week—supposedly it’s a fun thing to do, or so they tell me. Last time I went for a real hike was in grade eight, when I got lost and screamed for help only to hear my echo screaming back at me. I’m still traumatized.) This desperation will also force you to meet up with people from Facebook groups, accept invitations to events, and maybe even go on a date. All these experiences will help you not only to meet new people, but also to lead you to exploring new places and even facets of your own identity.

When meeting new people, remember they are as nervous as you. The rules of dating apply, though you don’t necessarily have to wait three days to call or text them. You should probably shower and put on a clean shirt and try to ask as many questions as you get to answer. Don’t worry, they will find out you’re a self-absorbed, arrogant, smooth talker one day—but by the time they do, it’ll be too late as you will have charmed them into being your friend. Good work, my friend!

Here are some dos and don’ts of making friends abroad:


• Accept invitations: to museums, parks, homes, restaurants and dark alleys.

• Meet with expats. They are a wealth of information for you, but mostly where not to eat. Sometimes you need to be grateful for too much information.

• Make friends with locals. They know more than the expats, and together you can laugh about all the stuff those poor other expats lived through! Those amateurs!

• Try new things. See adventure sport comment above. Me, I ate a cow heart because my new friends told me to. It was delicious.


• Attempt life-threatening activities. Unless it's adventure sports, then go ahead because we all know that nothing bonds people like almost dying together. That’s probably a scientific fact.

• Try to buy friendship. Unless it’s my friendship, then yes, buy me stuff like airplane tickets and chocolate mousse. But more like the airplane tickets.

• Be too opinionated. Unless it’s about someone’s outfit, nationality, religious or political background, or general belief system. People just love when you critique that! On a related note, try to recognize sarcasm and a have a sense of humour. ;)

The main point here is, don’t be afraid to be desperate—in this context, it might be the best thing for you. We both know that you don’t live in a Meg Ryan movie (unfortunately) and birds don’t dress you in the morning (yes, they should)—so you are going to have to get out there, take risks and make it happen for yourself. I believe in you.

The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Cuso International.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Izabela Wlodarczyk

After obtaining degrees in human rights and international project management, Izabela Wlodarczyk has worked in Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Bolivia in various roles, including as a consultant and editor. 

Website: https://www.facebook.com/travelwithinvitaveritas/

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