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How to Make the Most of Your Exchange – Making Friends and Socializing

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Ottawa chapter.

Meeting new people and making friends is one of the best parts of going abroad. However, socializing in a foreign city can be very challenging. Therefore, I made this list of tips and three rules for making new friends and socializing on your exchange so you can have the best experience possible.

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Rule number 1

Before I go on telling you about the different ways of socializing and meeting new fund people abroad. You need to learn about rule number 1: Whenever you meet someone new and you get along with them, ask for their number or their Instagram. I prefer Instagram because different countries use different messaging apps, but Instagram is pretty universal. You won’t have to reach out, but I have had situations where I actively regretted not asking for someone’s contact details. If you are shy, don’t be! Most people are very happy to gain a follower, and most of the time, when I asked someone for their Instagram, or number they responded with “oh yes, I was just about to ask you the same”. Plus, you don’t have to reach out, so if you ask there is no obligation to actually see that person ever again. Making it a habit to ask people for their contact also makes it easier to ask in the future, and that not just people you want to be friends with.

Rule Number 2

So you asked for their Instagram? Great! Now, to make the transition from I met this person once to how or what should I text them a bit easier, I would recommend suggesting something you could do together in the future. Sounds very lame but hear me out! It can be regarding something you were already talking about before (maybe you both always wanted to go to that museum), or as low-key as saying, “so if you ever wanna get coffee, or study together …”. Alternatively, you could also just suggest something you would like to do and invite them along. (this tip will also be important later when we get to dating apps).

Making Friends at university

Although I did meet most of my current friends abroad at university, I also find making friends at university actually the most challenging. Most students don’t socialize within lectures, maybe in group projects but other than that I find getting into conversations with people during class not the way to go. Of course you can always talk to other students before or after lectures.

One way I found very helpful though was finding out where the semi-silent study areas are. The areas where people study, but still talk to their friends and you don’t have to be quiet there. I have made a lot of friends by just sitting down at a random table and joining a conversation or just introducing myself.

Try New Things

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Learning bachata? Or boxing? Yoga class? Maybe join a club? Is there a cultural food event? Karaoke night? Bowling? The university is organizing a city trip? Count me in! This is your opportunity to try the things you always wanted to do. And don’t be afraid to go to events alone. Nobody cares (in a good way)! Most of the people you meet abroad you will never see again, so why not?

To attend these types of events and meet people, you first need to investigate where to find this information. I find it helpful to check the university’s websites, but also follow the clubs I like, as well as the university on Instagram.

Now, whatever event you go to, don’t be afraid to approach new people! And here, rule number 3 comes in handy.

Rule number 3

This is a tip I actually stumbled across on TikTok and I find it is truly genius:

Go to an event, ideally an event you would also find very enjoyable alone. Then, approach the person who, in your opinion, is having the most fun. The person who, in your opinion, has the best energy. What to say, then? Just say something along the lines of “Hi, I love your energy,” introduce yourself, or match their energy. This has produced some amazing memories I have, regardless of if I ever met up with them or not.

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be open to all kinds of people

This tip has two parts.

First, a semester abroad, most of the time, is 4 to 5 months long. Therefore you don’t have a lot of time to meet new people. Hence, you don’t have to be super picky about what people to spend most of your time with. I know that sounds really bad, but my point is that making friends while abroad is essential, and if have super high expectations, you will end up lonely.

Second, you also should not cling to the first people you meet.

In sum, I would recommend appreciating everyone for who they are and being open to spending more time with the people you get along with well (even though they might not become your best friends) and staying open to meeting new people at the same time.

The more, the merrier

Now that you met some cool people don’t be afraid to merge different friend groups. You know the feeling where you have different friend groups, for example, your sports club friends, or your going out friends, or your “give me the tea” friends? – and you are afraid of inviting them all to the same party because you feel they might not get along? It is kind of like they bring out different sides of you, and you don’t know how to deal with all of them meeting each other. Well, guess what? Most people who bring out one side of you, just like you, are not one-dimensional. Most of the time, all of the people that get along with you will also get along with each other. Plus, if you are can create an atmosphere of “everyone is welcome to join, and bring a friend,” you will also meet more people. Win, win!

Say Yes!

This last piece of advice is very similar to “try new things.” With the small difference of trying out whatever your friends want to do, even though it might not entirely be your thing. Who knows, maybe it will be. Worst case scenario: your friend had a good time, you have a good story, or now you know that whatever they wanted to do is really not your thing.

Dating (apps)

Although making friends on dating apps is somewhat controversial, I think you could give it a go. Although dating can be seen as socializing as well! I personally have made some good and some horrible experiences with dating apps, and dating abroad, but as long as it is not your main/only way of socializing I would recommend giving it a go.

If you want more tips on dating abroad, I recommend reading my article about dating during your exchange!

Making friends “from scratch” can be very intimidating, but honestly, you have nothing to lose abroad. Everyone you meet, you might never see again, and everyone you meet might be your new best friend, showing you the cool little traditions, or places abroad! So, get out of your comfort zone, and socialize!

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Eva Thonnessen

U Ottawa '23

Hi :) I´m Eva, a writer for HerCampus from the University of Ottawa. I am currently in Canada on an exchange. Although I am German, I have been doing my undergrad in the Netherlands, and now I am here :) I like going to the gym semi-regularly and trying out new sports, including gymnastics, boxing, and ice skating, where I make a fool out of myself every now and then.