Making Friends

How to make friends when studying abroad in college

Making new friends in college: for some people, it just comes as naturally as breathing. For others, the fear of not making any friends in college can be paralyzing. This goes not only for back home but especially for studying abroad. Having to speak a foreign language doesn’t necessarily make things easier. The following are tips on how to make friends when studying abroad or starting at any new college – sorted in somewhat logical order.

Making Friends

You are not alone

The first step to making new friends is realizing that you are not alone in this situation. Each semester, hundreds, if not thousands of students start their studies at the exact same university as you do. So you will be literally surrounded by many young people who are in the same situation as you are. Everybody wants to make friends and is happy to talk to you. No one really likes walking around the campus alone or having lunch breaks by themselves, at least not forever. That’s why it is important to be open-minded, keep a smile on your face and try to maintain friendly vibes. Or do you like hanging out with a grinch?

Making Friends

At a glance: How to make friends when studying abroad in college

1. Stay in a flat share

By far, the easiest and fastest way of meeting new people – and possibly making new friends – is moving into a flat share. This has several advantages:

Read more about on campus housing, off campus alternatives, and the tradeoff between cost and privacy!

2. Say "Yes" more often

When being invited by your flat mates to hang out, cook dinner together, or go to any social event, try to say “yes” more often. This also goes for anyone at your university. Want to have lunch together? Grab a coffee? Go for a walk? I literally can’t think of a single situation where I regretted my decision to say yes! Worse comes to worst: you know who you don’t want to hang out with. I kinda have to link to this video by Yes Theory:

3. Take courses focussing on group projects

Are you a team player?

The easiest way to get to know other students in your classes is through group projects. If you enjoy working in teams, go for courses with big group projects. This requires some freedom in your course selection and curriculum back home (if you are studying abroad). You can find subjects with group projects in pretty much every academic field. However, based on my experience, such courses are especially popular in entrepreneurship or innovation management.

How it works

Usually, you work on a product or idea throughout the entire semester and develop a business (plan) around it. Doing so, you spend quite some time together. You can get to know people from various academic backgrounds, exchange ideas, and just get to know each other in a chill atmosphere. There’s no pressure involved since it is somewhat expected to spend time together.

4. Join social events at the beginning of the semester

Most universities organize different kinds of social events around the campus during or before the first week of the new semester. This is a great way to get to know other new students. Besides the students who organize such events (who usually wear the same colored clothes), all other participants are new students who want to make new friends. Basically, everyone you see can be your new best friend. Also, the orientation events allow you to talk to many different people in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Since you’ll participate in various games, have barbecues, or go on campus tours, there is no need for you to maintain endless conversations.

KTH Library
The guides take you to the best places on campus: KTH library in Stockholm.

5. Be active and suggest hanging out

Try to be active and ask people to hang out if you like them. For that, an easy first step is to exchange contact details for staying in touch. This allows you to text a little bit more before actually meeting in person (again). You can then suggest going to other campus events, grab a coffee, or explore the city together. In fact, I think going to events with just one other person is the way to go. It allows you to fully focus on your company, enjoy the event together, and still leaves enough room to potentially make new friends. Storming a bar with 16 friends of yours is an absolute killer if you want to get to know other people.

Maintaining a conversation

Worried that you can’t keep up a conversation? Matthew Hussey (bestselling author and dating advice expert) once said: “Do something that involves you actually having some level of external focus. I’m gonna say this bluntly: the worse you are at conversation, the more external focus you need!” (Matthew Hussey, “3 Tricks To Make First Dates Less Awkward”, YouTube). Whether it is an actual date or not, go somewhere where a lot happens. All kinds of events on campus are great ideas, just as any other music or theater show.

Dating advice from bestselling author Matthew Hussey:

6. Join a student club on campus

After moving into a flat share, the second-best advice is to join a student club or society. There are clubs or teams for literally everyone. Keep in mind that some clubs participate in both national and international competitions, too. As a result, joining one of these requires quite some dedication and commitment. But there are also more laidback versions. Especially if you are studying abroad, joining a student club is an absolute must. It has several advantages:

While most clubs are free to join and participate in, some require you to purchase at least some basic gear. This could be sportswear or hiking gear. In some cases, you can rent equipment from the clubs, too. If you are interested in water sports, there’s no need for you to purchase your own kayak, don’t worry. Students club fairs are a great way to get in touch with all the clubs at your new university. In case you want to save some money, read more about free activities.

7. Go to open events or meetups

An easy way of meeting new people with the same interests is going to publicly open free-to-join events. This could be any kind of sport, a cooking class, or a drawing night. You can find both events organized by the university’s network and by individuals outside the campus. Have you ever tried meetup.com to search for things going on around you? Going to any kind of event allows you to get to know other people and potentially make new friends. Especially when going to privately organized meetups, you can get to know locals or other people outside your university bubble.

8. Find a part-time job

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to find a part-time. Ideally, go for something you are naturally good at. This way, it is less exhausting for you to work after class or on the weekends. Needless to say, choose a place where a lot of young people work. However, this can be anything. Take my example: During my bachelor’s program, I worked for a bookmaker. I didn’t expect it at all, but the branch I worked at was basically run by students. It was extremely fun to work there, meet like-minded people, and get paid to watch sports at the same time. It also allowed me to save money and go abroad in the first place.

9. Go out as much as possible

After finding one or two people to hang out with, try to go out and participate in all kinds of events as much as possible. This goes especially for the first couple of weeks and months. Around that time, academics are usually not too demanding. This gives you more time to explore your new city and make friends. Getting yourself out there is the only way of meeting and making new friends.

Plan B

When studying abroad, you can always start off by hanging out with people from your own country. I know that this is usually not what most people want to do when going abroad. Still, it helps to familiarize yourself with your new environment at the beginning. It also gives you an easy-to-talk-to company to go to events together. Later on, you can always decide if you really want to hang out and spend more time together. I met some of my best friends on study abroad programs, and we are still in touch today.

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