Funny story: I moved to Barcelona this past August. In the first weekend after moving into my new place I was checking out the city, going to language exchanges, Pilates classes and creativity workshops. One evening, I was chatting to my roommate about all of these activities. I also asked the name of one of the main streets close to our place. Cris, my roommate, told me it was called la Via Laietana and then frowned, obviously confused. I laughed and said, unashamed, “it’s impossible to know it all after only being here 3 days!” Her mouth literally fell open… I had only been in Barcelona for half a week… but how could I already have met so many people and done so many things?!
You see, after several years of rooting and uprooting myself between various spots in Europe, Canada and South America, I’ve learned how-to-meet people tricks that are second-nature to me now, but which aren’t obvious to everyone.
I was happy to share these tricks with Cris back in August and am inspired to do so again with you today.
1. Couchsurfing and Warmshowers
(www.couchsurfing.org ; http://www.warmshowers.org )
Using networks to your advantage is what networking is all about. While sending a private message to a random person on Facebook is mildly creepy, the same on Couchsurfing or Warmshowers is very normal. Although primarily used for travel, both of these networks have local interest groups too. I’ve used Couchsurfing for everything from finding flats/roommates to tennis buddies (and if they’re local they’ll often have a racket to lend you too ;).
These kinds of social circles are really organized ways of bumping into friendly strangers… plus, by the simple fact that they use these sites too… you can count on more open-mindedness and friendliness right from the get go.
One of my personal favourites. Here anyone can organize a gathering of people for any reason and plan it, post information on it, and invite others to participate. There are writers meet-ups, pilates meet-ups, even girly and pet meetups. Many a fun adventure and friendship can result from signing-up and participating in these activities!
3. Clubs, interest groups, religious organizations
Whatever you’re interested in – there’s a club for it! Stepping out beyond the confines of English-language dominated sites like MeetUp, Couchsurfing and Internations (see below) you’re going to get the full-immersion experience when connecting with local clubs doing what you like to do. You might find that your Russian chess club is more intense than the one back home or that cyclists in France ride differently from what you’re used to. It can be a bit daunting to enter an already established group, but it’s all part of the cultural experience and showing respect and adaptability to what is different will be hugely appreciated by existing members. All in all, being the only foreigner among pure locals is always the most fascinating opportunity to observe and study your new region, country and culture.
4. Continuing Education & Language Classes
Going back to school is one of the best ways to meet people… and learn something new while you’re at it. Learning the local language is always important, and spending some time with others who are learning it too helps remind you that you’re not the only foreigner around. In the past I’ve taken everything from Spanish to Carpentry classes and enjoyed the learning and the interactions with others immensely.
5. Personal Ads
… are awesome! Don’t let the main idea behind these websites fool you – yes, they are primarily for buying, selling and renting stuff – but they’re also packed full of opportunities to meet interesting people. Check the hobbies section to find art studios offering free drawing and creativity classes and theatre groups inviting you to a Thursday evening improv class. Search for your much needed Flamenco teacher and take private classes in Italian poetry. Post your own ad inviting English learners to get together for a Saturday afternoon game of charades (just an idea) or post a request for an evening jogging buddy in your neighbourhood. Anything goes! Responses may take a while to get to you and can occasionally be quite different than you expected. An AuPair ad that I once put up turned into a job offer + interview at a local hostel… as well as a seperate request for private Polish lessons!
Every country has their version of Kijiji and Craigslist, here in Spain the main ones are Loquo and SegundaMano.es ; in the UK and Poland the Gumtree site is popular.. ask around and you’ll quickly learn where people are posting online ads in your city/country.
6. Give a free presentation
If you’re living abroad from personal initiative we can safely assume that you are: a. an interesting and cool individual and b. relatively extroverted. Are you a marketing specialist working with Internet start-up companies? Why not contact the local University, relevant club or corporation and offer your services as a speaker and expert in your field. Trust me, they’ll be overjoyed to have you, the awesome foreigner, give a free and unique talk.
In your case you’ll not only grow professionally, but you’ll probably may make some valuable contacts and friends too. Think about it: in a 30 minute presentation about last year’s sailing expedition around the Baltic Sea, you’ll connect with every person in the audience on different levels. The people that approach you afterwards, who invite you out for a coffee and want to exchange numbers with you… already like you and your ideas! Now all you have to do is get to know them :)
This is an Expat group targeted at professionals and business networking. There are dinner + wine evenings organized every few weeks, and members can fill out their profiles and contact eachother to either collaborate professionally or get to know eachother on a more personal level. It’s also a neat way to find and stay connected with people from your own country.
2. iPhone/SmartPhone Apps
If you’re on the SmartPhone boat, you’re cruising along to the music of zillions of cool Apps. Although I haven’t myself downloaded any apps geared at meeting people or going to events I’m interested in – I know they work and I know they’re out there. There are apps geared at finding the sweetest party on Friday night in your city and for scouting out the best festivals, conferences and events.
Question: do you/have you lived abroad before? How did you meet people and break that invisible foreigner-local barrier? Leave a comment and share your experiences!