Finding your feet alone in a new country can be a daunting prospect and often we’re unsure as to how to integrate ourselves into a society when we don’t know anyone. Whilst it’s important to build strong relationships in the more obvious environments (if you’re a student, this could be with your peers and lecturers; for those working, this would be your colleagues) you may want to explore other areas. I’ve compiled a list of ideas to help you to expand your contacts and friendships whilst abroad, as well as keep yourself occupied, especially during those moments in which we can feel homesick (if you would like to read a bit more on my personal experience with loneliness and homesickness, please click here). I think one of the worst things we can do is spend all our free time at “home”, where we feel safest. Although I’m a firm believer in the value of home comforts and the home-space itself as being a place to recharge, recuperate and practise self love, over indulgence can heighten feelings of homesickness. It’s important we find a balance between restoration and exploration to truly benefit from our experience away.
Travelling was my favourite thing to do while living abroad. When on mainland Europe, you have so many cheap travel options, so you should take advantage of that. My plan was to explore Spain as much as possible, so I spent most of my weekends travelling up and down the country and exploring Asturias, the region I was living in. I travelled alone mostly which I didn’t mind and I highly recommend doing so and is it can be a refreshing and cathartic experience. Without a doubt, travelling helped to keep me occupied and made my time abroad pass by so quickly. If you would like to read about some of my adventures in Spain, click here.
Get involved with your local ESN
Particularly in Spain (but also other European countries), the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) is a great way to meet students and young adults from other countries. The ESN tend to arrange weekly activities and are inclusive of everyone, whether you have an ESN card or not, student or not. I thoroughly enjoyed the times I spent thanks to the ESN and have made memories to cherish and friends for life. Click here to read about one of the activities I participated in with the ESN.
Most ESN groups have a Facebook and Instagram page, so if you’re not a university student, that would be the best way to get in touch with them and find out about the events they have planned.
Join an exchange group
Most cities hold exchange groups/Tandem groups as many people want to improve their English. Whilst working on your foreign language, you will be able to meet local people in the area and potentially make new friends who you can plan other activities with, even if that’s just to get a coffee one morning. You can find out about exchange groups via Facebook, your town hall, local library and your town/city’s web page. The ESN also tend to hold Tandem groups.
Here are some groups I found in Gijón and Avilés (Asturian cities) for those who are in the area:
Be a tourist in your town/city
Sometimes we can travel so much, that we can overlook what the area we live in has to offer. Visit local museums, galleries and markets! Go on nature walks, hiking trails and visit the parks and beaches. Try out new restaurants, cafés, and bars. Your town hall and its web page should be able to provide lots of information on what there is to see. Step outside of your comfort zone – what have you got to lose?
Go to the cinema (or the theatre!)
There were times I even did this as a solo activity but I promise it’s not as tragic as it sounds. Whilst cinemas abroad tend to show all the major films available in the UK, they also show additional films, both from their country and abroad. I found the variety of films to watch in my local cinema in Gijón, Asturias was much greater than my cinema at home and I was able to watch some highly recommendable features that I wouldn’t have known about in the UK.
Join a book club
If you enjoy reading, joining a book club is the ideal way to merge your passion for books and your intention to meet new people. I joined the young adults book club at Biblioteca Municipal de Pumarín Gijón-Sur and had the opportunity to meet some very friendly bibliophiles. Every month we were given a book to read (in Spanish, so that helped my reading skills a lot) and then we would meet up the following month to discuss it together. As the meetings were in Spanish, it really helped to push me out of my comfort zone and give me the confidence to speak in Spanish in front of native speakers. You can find the library’s Facebook page here.
Give private lessons and/or volunteer
You can read more information about this on my post: How to gain more teaching experience.
If you have any more ideas, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section! Furthermore, if you have any questions regarding the suggestions on this page, feel free to send me a message.