Moving abroad to study and settling with different education system could get us overwhelming. At first, we may feel excited to explore every corner of the city we live in, but as time progresses and we are occupied with workloads, our honeymoon phase wanes. A breakdown such as home sick or a break-up with our LDR partner may take place too and loneliness is just inevitable. At our lowest point, we are in dire need to have our closest support system. Unfortunately, they are all thousand miles away. Hence, we need to build your new support systems. While it is understandable to naturally befriend other Indonesians or people from similar backgrounds or region, most students stuck with this circle and afraid to step out from the comfort zone and mingle with diverse people.
This phenomenon can still be observed even in my university, London School of Economics and Political Science, of which student’s composition comprises of 70% international students. Of course having inner circle with people we find ourselves most comfortable with is unavoidable. Regardless where we live, we will always find that one clique. Nevertheless, that should not hinder us from mingling with people from other countries and background. In fact, this is one of the perks of studying abroad; where we are exposed to various culture and worldviews through people we come across. Let’s remind ourselves again about the reasons behind our decision to study abroad in the very first place! Chances are, we think about gaining global network.
Mind you though, in this post I am not propagating that having international friends is better than Indonesian ones. Instead, we should treat them equally.
We all may feel hesitant to start a conversation with foreign speakers, either due to cultural differences or language barriers, but this feeling is not exclusive to us. Most of our friends also come from different countries and this might be also their first time living abroad. From my experience studying in London, it is rare to find people who know each other before coming to the university. Therefore, this is the good news: everyone starts making friends from scratch! There is no boundary of us joining their peer groups.
Having acknowledged the virtue of having friends from various backgrounds, I hereby share some tips on how to increase the chances of turning your ‘acquaintances’ to ‘friends’.
1. Be genuine in starting a conversation
Starting a conversation can be as simple as ‘’hey, I like your outfit today!’’ or ‘’I find your argument in the class very sound’’ or try this typical Londoners’ pick-up line ‘’Do not you think the weather today sucks and the wind is so gusty?’’ If you eat alone in a cafetaria, try to take off your headsets and say “hi” to the person in front of you. If you are queueing for two hours to enter a party, tap shoulder of a person in front of you and start complaining together. I have done this and it worked! I got my very first Tahitian friend from this queue conversation. There are million ways to strike a conversation with new people as long as you are genuine to talk with people.
2. Be a good listener
Have you ever felt annoyed in a conversation where the person you talked with, just kept bragging about her/himself? Well, I have. Do not be too self-centric in a conversation. You do not need to tell new acquaintances your long list of achievements. You want to make friends, not to impress your potential employer. Instead, try to show your interest in them by asking about what they like to do in spare times. Establishing human-level conversation is a corner stone of continuous friendship.
3. Join student societies or other interest groups
If you like sports, why not joining your school’s sport clubs? If you are keen to learning social enterpreneurship, expose yourself to like-minded individuals. The upside of joining student societies is you can also have social outing together.
4. Follow-up your acquaintances
During orientation week, you will meet lots of friends. It seems that you have default answers for questions like ‘where are you from?’, ‘ what did you do before coming here?’, ‘when did you arrive here?’. Out of many people you talk to, you may find few of them fun and interesting. So, what should you do next? Make sure you exchange contact details, either phone numbers or Facebook. You might not be able to see them everyday, but you can invite them to grab a coffee or have a nice lunch at campus. If you forget someone else’s name, it is also perfectly normal to ask them again. Do not worry. People do it to me often and I also do that.
5. Food unites people
If you can cook, do not hesitate to invite people from your department to your potluck party. If you cannot cook –like me- you can always take your friends to taste Indonesian cuisine in a restaurant. Since studying abroad is tough, you can also find any possible reason to celebrate life! Invite them to spend Chinese New Year/ Christmas/ Ramadhan/ Thanksgiving/ Valentine’s day together.
6. Explore the city together
Students in the UK/ European countries usually experience various benefits from the magic card, a.k.a: student ID card. For instance, I watched a 65 Pounds-Philharmonic Orchestra for only 4 Pounds! You can invite people from your study group or your flatmates to watch movies, play, visit museum and exhibition.
Keep in mind, though that you need to draw a line in your efforts to make friends. If you do not enjoy going to a bar or do not drink alcohol, never force yourself to do so. In making friends, you do not need to impress people or pretend to be the cool kid. Just be honest and upfront that you do not drink alcohol and believe me, people will respect that. I never encounter friends here who mock or bully others just because they do not drink. However, if you do find people like that, then you know they cannot upgrade their status from your ‘acquaintances’ to your ‘friends’.
Images courtesy of Josefhine Chitra.