One of the coolest parts of studying abroad is meeting and befriending locals. However, it’s sometimes easier or more comfortable to stick with other study abroad students or those from your home country. At the end of the day, you will make friends with whoever you get along with, regardless of where they are from – but here are some ways you can interact with and meet more local students during your time abroad.
1. Go abroad during the school year.
Lots of students go abroad during the summer in order to save time and money, or to participate in specific programs and internships. While these are good reasons to do a summer program, it’s generally more difficult to meet and befriend locals in a mere 6-8 weeks. Most summer programs are also only taken by study abroad students, leaving barely any time or opportunity to get to know students from your host country. Semester and year programs allow more time (although a 4-5 month semester still isn’t that much time!) to make international friends.
2. Apply for an immersion or exchange program.
Try to find a program that will have you take classes with local students. This was one of my top priorities for going abroad, which is why I chose an English-speaking country – I was worried that if I did an English-speaking course in Spain or Italy with other American students, I wouldn’t get to experience a foreign education system. Because I did an immersion program in the UK, I registered for and attended classes with British students, and had more chances to meet them.
3. Talk to and study with your classmates.
If you’re in an immersion program, use your classes to your advantage and interact with your classmates. Talk to them before and after class, study with them, be their lab partner. It may be tempting to sit next to the other exchange student in your class, but try engaging with the local students instead.
4. Live in university accommodation (or with university students).
I met the majority of local students in the university-owned house I stayed in called Hillside Woodside. There were about 30 students living in this house, with just a handful of us coming from the US, Canada, and South America. I became closer to my housemates than to my classmates because we would see each other more often at home. You can also meet locals by living with a host family or finding an apartment with students at your host university.
5. Hang out in common areas and student spots.
Some days, you may just want to stay in your room and video chat with your friends back home, but make an effort to be present in the common area(s) of your place. My housemates and I had random nights at the pub, YouTube sessions, Scrabble games, bonfires, and good ol’ conversations because we constantly hung out and chatted in our common area. It helped that Internet access was restricted to our bedrooms, because it allowed us to actually interact with each other in the common room. There were definitely some housemates who barely left their rooms, and I never got to know them well – so don’t be like that!
6. Join a campus society or group.
I wish I had listened to this advice while I was abroad. Joining a club or group on campus is a great way to meet people who you already know share similar interests. Whether you’re into photography, ultimate frisbee, or improv, there’s probably a society you can join. If you’re already involved in a particular club at your home university, this is also a good way to continue that hobby or extracurricular activity during your time abroad.
7. Make yourself at home.
Settle in. Spend an afternoon on the campus green. Share tea and biscuits with your new friends. Don’t go off on trips every free weekend you have, or you might lose out on the time needed to let your friendships grow. The beauty of studying abroad is that you’re not vacationing in a new city – you’re living in it. So become a part of it and the people who make it, and you’ll find a new home and friends in the world.