Congratulations! You’ve made the leap and moved to another country. You’ve covered all the logistics–apartment, insurance, bank account, tax identification number–and oriented yourself to your new surroundings. But now that you’ve settled in, a new, more cringe-worthy challenge, awaits–making friends.
Now, depending on your age and how often you’ve moved, striking up conversations with strangers in a strange land may not be a big deal. But if you’ve had the same friends your whole adult life, collecting new chums can be tough.
When I decided to move to Sydney, AU, in January without knowing a soul, I did a few things to make the process easier for myself both before and after I arrived.
Hook Up With Friends of Friends
Before you leave on your trip or move, ask everyone you know for contacts of people or relatives dwelling in your destination city. Or better yet, have them CC you on an introductory e-mail. It may seem awkward, almost like you’re a charity case, but it’s worth a try.
Cases in point: A friend back home knew someone living in Sydney and gave me his contact info while I was still in the States. We started e-mailing, and after I arrived and settled in, we met up. We hit it off and started hanging out on a regular basis. It helped, too, that he was from the Philadelphia area, where I’d lived for nine years. We could commiserate not just on being American expats, but on having lived in the same city.
Target Twitter or Facebook
There’s a huge expat/travel community on Twitter. If you start following people in your future country or city, you can build online friendships that you can test out in real life once you’re there. You might also glean early insights into what to expect in your new home.
Before I left, a friend introduced me via Twitter to another young woman from New Jersey arriving in Sydney the same week as me. We began following each other online and met up our first week down under. We now joke about being each other’s first friends in Australia. I also met up with another Twitter pal on a recent trip to Melbourne.
Make the Most of Meetups
Some people shy away from sites like Meetup.com because they feel like an inorganic way to meet people. But consider other groups besides the “expat” or “new in town” ones. If you have a hobby, such as cooking, reading or jogging, joining those groups could help you find friends who both share your interests and will join you for a drink on Saturday nights.
I’ve yet to attend an actual expat meet-up here in Sydney, but I did go on a hike with another group a few weeks in. I met other newcomers from North America and Europe, and we exchanged numbers and met up socially a weeks later.
Ham it Up at Hostels
The benefit of hostels is that everyone is thrust into the same situation. If you’re friendly, people will often invite you out because they’re also travelling solo. So while your first instinct may be to seclude yourself in your dorm, force yourself to chat with other guests in the common areas.
When I first arrived in Sydney, I spent a week at a hostel in Bondi Beach. I felt overwhelmed and jetlagged, but I talked with my roommates and made it a point to meet others at mealtimes. Now I have pals I can reconnect with when they pop back into Sydney. Hostels are also sometimes a good place to return to even after you’ve settled, as the more popular, centralized ones can have a big social atmosphere.
Combine Work and Play
If you worked somewhere at home that has a branch or even some clients where you’re headed, ask to be introduced. You could get friends and additional work opportunities.
I work from home as a full-time freelance writer, so I don’t have the social benefit of an office. Before I left for Oz, a North American client connected me with the editor of the Australian version of its Web site. We eventually met for drinks and stayed in touch, and I got the bonus of a writing assignment.
So making friends abroad doesn’t have to be painful. With some in-person and online networking and friendliness toward fellow travelers, you’ll be Miss or Mr. Popularity in no time.
Lauren Fritsky is a journalist and blogger from New Jersey currently spending a year in Sydney, Australia, on a work/holiday visa. Her work has appeared on major Web sites including AOL and CNN and in magazines such as Weight Watchers. Read about her time abroad at www.thelifethatbroke.com.