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Shared Experiences: Making Friends Abroad
By Ryan Horsnail | On 03 Apr, 2014
Teaching English abroad offers a great many things, one of which is the opportunity to venture out and see the world with money in your pocket.
When I was teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I felt incredibly lucky to have a job where I could make a great salary and have lots of free time to visit iconic spots like Angkor Wat, as well as explore the vast countryside by motorbike. I’ve seen some breathtaking architecture and some incredible natural wonders, but really it’s the people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made along the way that have truly bought my travel experiences to life.
The first time you go abroad to teach, you might find yourself wrapped up in your work and maybe feeling a little homesick as you try to navigate a new culture, learn a new language and develop your skills as a teacher. But the sooner you make friends, the sooner you’ll start to feel at home in your new environment.
“Where do I start?” You might ask. Well, here are some ideas for easy ways you can break away from your work, have some fun and meet like-minded people.
Will Run for Beer
Running, in its simplest form, can be one of the cheapest ways to exercise. The only gear that’s really “required” is a pair of sneakers, and some may even argue that those are optional. Although running is often thought of as a solo sport, it’s a lot more fun to do in groups; especially groups that drink beer afterwards.
The Hash House Harriers is one such group, which is how it earned its reputation as “The Drinking Club with a Running Problem.” It has local chapters in 185 countries and 1,330 cities around the globe, and it welcomes runners of all ages and experience levels. Local chapters can be found in cities from Indianapolis, USA to Bali, Indonesia.
For those that would rather savor the calories than burn them, you’re not alone. And through websites like Meetup.com, you can find these kindred spirits.
Simply go to the homepage and search by the category “Food & Drink” to find the clubs and groups closest to you. If you’re living in Seoul, you can learn to make Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made of pickled cabbage and spicy seasonings, with the “Home Cooking in a Foreign City” group. Or why not enjoy a warm cup of miso soup with some interesting people by checking out “Let’s Brunch in Tokyo”?
You can even use Meetup.com to find local cooking classes, like the one I attended at Casa Luna in Ubud, Bali, where I stuffed my face with delicious food, learned about Balinese cuisine and met friendly expats who gave me the low-down on the best bars and restaurants in town. What more could I ask for?
Looking to get away for the weekend, but can’t afford to stay in a hotel? No problem. With websites like Couchsurfing.com, you can stay with locals or – as the website refers to them – “friends you haven’t met yet.” It’s a great way not only to meet new people, but to get insider tips on places you’d never find otherwise. Discover hidden gems like cheap, local eateries or little-known art bazaars selling locally made crafts. And maybe some day you can return the favor by offering up your couch to other budget-conscious travelers who are interested in seeing your part of the world.
As you’re already sharing your native language with others in your classroom, why not simultaneously learn the language of the country you’re working in? Free language exchange websites, such as Coversationexchange.com, allow you to practice your language of choice with someone else face-to-face, through email, or by text and voice chat. So if you’re looking to learn Portuguese while in Brazil, you can meet someone online who is looking to learn English through conversation practice. It’s a fun, interactive way to pick up or practice a new language – and make new friends.
In addition to special interest clubs, there are several social networks geared toward bringing expats together. InterNations is a website that allows expats to exchange tips on housing, visas, international schools, and more. It’s also a site where expats can go to organize or find events that will help them become better acquainted with their host country – and the people there. Link Expats is another networking site that connects people who are working abroad, and even allows you to search member profiles. So if you’re looking for someone who shares your love for Colombian coffee, paragliding in Peru or Japanese anime, you can meet the yin to your friendship yang right on the site.
Also, don’t forget about Facebook Groups! For every community I’ve lived in abroad, I’ve found a Facebook Group by searching the town name. In Cabarete, Dominican Republic, the group was called “Everything Cabarete,” where local expats shared invites to beach parties, sold their surfboards and announced the openings of new bars or restaurants. It was the same when I lived in Ubud, Bali – I could find out about most expat events through the “Ubud Community” Facebook Group. It’s a great resource for keeping your finger on the pulse of any town with an expat community.
Take Advantage of the Community Around You
One last word of advice: while it may seem obvious, don’t forget that there are other teachers at your school who, just like you, may have just arrived or are looking to make social connections. They would probably jump at the chance to grab a drink, get lunch in town or go to see some live music. And, also like you, they may just need an invitation. So what are you waiting for? Go out and start making new friends…and memories!
How do you make friends abroad? What suggestions can you add to this list? Go ahead and share them by commenting below!
Ryan has been working in TESOL for over 15 years. He’s taught English (Hong Kong, Cambodia, Spain & Scotland) and worked in teacher training (Qatar, Spain, Sudan and the US). He travels extensively in his role as a Senior Assessor of Cambridge University Teaching Awards and for his responsibilities as Co-Founder and CEO of Teaching House.