Going abroad all alone, without knowing anyone there and often without speaking the language is a unique experience and of course also a challenge. How to build a circle of friends abroad? Here in Germany, we have often known our friends for a very long time. In the year abroad you will not know anyone at first. This is easier and quicker to change than you might think now, though. Here are some of our best tips and suggestions for making friends on student exchange:
Hobby – Sport – Club
You will probably have a lot of free time at first and you won’t know what to do with all that time. For example, if you like to play soccer, see if there is a soccer club nearby. Of course, this is true for any other hobby as well. This is how you meet new people and without many words, because you already know the rules of the sport. You don’t have to speak the same language to laugh and have fun together. Of course, it is also an idea to try a completely new sport or a new hobby typical for your country. Something that may not even exist in Germany.
Getting to know other exchange students
It is rare that you are the only exchange student in the region. Most of the time, there will be other youngsters from all over the world living near you. Since they are going through the exact same adventure, other exchange students will probably be able to understand you well, if not best of all. You can exchange ideas on challenges, help and support each other. Plus, this way you’ll have a network of friends around the world after your student exchange is over. However, it is important that you take care not to be in contact exclusively with other exchange students. It can seem like you’re cutting yourself off and have no interest in the locals.
Making friends at school
Since school will be an integral part of your year abroad, you will of course spend a lot of time here. You can use this time very well. Not only for learning! Following the lessons will certainly not be easy at the beginning and quite exhausting.Still, school is also the perfect place to make friends. In your class a lot of people will be interested in you as an "exotic" student. Exchange students are always exciting classmates. They will probably ask you questions and although you may not speak the language (well) yet, it is a very good opportunity to practice and get to know your classmates better. Be open with your classmates and ask them out on a date. In some countries it is common to take elective courses at school after classes, for example in sports or theater. It’s also a great chance to try something new and make friends at the same time.
Your host siblings
Most of the time your host siblings are about the same age as you are. And even if they are younger or older, they can show and explain a lot to you. They will be the first young people you will meet and also the ones you will spend a lot of time with. Before you have built up your own circle of friends, it is a good idea to do something together with your host siblings and their friends. Maybe you’ll get along so well and have chemistry that your host siblings’ circle of friends will become yours as well. If you have younger host siblings, they can still help you a lot in the city and in everyday life, since they have been living there longer than you. You can read more about their experience as a host sister here.
Finding contact – experiences of other exchange students
We have compiled a few examples from our experience reports, with tips and recommendations on how other exchange students have succeeded in making contact and friends during their exchange year
Jolie, 16, was in Ireland with Partnership in 2019/2020: "I was very excited before my first day at school. What if I do something wrong? How do the others react to me?? Will I make any friends at all? But my fears were completely in vain. Apart from the fact that there was another German and a Spanish exchange student at the school, the girls at my school were already waiting for me and started talking to me right away. Luckily I got into the class of the other Germans, with whom I had already established contact before Ireland."
Ava from Berlin was in Scotland: "Because this (school) system is totally new to me, I joined every opportunity to try something new – theater, choir, musical, field hockey, dodgeball, movie trailer, lip sinc, etc! If you are also doing a year abroad, I highly recommend you to do EVERYTHING . "
And Annika, who was in Australia for a student exchange in Tasmania, writes on the subject of finding contacts "I was lucky enough that everyone at the school approached me during my first two weeks and was totally interested in me. I answered the strangest questions and was invited to lunch with each group. It was such a great feeling to be included in the school. I met so many nice and cool people and immediately took the Australians to my heart. I had some friends at school until the end and I always made new friends with whom I still have a lot of contact from Germany."
Kira, who was on a student exchange in the USA, writes: "But I have to say that the first two months were very hard in terms of school, language and especially making friends. I have to be honest, if you are not open for new things, it is extremely hard to meet new people. But after I decided to play soccer in a club and open up, I was approached by more and more people who asked me a million questions about Germany. Also some of them have become my best friends today."
Be open, be interested and approach other people. You are sure to make friends during your exchange year and perhaps even find friends for life.