making friends
Making friends isn't always easy when you're an international student, but here's how you can avoid this. Source: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

You’re new to a country and it’s like your world has turned upside down.

You find yourself concentrating twice as hard on even the simplest things that people say just so you can cut through their accent and catch all that was being said. When you talk, you stop using your local slang, so people would understand you better but you only get to communicate only half of what you want to say.

And maybe you’ve gone from being used to getting around by car to learning how to use public transportation. Instead of a bidet, there is only toilet paper. 

You can’t help but notice other things, too, such as how different people here look, dress and act from what you’re used to back home. It’s new and exciting, but the first few months can just feel jarring and intimidating.

And lonely.

Not everyone goes to a foreign university with their group of friends from back home. Sure, there’s Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, but it’s no replacement for genuine personal connection. 

No doubt, you want to make friends. With everything so new, foreign and sometimes scary, making friends abroad can be challenging.

But it need not be.

We’ve been there and lived to tell the tale. A shy, Asian girl can find friends, beyond those in her country and the Asian community, ie. total strangers.

Here are some of our tips:

Prepare, prepare, prepare 

There are people in classes, in hallways, in dorms, so forth. These are all opportunities to make small talk.

Not good at making small talk? Or, you’re not entirely confident in your English or afraid they’ll laugh at your accent?

Just talk, broken English and all. Prepare a script with some possible topics or possible answers that other students may potentially ask you, eg. Where are you from? What did you think about that professor’s lame joke? 

If they laugh at your accent or exclude you, so what? At least you tried and now you can cross them off your list of potential new BFF and plot your revenge (Ed: The last bit is a joke).

Be the bigger person. Choose to be curious about the lives of other students you meet such as where they’re from, why they chose this particular university or country, or their hobbies and passions. 

Don’t just talk about yourself – conversation is a two-way street!

Attend orientation day

Orientation day is a great way to meet other international students who are new on campus. Robyn Beck/AFP
Source: Robyn Beck/AFP

Orientation day is not just the best time for students to get to know their campus, but it’s also a good time to get to know those who are just as new as you on campus and in the country.

Chances are, everyone’s feeling a range of emotions ranging from shyness to anxiety. So take the plunge and pluck up the courage to be the first to say “Hi” or to strike up a conversation with others.

Everyone’s in the same boat, and there’s bound to be a few awkward moments, but it’s important to push past your comfort zone to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Be open

Part of the rigours of making new friends abroad includes being open to new things and experiences. 

For instance, if you’ve always been the person to be holed up in the library, now’s a good time to be open to new experiences, such as joining student associations, attending university sporting events and the like. 

Don’t hesitate to meet your friend’s friends too, as that can help you widen your social circle rather than sticking to cliques.

Who knows, you’ll not only make a friend for life, but find a new passion or interest in the process. 

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