How to Make Friends in A New Place

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by Vlad Dolezal on March 6, 2012

A month ago, I moved to Montpellier, Southern France.

I’ve decided to keep you guys updated as to how I went about making new friends, because I’ve had several questions from readers regarding that.

Making friends is one of those things that a lot of people struggle with, but few have the courage to mention it. Because from the outside, it looks as if everyone else has an easy time making friends. That’s an illusion. There are plenty of great, interesting folks out there who feel lonely.

Today, I will explain how you can easily go about making friends in a new place, as well as what I’ve done myself in the past month.

What do you want from friendships?

The first step is simple – what do you want?

Yes, yes, I know you want friends. But there are as many different approaches to friendships as there are people. Do you want friends that you can spill your heart to? Friends to do sports with? Friends to go out drinking and dancing with?

Get a clear, specific idea in your head as to what exactly you want. You will have a much easier time achieving it!

As for me, when moving to Montpellier, I wanted:

  • friends to simply hang out and chill with, ideally outdoors
  • friends to do sports with
  • friends to play the guitar (or other instruments) and sing with
  • friends to cook with
  • friends to swing dance with
  • mostly to hang out with with one other person or in small groups, rather than in big groups of people

So far, I have done great on finding people to hang out and chill with. (Meeting outdoors 2-3 days each week that I’ve been here). I found a friend who invited me along to play basketball outdoors (brilliant fun!), as well as showing me when and where there’s volleyball training here in the city.

I’ve done a bit of guitar playing with that same friend, and some a cappella singing with another one, though I’d like to do more musical stuff in general. I went out swing dancing once (and am planning to go on Wednesday evening again, since my girlfriend arrived in town and wants to come out to do that). And I haven’t cooked with anyone yet, though I do have another friend with whom we talked about that.

Overall, it’s been a good month – I haven’t really felt lonely at any point, which I’m surprised about myself, since it’s my first month in a new place.

And you? Take the time to figure out what you’re looking for in your friendships. Chances are, you won’t find everything immediately, or in the ways you intended. But if you have a good idea about what you want, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out how to get it!

Environment matters

Moving to a good place makes a big difference.

I’m lucky because I work online, and can thus move to any place in the world with an internet connection.

But even if you have a traditional job, give your environment some serious weight. When considering moving to a new place, your job is just a part of the overall picture. A living environment where you’ll be able to make the sort of friends you want matters just as much.

Personally, I wanted to move somewhere warm and sunny, to a medium-sized city (Montpellier has about 250,000 inhabitants) with a university (which means lots of people around my age to meet), pedestrian-and-bike-friendly and where people speak a language I’m at least reasonably familiar with.

I also have friends who prefer considerably bigger cities, or don’t put such weight on the climate.

So the question is – what sort of place do you want to live in? What is important to you? What is nice-but-not-essential?

Even if you’re not currently planning to move, give it some thought. It pays big dividends to be aware of what’s important to you.

How to make friends

I’m going to assume that you’re reasonably interesting and friendly. That you don’t have trouble making friends once you get to hang out with people, but meeting them in the first place is the sticking point.

If you feel that your social skills themselves are not that great, here’s a good starting point. Firstly, grab a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Read it. Secondly, just meet people. If you keep your eyes and mind open, you will pick up social skills. No worries.

Okay, now let’s get to meeting people.

There are several ways you can go about meeting people:

  • Find a local Couchsurfing group

Couchsurfing.org is a website that’s primarily used by people who prefer to stay with locals when traveling, rather than in impersonal hotels – and by locals who find it interesting to host travelers for a couple of nights.

But in most bigger cities, they also have an active community of locals who organize various meetups. Personally, I met three different people here in Montpellier through Couchsurfing. I posted in the language exchange group for Montpellier, asking for people to speak French with me in exchange for me speaking some English/Czech/German/Esperanto with them. I actually still meet with two of them every week, and am in touch with the third one (though for scheduling reasons, we only met up once so far).

  • Find interest groups around your hobbies

What things do you enjoy doing with other people?

Knitting? Rock-climbing? LARPing? Whatever it is, there’s a chance there’s a hobby group in your city. (This again comes back to living in an interesting place). Try googling it, or asking someone. Also, many places have an organization that keeps track of various local groups, and has them all listed in a directory. Try to find out if there is such a thing for your city.

I’ve met the swing dancers of Montpellier, and a hobby-level volleyball group, and I’m also still looking for a group of rock-climbers.

  • People you live with

Assuming you’re moving to a new place – have you considered your accommodation arrangements?

You don’t have to live alone. You can always find shared-flat options, where each person has their own room, but shares the common areas with one or several other people. This can be a nice start to making friends in a new place.

I’ve found accommodation like this in Montpellier. And while my flatmate is not the most exciting person, we do hang out outside, or sometimes do a bit of a cappella singing together.

  • Mention your interests to people you meet

Once you meet people, don’t be afraid to mention your interests.

Even though you might not be talking to a fellow geek who’s into whatever you’re into, there’s a good chance they know someone, and will be happy to introduce you.

I usually get around to mentioning that I like playing the guitar to people, and also ask about other interests they might know, like rock-climbing. Like this, I had a friend introduce me to someone who plays the piano (because I mentioned I was looking for a piano to play around here), and ask me to come along to play basketball, and another friend offering to introduce me to some rock-climbers.

Don’t be afraid to ask. The more unusual your interest is, the better! Because that way, it’s likely that just having the same hobby will be an interesting starting point to meet someone.

  • Bars etc.

I’m personally not familiar with meeting people through bars and other generic meeting places (I tend to meet friends through shared interests or hobbies). But if that’s your type of thing, by all means, go for it!

What to do next

If you find yourself in a new place, it can be a bit of a shock to your social habits.

If you’re used to easily making friends through a shared location (like university), or to having a steady social circle of friends you’ve built up over the years, it can be a bit disconcerting to find yourself in a city of strangers.

The fact is, making friends in a new place takes more energy and effort than meeting old friends you already know. Most of the time, you will have to initiate contact, and ask people to hang out, and ask people to introduce you to friends who might share hobbies you do.

This doesn’t bother people. It’s not that other people don’t want to hang out with you – they just already have a reasonably full social calendar, and so they don’t feel a pressing need to initiate contact with one more person – you. But if you find yourself in a mostly alone, you do have that pressing need. Gather up your courage, and start taking initiative in meeting people!

I’d suggest you now take some time to think, and:

  • Figure out what you’re looking for. How you like hang out with friends once you’ve met them.
  • Come up with some ways to meet interesting people in your local area. Google for hobby groups, or ask around. Trust me, no matter what your city is, you will find some ways to meet people you’ll find interesting to hang out with.
  • Figure out the next action you will take to meet people! Whether than involves calling up an acquaintance suggesting to meet up, or finding out when a hobby club meets up next, and putting on your calendar to go there.

Have I missed out anything? If you want to know more, or have a comment on something I said, please leave a comment below!

Otherwise, off you go, and good luck making new friends!

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