The most daunting aspect of traveling and moving to new locales is having to make new personal connections from scratch and leaving behind the familiar, comfort zone of your community.
Hands down the most difficult part of living abroad for me has been adjusting to life without the fierce social support I used to receive from my quirky friends, who would encourage and reassure me throughout all my personal endeavors. Living in a new place where I previously didn’t know anyone, I find myself feeling very isolated and spending much more time alone than I used to back at home. Without the validation and love from my community, I find it harder for myself to thrive and feel confident in my actions, which makes me retreat into myself, which makes myself feel even more alone.
Despite getting the chance to immerse oneself in different settings, it’s quite normal for newcomers to suddenly feel cut off from social relations, especially in busy cities with lots of people. Friendship is a relationship in which individuals care about one another and enjoy each other’s company, which most often can’t happen overnight or even within a couple months. To make new human connections is a process, something that isn’t meant to be quick and easy, regardless of whether one is incredibly outgoing or social. So whether you just moved to a new city, are studying abroad or on an extended trip away from home, loneliness, homesickness and longing for close attachments will most likely come up throughout your journey. But here are some things to keep in mind that will hopefully help you get started with your pursuit of new personal connections, friendships and lasting bonds.
You can’t expect the people in your new destination to closely resemble the community you had back home—which in my case was a mix of sassy, queer, feminist and stoner folks, a mix that is very particular to my college town. Even though I’m constantly on the lookout for people who share my personal interests, I can never expect them to be exactly like the people I used to hang out with. But that’s what discovering new communities is all about; that’s how you learn about different cultures and points of view. So keep in mind, the new social circles in which you will find yourself are not going to feel like the ones you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean they’re any less adequate of a source of good company and intimacy.
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Be Brave and Make Moves
In my experience, if you want to talk to people you haven’t met before, it’s a lot more effective to go up to them than to wait for them to approach you. No matter how gorgeous or friendly you look, most times that doesn’t give people enough reason to come up to you. When I think about how I first met many of my current friends, I realize our relationships started because one of us went through the trouble of introducing oneself, starting a conversation, asking a question or coming to sit at the same table at a coffee shop. Acquaintances and relationships don’t spring out of nothing so take the initiative to put yourself out there and try to establish a connection. No doubt it’s hard and it takes guts a lot of the time, which is why somebody who is worth talking to will be glad that you did.
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Once you’ve met somebody new and let them know who you are, the tricky part is turning it into a personal relationship, which is what distinguishes friends from acquaintances. The trick to this is commitment and consistency because it always takes time to get to know someone and feel comfortable around each other. It is also a matter of luck as to whether your new potential BFF actually has a compatible personality and whether they´re just as interested in getting to know you. Without being too pushy, continue putting in the effort to stay in contact over time by asking those you want friendships with to grab a drink, go out together, talk over coffee and casually hang out. If all goes right, before you know it, your new peeps will be calling you up themselves because they enjoy your company and want new friends too.
Looking for people to hang out with and introducing strangers into your life is hard work and takes time. So don’t beat yourself up if even after a while you don’t feel like you know anyone in your new surroundings that you feel close to. Most of my friends who have been studying abroad this year relate to me that there have been times when they felt depressed throughout their programs. Do your best not to let this intimidating situation get you down. It’s perfectly normal that you don’t have tons of friends right away and make sure you show yourself some love and self-care to make up for what you feel is missing. If there’s nobody you know who you can turn to, the only person who can provide you with solace is you. Go exploring and try new things alone to stay engaged with your surroundings. Do things that make you happy and always stay optimistic that this loneliness isn’t permanent.
Appreciate the people you already know
Because we’re inclined to feel like our social lives aren’t exciting enough or that we never have enough friends, it’s easy to overlook and take for granted the people who are already there. I personally have to confess that in my blind pursuit of making local friends who are native residents of my locale, I often discounted my peers in my university program, many of whom are actually really cool and great to spend time with. There are times when it’s not as obvious to us, but most often we’re never completely alone. Even if you don’t know a single person in your new location think about your family and friends back home. Thanks to the amazing technology we possess, my friends and family send me love through the inter-webs whenever I’m having a sad day. Value the relationships you already have, as your new experiences will teach you that creating human connections is one of the most challenging yet fulfilling things to do in life.