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Making Friends Abroad: 4 Easy Ways To Meet People Internationally

As a third-year student, I feel pretty comfortable at my home university. I have my routines, familiarity in my department, and have a handful of supportive and amazing close friends. It takes time and lots of self-confidence, but eventually you find those people that stick around and you love them for who they are too. Freshman year was hard because I didn’t know anyone! But then again, none of us knew anyone. It’s kind of a weird environment when everyone is new and we’re all being super brave as we put ourselves out there. I have to say, once I got those solid relationships, I was glad to have a mini-community that I could call home.



What I didn’t realize was that I was going to experience that all over again when I studied abroad in Scotland. Thankfully I didn’t have a language barrier between myself and native U.K. students, but I didn’t realize how much work it took to get to know people, especially after first-year when everyone has settled into their own. I was determined to make Scottish friends when I studied abroad and I’m so glad I put myself out there. Trying new things is hard, but it’s always more fun when you have some new buddies to do it with.

making friends - Scotland
An American, a Canadian, and two Scotswomen attend a local Christmas tree lighting! I met all three of these lovely ladies through the Christian Union on campus.

One of the easiest ways to meet native students is to join a university club! Go to the university club and society fair during the first week of classes and find one (or two) groups that fit your interests. If you want to try something new, do that too! But I’ve found that doing something that you’re already involved in and love is way easier to enjoy in a different country than if you’re doing something that you’ve never done before. My host university had more clubs and societies than I expected. At home, I’m pretty involved in a local college church so I knew that I would want to find something similar in Scotland, which I did! Most of my Scottish (and English and Northern Irish) friends came out of being involved in the Christian Union on campus. It was easier and certainly more rewarding than I expected, but I could have also joined the Choral Society or the International Students Society. Find what you love and I can guarantee that there will be people waiting to join you.

While this might seem strange, try and get to know your professors and instructors at your host university. I’m not saying become best friends, but your professors care about you and most likely love your host university and host country and want you to love it too! One of my favorite memories is sitting in my Scottish professor’s office and talking with him about how much we both love London. Your professors can help you understand colloquial differences and sometimes help you better understand the material you’re studying. Who knows, they might just tip you off to your next great (but not hugely known) place to adventure.

making friends - neighbors
Meet Laura: my downstairs neighbor and best adventure buddy for a semester abroad!

Something that I did a little too late was meet my neighbors. It took me a couple of weeks to get to finally talk to the people in my building, which I regret. While there were few Scottish people in my resident hall, there were loads of international students. We ended up going out to a different pub in Stirling every Wednesday night so that we could get to know each other and the community we lived in. I met one of my best friends because she happened to live in my building and she attended the Christian Union too! Form a fun community of your own. It’s just like freshman year when your new friends also conveniently lived in the same building or floor as you. Explore your host country together!

I know how intimidating it can be, but get out of your room that first weekend and walk around your host city/town. Find a favorite coffee shop, browse a charity shop, or try a locally brewed beer at one of the pubs. Make the host town your new hometown, in the same way you became a native on your home university’s campus. You will meet some of the most interesting and friendly people in your host country, whether it’s another coffee enthusiast or a fellow book lover in a book store. Don’t leave familiarity up to chance or circumstance. Adventure can start right outside your door, but you won’t know if you don’t try. Why go halfway across the world to watch Netflix in a dorm? Meet some locals and become one in a different country! I promise, it makes it easier to love (but harder to leave).

images: the authors

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Kendall Varin

I'm a native Idaho girl who decided to branch out from my roots in the Pacific Northwest. The last autumn semester of my senior year I was very studious (and slightly adventurous) in Scotland. Having lived six places in the last two years, I don't plan to stop there. I'm convinced my life’s purpose is to meet and love as many people from all over the world as I can. Follow my blog as I post about confidently traveling solo, studying literature in a different country, and how little it takes to truly feel at home! For a little Scottish appreciation, make sure to check out my Instagram too!


3 comments

  1. Good tips in here. Thanks! I once was terrible at meeting people abroad but with some practice & courage I’ve been able to break out of my shell lately.

  2. We’ve been traveling for the last 8 years. It has been so enriching for our family. I love how we have had a chance to get to know other people. I love your ideas here. It is so important to meet people when you are out in the world.

    Keep up the great work here and live unstoppable!

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