Forging Friendships in a Foreign Land

Jordan Ficyk is a student at Cleveland State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He studied abroad with ISA in Thessaloniki, Greece.

So you’ve finally done it! You always told yourself you were going to travel, and three connecting flights, two layovers and a rather bumpy boat ride later, you find yourself smack in the heart of a foreign country. It’s time to go out and celebrate surviving the voyage, but there’s one tiny complication: a party of one isn’t much of a party. Here’s a list of ideas that will help get you out into the brand new world around you and make some friends along the way.


Odds are you’ll be staying at a hostel at some point on your journey, if that’s not already your main form of housing. Even for students studying abroad and living in a dorm complex, hostels will play a big part in your independent travels. A majority of the people staying in hostels will be looking to go out and explore the surrounding areas as well. Plus this is a great chance to meet people from all over and broaden your horizons significantly. Another reason hostels are a prime place to meet people is that there is always a readily available list of useful information regarding nearby restaurants and bars. Who knows, you might make a really good friend during your stay and you may even end up planning an excursion or two together.

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Ordinarily, the standard tours will show you all the typical touristy places in a city that you could have looked up on Google maps, but don’t count them out just yet! Do a little digging online to find a tour given by locals who operate on their own rather than those working for a large company. These groups are usually smaller, providing a better opportunity to get to know the others on the tour, not to mention you can get firsthand experience on where locals come to socialize and where some of the best places in town are rather than sitting on a bus while someone reads facts about the city over an intercom. Having said that, befriending a tour guide is one of the best ways to make local friends quickly.

Try the native language

No one is expecting you to master a foreign language after watching a ten minute YouTube video on how to say hello in the native tongue, but generally most of the locals will applaud your efforts (or just laugh, which is a good thing because you’re trying to makes friends!). Also, knowing basic phrases such as “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” will help make a good impression. Frequently practicing the native language with shop vendors in the area is a good segue into getting to know them better. Once you feel comfortable enough, try asking them in their language to go out for a coffee sometime.

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Avoid traveling in packs

In the same way that you may avoid a group of ten to twenty people all loudly shouting in another language back home, a large entourage is a good way to discourage most locals from coming up and starting a conversation with you. While flying solo is the ideal way to encourage conversation, a company ranging from two to four is also fine. Any more than that may make you seem unapproachable.

Get involved with local events

If you are in a large city it’s almost guaranteed that there will be a plethora of events to choose from. Different types of festivals and shows are an especially good way to meet people with whom you may share a common interest. Example: if you meet someone at a concert playing the type of music you like, odds are they’re a fan too, which gives you a common ground to strike up a conversation. Similarly enough, don’t be afraid to venture out and experience different venues. Maybe you’re not the biggest fan of yoga or alternative punk rock, but if you approach it with an open mind you might just find a new passion. The people there obviously came for a reason, ask them why they love whatever it is so much and how you could learn more about it.

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Go for a walk!

You never know where an open mind and a good pair of legs can take you.

The world awaits…discover it.