Growing up, I never had issues making friends. I remember coming home crying to my mom one day in Elementary school because my friends were fighting over who could play with me at recess. She helped me create a schedule where I would play with some friends one day and the other friends on the other days. If only these skills stuck with me throughout my post-adolescence and adulthood!
As I got older, I began to struggle more and more with meeting and making friends. I don’t think it was anything out of the ordinary, it’s just that as your personality, likes, and dislikes develop, you become more or less attracted to people based on their attributes as well.
For example, it’s easy to make friends as a second grader because we all liked the same TV shows, we were all learning how to multiply, and we all wanted to trade our bologna sandwiches away at lunch time. As an adult, however, my likes and preferences change as I develop. Under those circumstances, it is much more difficult to find like-minded people who might share one or more of my attributes. Moving to a foreign country creates an additional roadblock because of language and cultural barriers.
Here is a quick spiel about my journey of making friends abroad in the hopes of it inspiring just one person who might be feeling lonely or like their friendships abroad don’t go very deep.
The American Obsession
I hate making large generalizations, but Spanish people love Americans. There is sort of an obsession with America and how big and blingy it is. Their idea of the United States is almost solely based on movies and social media, causing them to form an idealized picture of the country. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I meet a person who treats me differently after learning that I am American. Of course, I understand that this is a certain privilege, but I like to think that I am a lot more than my nationality. That being said, when I meet someone who doesn’t make a fuss over me being American, it’s almost always a winner. (I could avoid this by making other expat friends, but that is a problem for another blog post.)
Having something in common with someone allows you to connect with a person and get to know them on a deeper level almost immediately. I met some of my closest friends in Spain at work. My very first job in Barcelona was at a school, and I met one of my closest friends there. When I first met her, she asked me my name and what time I had my lunch break… she didn’t even care where I was from although I am obviously foreign. We met everyday during our breaks, and the rest is history. My other stories are similar. I met another friend at my second job in Barcelona. At first she was just a coworker, but as time went on, she became a close friend, as we had to fend for each other against our monster boss.
Similarly, I have met friends doing language exchanges and in church. In fact, I met my long-term boyfriend doing language exchange! My theory is that you can learn a lot about a person in very little time during these conversations. A typical conversation starter would look something like this: “Hi, my name is Mara. I’m 25 years old. I am a biologist from California. I like dogs and I hate spiders.” That is quite a bit of information, and a great way to filter potential friends!
There are websites like meetup.com that are made to connect people through events and activities. The events range from mountain climbing, to beach yoga, to salsa nights. I am more of a laid back, introverted person, so crowds are not my thing. I like to make more chill, intimate plans like grabbing coffee, going to a museum, or taking a walk on the beach. You can find meetups for more chill plans as well! I know things are a bit more complicated nowadays, and in-person meetups are not recommended, but there are plenty of options online to choose from.
I don’t think this is a very conclusive post. I just wanted to share my story and a few suggestions for people who are wanting to make more connections. It is important to understand that, as an adult, making friends is more difficult in general, because we are not constantly surrounded by people who like the same things as us. As we mature, we are able to discern more and we become a bit more cautious with who we open up to. It is completely normal to find making new friends difficult, especially as an adult, and even more in a foreign country. I’m sending you good vibes and great luck out there!