You’ve finally submitted all of the paperwork, found somewhere to live, renewed your passport and bought your plane ticket. Suddenly the fact that you’re going to study abroad seems very real. Even though the excitement is there, it is hiding behind a wall of nerves. Will I understand anyone? Will I get lost on the way to my apartment? Will I make any friends? Not only do you have different social situations to navigate, you also have to traverse another culture and a language you are still trying to grasp. For me, one of the most exciting prospects of studying abroad was the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world. At the same time, the initial thought of moving hundreds of miles away on my own was a bit terrifying. But while there’s no magic wand to turn strangers into amici, potential friends are everywhere.
Make the most of the Erasmus society and the social events they put on. Although you are from different countries and cultures, you already have something pretty huge in common with these people: you both wanted to study abroad in this university and are therefore likely to have similar interests. Although it may be scary to turn up alone at first, everyone at these events is in the same boat as you, and everyone is looking for friendships (excuse the pun), so get mingling!
I am a big advocate for the Erasmus events as it is helpful to meet people who understand what you’re going through, but it is also important to make friends with home students, too. We tend to flock to people who look, speak, and act like us because those people tend to share our interests and habits. But remember, you came here to get to know your host country and culture, and locals are your best bet at truly understanding your surroundings. Befriending home students not only means you have a different person or group to hang out with, but it can also help with your language learning, cultural immersion, and you may even gain a travel guide. Having these friends with different cultures, outlooks and languages to you will help you grow as a person. They might also be able to give you recommendations for the best local restaurants, niche coffee shops, or top nights out.
That being said, don’t be afraid to go to things alone once in a while. It is important to take advantage of events and opportunities but initially you might not have a group of friends to go with. Conquer the fear of solitude and go alone because this is a great way to meet people with whom you share common interests. Being open to new experiences and activities you might usually shy away from will open you up to new opportunities. Joining a club or society is another way to meet people. However, depending on what country you’re studying in, these clubs might be few and far between and university socials may be limited to attending classes. Keep an eye out in town for other organisations that might host events that pique your interest. Again, this is a great way to practice your language skills and gain insight into your host city. Just remember to always keep your wits about you when travelling alone.
Participating in a language exchange programme is a great way to improve your language skills and make friends at the same time. At my host university in Italy, they offered a tandem partnership where I was paired with a native speaker who wanted to improve her English as I wanted to improve my Italian. Although it may sound like a business deal, it was very casual and beneficial. We would meet up whenever we were free, for lunch, study sessions or drinks in the evening. We formed a friendship that not only meant receiving helpful feedback on phrasing, grammar, and pronunciation, but also funny conversations about slang and colloquialisms, helping me speak like a local instead of a textbook.
Yes, the studying side of a year abroad is important, but it is more important to make the most of this amazing experience of living in a foreign country. Make sure you go out sightseeing in your new city and beyond. While it may seem like the scariest thing in the world, studying abroad is one of the most rewarding things you can do. The experiences and skills you gain are incomparable. As cheesy as it may sound, I am a different person now to when I first started my year abroad and I have made friends from all different walks of life with whom I have shared once-in-a-lifetime experiences.