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How To Meet People in a New Country on a Tight Work Schedule

If you recently moved and you’re feeling lonely, it’s not just you. While the international life can be glamorous, lack of familiarity with social norms makes it difficult to find friends. Throw in a busy work schedule, and it can feel like you’ll spend the next year eating dinner alone.

Meeting people in a new place isn’t completely hopeless, but it will take some awkward encounters, leaps of faith, and vulnerability to make great friends while abroad.

Join a Group Exercise Class

No matter how busy your schedule is, you should make time for exercise. Choosing a group fitness class over a solo workout lets you kill two birds with one stone. People are pretty committed to one instructor or class, so you’re guaranteed to see the same faces. Attend a group exercise class regularly and introduce yourself to members of the class before or after the workout. It’s a safe, comfortable environment for getting to know people.

Pick Up a Hobby or Learn a New Skill

Now, we know this is supposed to be a list for busy people, but hear us out. In the past, pursuing a hobby was challenging because friend and family obligations took up all your time outside of work. Now that you’ve started over in a new country, the only item on your plate is work. Even with your busy schedule, you’ve got downtime you didn’t have before. Use it to your advantage by taking that salsa or krav maga class. You’ll spend an hour every week with the same people, have a good time, and learn something new.

Attend Networking Events

We hear you. Networking events can be awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes, a complete waste of time. But if you are laser focused on work, networking allows you to advance your career while forming new connections. At the very least, you’ll learn something new about your industry and secure professional contacts for the future. It’s also easy to make conversation at a networking event if you can speak knowledgeably about your industry. If you hit it off with someone and exchange business cards, send them an email a couple days later inviting them to continue the conversation over coffee.

Join a Meetup (Bonus: Find an Expat Meetup)

Yes, some meetups are better than others and it may be frustrating to find the ones that are worthwhile, but there are things you can look out for to separate the good from the bad.

Look for meetups with:

  • A clear description of its purpose
  • Engagement from previous attendees (especially previous attendees who express how much they’re looking forward to the next meetup)
  • A posted schedule of future events
  • A record of previous events

These are all signs of a meetup that offers value. The great news is that a lot of meetup attendees are new to a city or actively interested in meeting people. Pick a subject you’re interested in (it could even be something in your industry) and start searching for meetups in your area.

Tip: Try looking for expat groups. There are meetups specifically for people who moved to a new country on their own. Instantly connect with others going through the same experience as you.

Reach Out To Friends of Friends

Tap into your network. Ask your friends if they know anyone in the city you’re moving to. If they do, they’ll intuitively know who you’ll hit it off and pass along your contact information. It’s an easy way to “adopt” another friend group and acclimate to a new social environment.

Be a “Yes” Person

Be open to different opportunities, especially in your first few months. Coworker invites you out to lunch? Say yes. Everyone from your floor is grabbing drinks after work? Tag along. Your manager asks for someone from your department to participate in the company’s charity food drive? You volunteer. Saying yes exposes you to new people and the chance to find others whose interests match your own.

Let Yourself Be Vulnerable

Sometimes, the way to make new friends is to simply tell people that you’re trying to make new friends. If you’re worried it sounds desperate or pathetic, remember how important social connectivity and inclusivity is to your mental health and happiness. You’re not being desperate. You’re being human. If extending a few awkward invitations eventually leads to an awesome relationship, that’s a fair trade-off.

And be warned: Being vulnerable doesn’t necessarily bring automatic success. You may invite some colleagues over for dinner only to have no one show up.

Why are we mentioning this? Because once you realize that rejection or a moment’s embarrassment is the worst that can happen, you can quickly move on.

The best part about all of these suggestions is that even if they don’t result in a core group of new friends, you’re out and regularly interacting with people. Oftentimes, loneliness results from feeling left out. Joining different groups makes you part of a continued process (i.e. learning new steps at your salsa class with your fellow dancers), sharing in a struggle (i.e. commiserating with others after a gruelling group workout), or proud of an admirable team effort (i.e. all the money you and your colleagues managed to raise as part of a fundraising event).

You may wind up with a core crowd of people or a revolving group of friends. In order to find either, you’ve got to put yourself out there. 

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