One of the most intimidating parts of teaching abroad is the thought of going it alone. Even if you’re an extrovert, striking out on your own is scary and the thought that you don’t know who’ll you’ll be celebrating your next birthday with or even simply hanging out with on the weekends can feel downright weird.
But on the flipside, the friendships you make abroad can be some of the most enriching and rewarding aspects of your time there. You’ll meet people you never expected, from places you’ve never been to and expand your social network wider than you ever imagined. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? So, where do you begin?
Use your existing network
You never know who has friends or family in the place you’re moving to. Maybe your cousin has a friend in Beijing or your colleague has a brother in Sao Paulo.
Making new connections from established ones is great because you already have a bit of a connection to the person you’ll meet, and a recommendation from someone you already know and like. So, ask around or write a status update on your social media, and see who find you!
Get to know your colleagues
When you arrive in your new home, get to know your colleagues. Some of them might not be from overseas, but even if they’re not, they’ll definitely be able to give you useful insights into what it’s like to live in this country.
Make sure you say yes to any work social events and if there aren’t any, why not try organizing one yourself? Or you can schedule individual coffee dates with your colleagues to try and get to know them better one on one.
Get out there IRL
If you want to meet people you have to be around, well... people! A good place to start is by exploring your local neighborhood. Say hi to your neighbors, find places you like going to and become a regular face there, and you could even check out your local library for community events.
Beyond this, say yes to any invitations that come your way. It might feel weird turning up to things alone, or taking up opportunities that wouldn’t normally interest you, but you never know where you might meet someone interesting. One of the first things to do is to enter new places with a positive, can-do attitude.
Follow your interests
If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer, join a sports league or take up a new hobby, now’s the time to do it! You’ll meet new people with similar interests, get to know more about the place where you live and follow your passions all in one go.
If you’re not into joining groups, try going to events that look interesting to you. Anyone you meet there obviously shares your interest, so kicking off a conversation with a stranger won’t be too difficult.
Tap into the expat community
In most cases, there are sure to be other expats in your new home who understand just how it feels to move abroad on your own and is open to starting friendships. Bars and restaurants based on a particular culture can be a great place to meet people from your home culture. You can even find online groups detected
Rethink your living space
Next up, your living space might not seem like a hotspot for making connections, but let’s look into it. When you first arrive in a new place, how about staying in a hostel while you’re looking for permanent accommodation
Sure, people in hostels can pass through pretty quickly, but you might meet others in the same position as you or get along with the staff, or find the hostel has great social spaces that you can come back and hang out in even after you find a permanent place to live.
Living in a share house can also a great way to meet people, especially locals. Once you get to know your housemates, you can get to know their friends too, and before you know it, you’ve got the makings of a community.
Lastly, finding social groups online can be a great way to connect with people IRL in your new home. Searching for expat groups or groups based on mutual interests on Meet-up, Facebook and even Instagram can be a great way to get in touch with people.
And there are plenty of groups (like Teach Away’s Community!) out there too where you can share tips and advice about moving abroad and make new connections.
Attend events hosted by your embassy
If you are working somewhere that has a strong relationship with your home country, then it is likely that your home country will have a robust embassy and cultural presence there. What does this mean for you?
Well, embassies and cultural centers will host events that celebrate their nation or bring together expats and are open to the public. These events can range from film screenings, food festivals, concerts, seminars and more. It’s a great way to ease your homesickness and find people who speak your language or know your traditions.
Find your embassy or cultural center, and on their website and/or social media pages, you will see their upcoming events posted.
A final few tips:
Keep an open mind.
When you're overseas, you’ll meet people from different cultures with completely different worldviews to your own. Keep an open mind when you meet new people that you don’t understand straight away, as they might end up teaching you more than you expect.
Not everyone you meet is going to be your new BFF, and you might have to sit through a few awkward coffee dates before you find people you truly connect with. Accept that making new friends will take time and keep putting yourself out there. You never know who you’ll meet next.
Take the initiative.
If you meet someone you click with, ask for their number and follow up with them. Simple, right? This might feel super awkward at first, but ultimately you’re paying someone a huge compliment by saying you want to keep in touch with them. Who wouldn’t be flattered?
Even when you meet someone you click with, it can take time to go from acquaintances to friends. Invest time in people and give friendships space to progress at their own pace.
Remember, everyone feels scared about going it alone when they move abroad. But with a little time and effort, you absolutely will create friendships that last through your overseas adventure, and—who knows?—maybe long into the future.