Moving to a new place, especially one that is thousands of miles away from home, can be extremely exciting but also stressful. This change will allow you to immerse yourself with an entirely different culture and meet new people who may become your lifelong friends. To make your transition a little easier, we created this guide to help you find the best approach in making friends during your time abroad!
Learn about American norms and customs
Whether it be from watching movies or TV shows, learning about US culture is imperative to making long-lasting connections. Let’s go over some of the most common cultural norms.
Once you arrive in the US, you may notice some differences in the way people greet and talk to each other. If it’s your first time meeting someone, the appropriate greeting is often a handshake. However, due to concerns of the spread of COVID-19 some people may be more opposed to handshakes—definitely don’t feel offended if someone says no to a handshake as it can be a health concern. After meeting someone for the first time, you should start a conversation with them. This can be as easy as asking them what they are majoring in, where they’re from, or what some of their interests are. Try to find some sort of common ground so that you can continue the chat more fluidly. Make sure to smile a lot and make eye contact with them. Eye contact may be particularly difficult if you come from a culture where it is seen as offensive, but you should try your best to keep eye contact with the person especially if they’re talking—Americans value eye contact because it indicates whether or not you are paying attention to them.
In terms of conversational topics, many Americans love discussing the latest blockbuster or their favorite shows—whether it’s good or bad—so be sure to watch some of the most popular shows and movies before getting to the US so that you can engage in these types of conversations. A lot of Americans also enjoy sports, especially Football, so it might be a good idea for you to learn at least a little bit about it too.
If you see someone that you’ve met before on the street or in the hallway, be friendly by saying hi and/or waving when you make eye contact. Additionally, if they are not in a rush anywhere, maybe strike up a small conversation. It can be as simple as asking “how are you?” or complimenting their outfit. You can also try to make plans with them. One of the best ways to do so is by inviting them out for brunch, dinner, or drinks (if you’re 21+).
Some conversation starters
If you’re uncertain about how to start a conversation, here are some things that you can say or ask a new friend to get the conversation rolling:
Feel free to save the photo onto your phone so that you can have it as a reference whenever you need it!
Speak primarily in English
This might be obvious, but most Americans only speak or are mainly fluent in English. So, try your best to be inclusive and speak English, even if you’re with other friends who also speak your native language, so that no one will feel left out!
Get involved in school activities, clubs, and sports
One of the easiest ways of meeting a bunch of new people in your college is by participating in school activities, clubs, or sports. You will be able to find people with the same or similar interests as you and bond over that. Take initiative to go to events—we promise it’ll be worth it in the end!
You can learn about a unique type of extracurricular, Greek life, that allows people to really bond with each other throughout the semester here.
Reach out to peers through social media
Another way of connecting with people, especially if you’re attending a large university, is through social media. During the summer, before you even get to campus, you should find your university class’s Instagram and Facebook pages so that you can introduce yourself on there and see who else will be in your year. Add or follow them, depending on the platform, and directly message them as you see fit. You can introduce yourself and ask if they would like to meet up or hang out once you both get on campus. Be active in your search for friends, so that you can feel more secure and excited about attending the university!
Making friends in the dorm
On-campus housing can be a great opportunity to make new friends. Whether it be in the hallway or elevator, try to be friendly by saying hi or smiling to other students in the same dorm. You can also introduce yourself to your neighbors when they’re around and even invite them over to hang out when it seems appropriate.
Talking before or after class
This might be for the more daring ones, but if you find a classmate that you are interested in talking to then go up to them before or after class! Strike up a conversation through small talk. The easiest way is by complimenting their outfit or style—anything that stands out to you. After that, maybe you can discuss something class-related and ask for their socials before departing. Through direct message, you can invite them to hang out or go out for a meal—keep it simple.
Be persistent, but also know when to cut your losses
Once you meet someone that you enjoy talking to and relate with, be sure to stay in contact with them. This might be as easy as continuously replying to their texts or reaching out to make plans for a meal—be persistent. However, on the flip side of the coin, if they are not really responding to you or do not show signs of interest in hanging out with you, then you should move on and find other people who will value you more—know when to cut your losses.