Feeling lonely abroad?

Here is my baby doing a great job making friends in Malaysia!

A close friend of mine has just started a 2-year master’s degree in China.  When she arrived a month ago she did not know anyone.  But she was committed to talking to each person she met and accepting all the invitations for she received for social events.  I am so impressed with her bravery and focus on meeting people, not just viewing places.  In honour of her – I am re-posting my CBIE blog from http://istudentcanada.ca/four-strategies-making-real-friends-abroad/

Studying abroad has the potential to start friendships that will last a lifetime.  Too often, however, students who do a semester or year overseas are criticized for only spending time with those who are like them, those who speak the same language or are from the same country.  In many ways this is understandable.  Every day is a steep learning curve as you try to keep up with your program (possibly in another language), navigate a new city and survive on new foods.  These areas of learning need to be prioritized and it can be easy to only work on these, assuming that relationships will just happen naturally.  But relationships take the same sort of intentional effort as learning a new transit system and the results are much more rewarding.   Here a few easy strategies to assist you with making friends while studying abroad:

  1. Sip your tea slowly.  Find out where authentic relational moments occur and join in.   If you’ve read Three Cups of Tea or Eat, Pray, Love, you know what this means.  Doing it, however, may take you out of your comfort zone.  The first step is to look around you and ask “where are people getting to know each other?”  It might be a tea shop near campus in Asia or playing chess after the sunsets in Africa.
  2. Become a creature of habit.  Once you’ve identified where people seem to be connecting – join in, and join in often.  While you might be interested in sampling the espresso at every cafe in town, real relationships take time to develop and meaningful connections are made when you show up day after day, get to know the staff and become local.
  3. Think people, not places.  It is normal to want to travel every weekend and make the most of your close proximity to new cities and tourist sites, but challenge yourself to spend two weekends every month accepting (or giving) invitations to events in your city. Postpone the trip to Monaco if it means attending your host brother’s birthday party.
  4. Adventure two by two. Though it is important to avoid having only Canadian friends, there is no reason for you to make this quest for authentic relationship entirely by yourself.  Look out for another study abroader who also wants to genuinely tap into the culture.  Make a plan together to change the way you do your time abroad and foster friendships that will last a

Study Abroad – Quantity or Quality?

Grace in Fiji

Our study abroad program in the Fiji Islands

So we know that too few Canadian students are studying abroad. AUCC 2006 numbers said it was less than 3% and we can assume that five years later is it still less than 10%.  Now these numbers only count if study abroad actually is a benefit to students and does all the jazz its supposed to – increase cross cultural skills, global citizenship, global awareness… etc.  But the programs that are strategically trying to make sure their students achieve these outcomes take a huge amounts of organizing time and people power.  At the University of Toronto the ISXO advertises more than 130 countries that students can study in – but do we want all those options if a) students aren’t taking advantage of them and b) the programs aren’t structured to ensure positive outcomes.  Let’s focus instead on quality rather than quantity?  Drop the number of programs to 30, link them to specific majors and strategically develop ways to match students to programs that “fit” their academic and personal journeys.