As children, making friends was so easy. Does anyone really even remember trying to make friends in primary school? It seemed to just happen organically, whether it was because other kids lived on the same street as you or because you just so happened to be sitting next to each other on the first day of school. It was effortless and was probably helped by the fact that primary school boys would just invite kids to their birthday parties purely based on gender, since we all know how gross and annoying the opposite gender are.
In secondary school, making friends is a little more difficult due to the blast of maliciousness and self-loathing that comes neatly packaged with adolescence, but most of us manage to find some like-minded kids to cling to.
Even university isn’t that bad, since you’re likely to be placed in an environment that you chose to be in and, therefore, are surrounded by like-minded people. Also, your inhibitions are lowered so much that you could become best friends with a guy who drunkenly crawls through your apartment window on a whim.
Obviously, some people are naturals when it comes to making friends, but, for many of us, it’s a challenge at the best of times, never mind if you find yourself in an environment as unfamiliar as a foreign country.
Most people tend to start travelling or working abroad in their early to mid-20s, and, at that age, many people are pretty much settled in their friend groups and stop making as much of an effort to expand their circles. So, it becomes more and more difficult to meet new people.
So, how can you make friends in a new country? The reasons mentioned above aside, you also have to deal with potential language barriers, cultural differences, living in towns and cities that you don’t know your way around, and general crushing anxiety that you’ll be friendless for eternity. But we live in a modern society and there are many ways to meet new people.
1. Use apps for making friends in a new country
When someone suggests using an app to make new friends in a new country, the minds of the agents of chaos out there immediately go to good ol’ Tinder. People do use Tinder for friendships and a lot of them find what they’re looking for, but, unless you base your friendships around how good people look in their gym selfies, there are much better choices out there.
Originally, Bumble was seen as an exciting alternative to Tinder which forced the girls to have a crack at some awful openers instead.
Since its launch in 2014, Bumble’s creators have released a BFF mode that’s intended to be used exclusively for friendships. It works the same way as any dating app, you add pictures and some personal information and start swiping.
Even though anyone can use the app, it does tend to be used by women more than men, and you can only use it to find friends of the same gender. If you’re not sure why this is, just look at how guys tend to behave on Tinder. We really can’t be trusted.
Couchsurfing really is a great app. Primarily used by those who are travelling on a budget or want to have a more local personal experience while travelling, it allows users to crash on the couches (or spare beds if you’re lucky) of people from all over the world or allows you to host travellers visiting your hometown. It’s a unique, safe, and fun way to travel and meet new people.
However, for people who prefer to stay in hotels or hostels while traveling, or for those who are new to a city and want to make friends, there is a meetup feature that allows people to send out posts stating what they are interested in doing. For example, if you want to have coffee, you can create your own alert, and others using the app can see it and contact you. You can then agree on a meeting point through the app’s messenger.
This is a perfect way to get to know a new city, and get to know fellow expats and locals alike.
For many people, exercising and engaging in physical activity is about more than health and fitness. It’s also their social outlet. If you’ve grown up being involved in sports teams and making friends through them, it can be difficult to replicate it when living in a foreign country.
Athleto is an app that lets you match with other fitness-conscious people in your area, based on your interests, skill level, and exercise frequency. You can join existing sporting groups or create your own, and sprint away to your little heart’s content with your incredibly healthy new friends.
Meetup works similarly to the Couchsurfing app, but not only allows you to meet up with people based on your interests, but based on demographics too.
You want to go bird-watching? Great. Get hammered with strangers? Perfect. Play board games? Absolutely. And, thanks to the demographic filter, you’re not likely to rock up to a pub crawl in Belgrade with a group of 60-year-olds. Unless that’s what you wanted.
This one is a little more niche. Pawdates, as the name suggests, is an app used to organise playdates for your pets. If you have a dog that needs its daily walks, it might be nice to have a bit of company. And, no, you can’t use this app if you don’t own a pet.
2. Take advantage of social media
As obvious as it may seem, social media platforms really are some of the best ways to make friends in a new country.
As lonely as you may feel when trying to find your feet abroad, there are always other people in the same boat, and, as bad as it is for our mental health, most of us will always drift towards social media when we’re lonely.
Unfortunately, Facebook is still the best platform for connecting with new people. So, here are some ways to use it to make friends in a new country.
