Going abroad, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people are big influences on anybody who has ever gone through this experience. But once you get back from your Erasmus, there is that stinging feeling of mostly having spent time with your fellow Erasmus students and not so much with the locals.
A recent survey conducted by the Erasmus Student Network concluded that Erasmus students said they struggle to make friends with locals while on exchange, negatively affecting their overall experience.
Who is to blame for this? Are the Erasmus students really just hanging out among themselves? Are the local people really not that interested?
The truth is, there are plenty of local students who would love to meet and make friends with students from abroad. But how to return the favour, if you’re constantly surrounded by your Erasmus peers? Here are some ways to make friends with local students during Erasmus:
International students are often too reluctant to hang out with locals. Natives have daily routines, they have their university studies or work, and established friendships. They are not involved in the university’s orientation programme, they’re not staying in the same dorm, don’t go the same classes, or go sight-seeing in their own country every other weekend.
This circumstance is one of the reasons why international circles of friends form so quickly. As a student abroad, who does want to make local friends, you have to break through that cycle by keeping an open mind on meeting people. Remember, if natives show interest in being around you, they probably really want to be your friend. Them having a regular life as opposed to your Erasmus experience doesn’t mean that there is no space for you in their life. If you give them the feeling you’re not interested in treating them equal to your Erasmus friends, they’ll naturally lose interest.
You know what it’s like. You’re abroad, you’re having the time of your life with all those awesome new people you just met, and there is always something going on. Either it’s a trip to a different city, a party, a movie night, cooking together, having coffee, playing sports…. those friends you make become your family.
And then one day that nice local student from class invites you to hang out. But the Erasmus gang has already planned a group activity too. The question is, which invite do you cancel? It’s perfectly okay to have a certain level of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at the beginning of your Erasmus. After all, you want to make friends and find your place in the group. Hanging out almost 24/7 is therefore pretty normal.
However, at a certain point you will have to rearrange your schedule if you’re planning on meeting people outside the international crowd too. Yes, you might miss an awesome night out, but then again, not everybody can always be at all activities at all times. And if your friends are real friends, missing one evening of fun won’t make you the pariah of the group. Feel confident to meet your local friend without the fear of missing out.
Living in a different country, whose language you might not even speak, can be a bit terrifying in the beginning. Especially when you need to get all that bureaucratic paperwork done before you can pick up your studies.
Fortunately for you, you can get a so-called “buddy” or “mentor” to help you. Buddies are local students that help you take your first steps in the new city. Those can include any number of things: getting the keys to your apartment or dorm, showing you how to buy a public transport ticket, showing you the university campus, as well as showing you around the city.
These services are usually offered by the International Office of your university, your local ESN section, or as of now by Uniplaces! This is a unique opportunity to not only get the best help possible, but to also immediately form a friendship with a resident.
Once you tell your friends back home that you’re moving to a certain city to study a semester abroad, they might tell you something along the lines of “oh great, I know this and that person there, I met them at…”. What may sound like a semi-interesting story at first, is a great possibility of meeting local people. Ask your friends to give you the contact of those people, so you can meet them once you arrive in their city.
If you hit it off while hanging out, then your circle of friends just got bigger. What makes this even better is that you already have common friends. If you don’t see a friendship developing, you can still make the best of the meeting and ask for recommendations and inputs on what to do in your Erasmus city.
Dorms are great. You meet a lot of different people, there is always something going on and you’re in the midst of the action. But maybe those dorm rooms aren’t for you. Maybe you prefer the size and the calmness of living in an apartment. Either way, you’re going to have a great time. But if you choose to live in an apartment, you already have an advantage when getting to know natives.
Whereas Erasmus students are often put together in a handful of dorms and therefore represent the majority of students living there, moving into a shared apartment mostly rewards you with local roommates. It’s a great way to meet people from the area!
Do you know the language in the country you’re studying? If you do, that gives you a good reason to join classes that are not in English. Going to classes in the local language will give you plenty of opportunities to get in contact with natives on a daily or weekly basis.
If your assignment is a group project, team up with those people, as it will demand you to spend time with them outside the classroom. It’s a perfectly easy way of getting to know your fellow students.
Do you speak French, Spanish or Italian? Then consider yourself a lucky person. There are a lot of people out there who want to learn your language. But even if your mother tongue is something else, you should still consider signing up for a tandem programme. tandem means that you meet regularly with another person who wants to learn your language and vice versa. During those meetings, you converse in each other’s languages to practice.
Those tandem services are either organised by institutions or your university. Some people also post their request for a tandem partner in online groups or online marketplaces. It’s always great to see how many locals out there are interested in speaking your mother tongue and it’s great to meet them on a regular basis and form a friendship with them.
This one might sound a bit weird at first. After all, ESN or your International Office are doing a great job of making you feel welcome and offering you recommendations for places and activities to meet each other. But then again, those events are mostly aimed at your specific target group: international students.Among the residents, it is known which bars are typical “Erasmus Student Bars” and on which nights they are packed. That might be a point of interest for some, for others it can be a deal breaker.
Therefore, dare to take that step and find the bars the locals go to, that are not catered to those spending a semester abroad. Just ask the next native you run into what they can recommend. You can also look up online sites that publish all sorts of activities and events taking place in your area.
Do you like sports, do you play an instrument or are a fan of the fine arts? If you have a hobby that you exercise on a regular basis back home, why not do so when on Erasmus? Even better, if you sign up for those classes or activities, they are not necessarily crammed with international students, but also attract a big local audience.
But where to find them? Usually, universities offer a variety of sport classes over the semester, that you can attend for less money due to a student discount. If you’re a musician, some universities have their own orchestra that you could join. Also, keep your eyes open for the notice board at your school for offers. If your school doesn’t offer anything, check for adult education centres or associations dedicated to the area of your interest in the city.
If you want to know what is going on around you, checking social media is always a great option. There are numerous Facebook groups and pages dedicated to events, hobbies or special points of interest. Maybe you have a skill set that someone requires, or somebody is giving recommendations for a cool new spot to hang out at. Try to move beyond the usual Erasmus Facebook groups and broaden your perception of things to do in your Erasmus city.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a natural at making friends or if you need a bit more time to open up. Looking outside the box and not concentrating too much on solemnly being around your international friends always pays off. You’re not only going to go home with an amazing impression of country and culture, but you will also have a reason or someone to always come back for.
Thanks for reading this post!
What other ways can you think of to make friends with local students? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation with the best flatmates, you’ll find the perfect student home on Uniplaces.