Five Types of Friends to Make While Abroad

Written by Abby Schwendel (University of Texas at Austin), Student Correspondent CET Beijing Summer 2019 

1.New Friends from All Over

Hands down, the best part of studying abroad is the new friends you’ll make. CET’s students come from all over the US, and sometimes, beyond. Many students studying abroad are outgoing, but even the shyest students are eager to make new friends with whom they can share their adventures. Like you, every student has their own story about how they ended up studying that language, choosing that city, or yearning to explore a new culture.  From the time you all meet up jet-lagged in the airport, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and your story. Don’t worry about a language pledge getting in the way, either. In the first few days abroad, before the pledge begins, you will have plenty of chances to learn about your fellow CET students.

2.Classmates Abroad

Unforgettable Great Wall hike!

Any student knows that class is more fun when you’re enduring long hours of studying together. CET classes are rigorous, but studying with friends can make hours of homework fly by. Explore the city’s cafés and your foreign university’s libraries with you new study buddies. Practice your language skills with classmates on a similar level with whom you can feel comfortable practicing and making mistakes. Take study breaks while walking around local tourist site together.

Your classmates will be going through similar struggles as you, such as homesickness and culture shock. They too will probably want to see the new American movie playing in local theatres or find out what creative twist the local McDonald’s menu features. Making friends with classmates abroad means having people by your side to learn about a new place within and without the classroom walls. Just like in school, your classmates are not only helpful in answering homework questions, but also as fellow students going through similar journeys as yourself.

3.The Photographer Friend

It may sound shallow to say you should find the photographers among your peers and make fast friends with them, but I assure you they’ll find you before you find them. Whether it’s a cameo of you with your back turned while walking among a foreign city’s streets, or a three-fourths shot of you staring out at the magnificent view from the Great Wall, one way or another you may have already become a part of their work without either of you realizing it.

Most photographers studying abroad are happy to have a willing subject to photograph amongst the wonders of your travelers. It’s a symbiotic relationship—they’ll have a patient participant for their work, and you’ll have a dozen perfect posts for Instagram. Just make sure you offer to take pictures of your photographer friend, as their mom is likely nagging them for at least ONE picture with them in it, too!

4.Teachers and Mentors

When you spend so many hours a week with the same teachers, bonding is inevitable. Your instructors will quickly become helpful resources for the best sites and sounds, most authentic food, and cheapest places to buy a cup of tea. Once group chats are in full swing, you also may end up finding out about their band’s local show or favorite spots in the city to unwind on the weekends.

Make sure to be attentive in class so that your teachers know you really care about what you’re learning; that way, they’ll understand your commitment to studying abroad and be more eager to share their knowledge on optimizing your stay in their town. These adults will be the most patient with your miming to find the right words and most willing to help unravel complicated grammar struggles. Your teachers will also be there for you to support you through classwork struggles. CET also provides additional faculty to help with issues like finding doctors or resolving lost-wallet panic. Take advantage of these resources and establish relationships with these adults as your mentors during your trip and beyond.

5.Travel Buddies

Forbidden City weekend trip, self-arranged with classmates

Lastly, but maybe the most important, are new friends to travel with. During CET-arranged trips, don’t be afraid to say hello to someone for the first time and ask to tag along with them. Everyone will be exploring new things for the first time in some way, and new experiences are always easier, and more fun, with someone to laugh along at your mistakes and celebrate your successes. (Trust me, wheezing up the steps to the Great Wall together is a great team bonding exercise.)

Many students will also be eager to travel to other cities or tourist sites during weekends and evenings. Follow your instincts about safety, but don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone to explore with new friends. Whether you’re leading the charge on buying train tickets or merely tagging along as the silent group chat member, finding travel buddies is a sure way to establish long lasting fiendships.