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Mingling with the Locals
Submitted by Elsie Zuch

Making friends abroad can be hard. And if you’re not taking any courses at a host country’s university (I’m looking at you, Panther Program people), it can be even more difficult to make local friends. Traveling in packs with other Americans can be fun, but it keeps you in your comfort zone. So let’s get you out of that comfort zone and mingling with some locals!

  • Take a class. Whether be cooking, crafting, or exercising, just do it. It will be scary and you will feel uncomfortable, but it will also be wonderful for you. I took a ballet class in Paris and it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done but I don’t regret it for a minute. Going to a concert or a movie is also a great way to meet locals.

    Another tip: check to see if there is a local Erasmus center in your host city and go to their events. They won’t necessarily be local students, but they will be from all over the world and ready to mingle.

  • Say yes to everything... that is safe and reasonable. My program set up a pickup soccer game with some local French students. I don’t play soccer, but I played soccer that day. Say yes to all of your program’s special outings. If you’re living with a host family and they offer to take you places, say yes!
  • Follow the city’s customs. Find out what university-aged students do for fun and then do it at the same times and places. If a new art exhibit is opening, go check it out and remember to be your friendly American self!
  • Do “un-extraordinary” things, because local people are also doing normal everyday things. I went to the doctor three times with one of the young French assistants in my program and we ended up becoming friends. I also became friends with a British hairstylist after getting a haircut. We made plans to visit a hidden marketplace together that I wouldn’t have found without her.
  • Find out where the cool kids hangout. In Paris, I asked around and found out that the place to make friends is actually the library. In France, there are designated areas—much like the ground floor of Hillman—that are ideal for socializing. If you have trouble thinking of a way to start a conversation with one of these cool local 20-somethings, ask them a simple question like “Do you know where such and such is?” They’ll inevitably notice your American accent and this will usually (hopefully) spur a longer conversation.
  • Explore alone... during the day. It is a fantastic way to make friends. Go to a museum, read and have a cup of coffee at a cafe, ride the bus around for a little tour, and most importantly don’t be afraid of the locals. You will be much less intimidating to potential friends without all of your American buds. This is your chance to make some awesome new friends! And if it doesn’t work out and you end up embarrassing yourself, who cares? You’ll never see that person again.

I hope these tips inspire you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and make some new, international friendships! 

Elsie Zuch graduated from Pitt in 2016 with a major in English, a minor in French, and a certificate in Children’s Literature. She spent Spring 2015 studying abroad with CIEE in Paris, France, and was a Pitt SAO intern during the Spring 2016 semester.

This article originally appeared in The Traveling Times, an online Pitt SAO newsletter.