“Hola, me llamo Shannen”: How to Make International Friends While Studying Abroad

“Hola, me llamo Shannen”: How to Make International Friends While Studying Abroad

By: Shannen O'Brien

                If I’ve learned anything from my last semester abroad in Madrid, it’s that at some point (if not already) you feel like you’re a freshman again. Throw in a foreign language and trying to navigate a new city/campus on your own, and then you’re really back at square one.  The plus side of studying abroad though is that you have people who are in the same boat as you are: the students in your home university’s program, as well as the other American/international students in your classes at your university abroad.

                But if you’re trying to truly immerse yourself in your new country’s culture, you’re going to want to talk to the natives, especially the natives that are your age. They are the people you ask for recommendations about places to visit, things to do, and where to go out. This one can be a little harder to tackle (hence why I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions).  Here are a few things I’ve done that have helped me reach out to Spanish university students:

                Before I even stepped foot on Spanish soil, my program director forwarded us an email about a buddy program at our participating university. This program pairs international students up with a Spanish student so that you have a contact for advice on campus, etc. DEFINITELY sign up for it! I’ve met my buddy a few times for lunch and text him on whatsapp so I can practice my Spanish.  What’s really cool about my friendship with Carlos is that I practice my Spanish with him and he practices his English with me!

                The next thing I do is almost the exact same thing, but with people who don’t go to my university. In Spain, these intercambios are events where international people (of any age) meet up and practice languages with other people. My friend Ian met a guy named Mateo who goes to another university in Madrid and introduced me to him. I do a one-on-one intercambio with a former student of my university who’s a little bit older, and meet with him weekly. If you’re in a big city like I am, be on the lookout for events that say “International Exchange” (hint: WSA city groups have promoters who post these events every week!). The other thing I recommend is to sign up for tutoring.  Every Monday, I tutor two elementary school girls for an hour and a half in basic English, and make some decent pocket change as a result!

                Another recommendation I have for people looking to reach out to locals their age is to get in touch with other American students/your home country that have friends here for other reasons. At a culture shock workshop, I met another American who gave me the phone number of a friend of his that goes to my campus. I just reached out to her today, and she’s already asking me to meet up with her to grab a coffee (woohoo!).

                While transitioning into academic life abroad, balancing travel, and keeping up on work, there’s nothing like having locals to reach out to that could make your life easier. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there (re: remember your first couple weeks of freshman year), and just think: the more friends you make in your study abroad country, the more reasons you have to go back and visit them!


Katrina Alford, Concordia University - Irvine

Happy Backpackers

This past weekend, I traveled to Budapest with WSA with a couple of friends from my university abroad, and I couldn't have asked for a better trip! After arriving at the hostel, we met Bogi, our tour guide for the weekend, who was instantly friendly and welcoming. Throughout the weekend, Bogi was an amazing guide! She showed us some great places for shopping and food, as well as the top sights around the city. You could tell she loved her job and never passed up an opportunity to share about her hometown and some of its history. She was so friendly and was sincerely interested in us as individuals and did everything she could do accommodate our priorities for the weekend (whether it was food, shopping, nightlife, sightseeing, etc.) I would highly recommend WSA's guided tours for any student studying abroad who wants to explore more than their university's city!

Katrina Alford, Concordia University - Irvine ~ AIFS Richmond, Spring 2015

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