This may surprise you, but expat groups have a lot more to them than just people digitally screaming at each other. If you look past the labyrinth of keyboard warriors, you’ll see that these pages are full of posts from genuine people advertising meetups for various clubs and societies, sports teams, road trips, and pretty much any activity you can think of.
We’re not saying that you should use these groups to form online friendships, although, if that’s what you want, then you do you. Don’t be too shy to message the posters directly and ask for information on meeting times. They’ve advertised for a reason and want more people to join.
If there’s one thing that Facebook is great for, it’s event posting. Events covering pretty much everything you can think of will be posted constantly, so there’s going to be something for everybody.
If you’re not comfortable trying to make friends at a loud music event, then try something else. Maybe a sporting event is more your style, for example.
Make your own posts
It can be difficult to put yourself out there, even with the anonymity of social media, but, if you end up struggling to find posts advertising activities that you enjoy, then try to organise them yourself. The worst that can happen is that people don’t show an interest and you move on to something else.
Even if that is the case, people are likely to engage with you on some level. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but people love making themselves heard online.
3. Make friends through your work or college
Whether you’ve moved to a new country for work or for study, your work and college mates are bound to be organising get-togethers, like nights out or dinners, during the evenings and weekends. Contrary to popular belief, most people are reasonably welcoming to newcomers and will likely invite you along.
If your colleagues seem to be more on the cliquey side, then you may have to put yourself out there a bit more. I don’t necessarily mean inviting yourself along, but let them know that you’re interested in doing things outside of work. Be friendly and patient, and people will eventually warm to you.
Clearly, the pandemic tends to make people less enthusiastic about socialising with new people, but there are ways around this. Suggest outdoor activities like hikes and walks, or going to a cafe or restaurant with outdoor catering.
Sometimes, people whom you work and study with may not be the types to organise these get-togethers, and you may have to be the instigator. They may just be missing someone who’s willing to go to the trouble of rallying the troops. Be that person.
4. Do some volunteering
This is one of the best ways to put yourself out there when trying to make friends in a new country. Every city on Earth has many ways you could volunteer your time. Here are some to keep an eye out for:
As distant a memory as it may be, before COVID-19, we used to have the luxury of enjoying ourselves at various festivals. Even though much of the world is still locked down, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel, and the need for events and festivals is bound to return with a flourish.
Events like music, comedy, and film festivals vary in size from city to city, and often tend to be quite expensive to organise. Many organisers, therefore, rely on volunteers to make everything happen.
Whether they need people to help with organisation of the event itself, or they just need people to work as ushers, the sense of excitement around the organisation of a festival attracts a lot of interesting people, locals, and expats alike. It’s a perfect environment to make friends in a new country.
Volunteering with local charities may not have the same sense of excitement as volunteering for festivals, but it is still a great way to meet new people while also doing something positive with your free time.
Charity work may also suit people better if they are more comfortable with smaller groups of people.
For the animal lovers out there, volunteering at animal shelters is a great way to meet new people and make new friends in a new country.
The great thing about these shelters is that you’ll likely be volunteering alongside like-minded people who (hopefully) share your love for animals.
The duties you’ll have at an animal shelter may vary depending on the place, but you’ll likely engage in grooming, washing, and general care. In some cases, however, they just want people to come and play with the animals and get them used to people. Some shelters even encourage people to come and take their dogs out for a walk for a few hours, and there aren’t many better conversation starters than the friendly three-legged dog by your side, are there?
Workaways tend to be a little longer term, so it will be more suitable for people who are travelling rather than expats working or studying.
Nevertheless, they are a great way to work in exchange for bed and board while also meeting a lot of fantastic, like minded people. There isn’t much of a limit on the kind of work you can do.
Find out more about workaways here.
5. Join clubs and sports teams
This is a method of making friends that is tried and tested. Joining clubs or sports teams is a clear way to meet people with similar interests. Activities like these allow you to avoid the pressure of socialising with new people by giving you an activity to focus on simultaneously.
Depending on what your hobbies are, it may be a little bit more difficult to find a suitable club. For example, if you play football, you’re more or less guaranteed to find a club, but, if lacrosse is your thing, you may struggle.
You can find all the info you need about clubs and sports teams in your city with a quick Google search or by just asking those around you.
Trying to make friends in a new country is tough, so don’t expect to be batting away people left and right. An effort needs to be made. Just be friendly, don’t be creepy, and put yourself out there.