New Country - New Semester – New Friends

Amanda "Gizmo" Lanham Student Liason Officer


June 4, 2018

Making Friends Abroad

Making friends as a kid meant running up to someone and tagging them at tiggy (Tag – you’re it). 

When you’re in a new environment that is unfamiliar, with people using strange terms like sanga, arvo and biccy (sandwich, avocado and biscuit – which to us means a cookie), all you really want is a friendly smile and someone to face the weirdness and unfamiliar with you.  But you’re abroad – you know no one – yet and loneliness is a killer so what do you do? Well here’s a few ideas:

1)  Leave the comfort zone – it’s where the magic happens

From the personal file of my own university history comes the story of Jenny.  Jenny is my best friend – 10 years older than me and comparably a social butterfly to my own previous quiet book worm.  So when my first week of university orientation rolled around she said to me “If you don’t go and sit next to someone new in every lecture and tutorial you go to for the first week – I will never speak to you again”.  She then followed it up with: “You also need to ring me every night and I want a debrief of each person”.  She’s big on accountability and follow through and she’s literal enough to stone wall me and also never speak to me again.  So I did. Every tute – Every Lecture for the first 2 weeks – I sat next to someone new and had a chat.  It’s not something that was in my comfort zone at that time, it wasn’t even in the same universe as my comfort zone at that time. But I did it. 

Through that activity I had many friends – some of which lasted a day, a few weeks, a semester, a year, my whole degree, the last 10 years and I even had a 1 year relationship with the guy I met through Philosophy.  It turns out it was great advice.

Why it worked? It was smart: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.

Meet 16 people in the first 2 weeks of university by talking to a new person for each tute and lecture. (4 lectures, 4 tutes = 8 people per week)

That’s 16 possible people to connect with – some of them might be Aussies…. and Aussies have cars and can drive you to cool places. ;)

2) Don’t be interesting  - Be Interested.

Listen – ask about their favourite topic – themselves! And instead of using your “listening” time to think of a reply – just engage in what the person is telling you.  Their opinions tell you a lot about them and if they are sharing and you are open minded there is a lot you can learn. 

Tip: Wait 15 more seconds… it might seem uncomfortable but silence is golden and allows for people to feel safe to respond.

Tip 2: Studies show that being likeable can be as easy as listening and asking them to tell you more or clarify something they’ve said.

Tip 3: Find something positive – people love talking about their passions and they get excited and engaged in discussing it.

3) VULNERABILITY creates compassion

Be real, be vulnerable, share something that’s authentic and you might find the other person feels like sharing something in kind – I’m not saying to lay all your cards on the table – just try and share something that isn’t the big 5: Where are you from? What are you studying? Where are you going to travel? What do you do for work? How long are you staying? etc.

Try out some cultural differences – what don’t you understand and want to learn more about?

What’s meaningful for you? For them?

What activities are they into? Food do they love?

What clubs are they involved in?

What things can you join in on that they know a lot about?

 4) Stay in touch…

Make a time to meet again, catch up, exchange numbers/whats app/insta handles…don't wait for the universe to throw you back in front of them. 

Keep it balanced: Aussie vs Americans

There’s nothing like a local to show you around – so try and meet some Aussie’s while you’re here. Most of them have a car and LOVE showing Americans around – they also generally have family who live close by and like to cook – Sunday roast at Wazza’s place is the best.  There just wont be any *shrimp* on the barbie because we call them prawns. 

There’s also nothing like being able to look at vegemite with abhorrence and share that knowing grimace at why do Aussies spread the scrapings of a beer barrel over their toast every morning. It’s comforting to have a fellow American to share the highs and lows and chat about the foods you’re missing / craving but it's also good to get out of your comfort zone too.

Don't be afraid to make friends with people in other states and far off regions - it means you have someone to visit and a new place to explore.  

Get out there!