So you’ve got a whole new world waiting for your arrival, and maybe you’re a little nervous, or have no idea what to even expect. Even if it’s not your first time abroad, here’s some tips that can help maximize your ability to make friends and find opportunity abroad.
Pre-departure – Reaching Out
Reach out to friends and family. Beyond the hugs and kisses goodbye this is the perfect opportunity to get a feel on the new city you’re about to see – long before you get there. Ask around to those you know now, that may have already been to these areas, or know people who have. What they tell you may lead you to new areas to look, and new opportunities to gather a better insight of foreign places.
Language Exchange Networks
One of the best, and obvious. Facebook can allow for a steady flow of communication and networking with locals in ways that your typical e-mail will not. Event invitations, especially, can be crucial for city based social gatherings. I recall several “Meet Up” exchanges of English language in foreign areas that helped me find people to meet and socialize with on my first days abroad.
Couch Surfing is still relatively new, but as I hear, it’s blowing up across Europe and elsewhere like Facebook did five years ago. Couch Surfing employs a philosophy that its users, in specific cities and countries, can offer you a place to stay as you travel. Additionally, there is a whole plethora of city based groups where its users arrange particular activities such as salsa dancing, move nights, museum tours, and even more.
Couch Surfing is an excellent resource before you reach a city, or as you’re getting settled. You can gather a lot of information on the people, tourist attractions, local culture, and night life as you read on.
LinkedIn provides a professional setting of social media – where users can upload resumes, and establish ‘contacts’ worldwide. As a college student, you should already have one by now (if you haven’t, make one) as you plan to build your career path. Like Facebook/CouchSurfing and dozens of social media sites, LinkedIn hosts an enormous variety of job specific groups for networking on its group pages – Country, industry, and job searching.
Internations is a thriving online community that is still relatively young. In April, 2009, Internations reached over 100,000 registered users. Based out of Germany, Internations works to help to provide professionals opportunity to gather in socials hosted by the city host. Popular among the expat community, it provides a blend of ‘infotainment’ and job networking experiences for anyone abroad.
The virtual community holds a strong focus in Int’l Rel/Int’l Business with expats living and working abroad, and exchange help over forums, news, private messaging and online social networking. This distinguishes Internations far from the saturated Twitter/Facebook communities, and allows users to tap into key sections of their interests living and working abroad; relocation, housing, institutions, socials and leisure. Don’t miss their city guides, which operate in communities across over 100 global cities.
Business Cards (Gather, Share)
Though at the moment I do not possess a business card here, I have benefited largely from one’s I’ve gathered. Local businesses, local entrepreneurs, guest speakers, host speakers, teachers, directors of your school, museum officials, bars and restaurants. Add it all together, and a week worth of socializing, exploring, and even volunteering in your city (or cities) could mean the different between no contact information, or a dozen or so new contacts.
For Fun: Try doing this on a long night out with your friends, perhaps on a bar crawl. Not a bad way to retrace a night (or those you met).
English as Commodity
Many areas you travel will have locals, young professionals, and even adults that seek to protect and strengthen their English speaking proficiency. This can do wonders for any native speaker that seeks to meet people and find opportunities abroad. You can join language exchange groups, create your own “Tutor” lessons and market them on the internet, find English teaching jobs part time, and even common language exchange with locals.
Some jobs out there will pay you to teach English, or hire you just because you know it. Locals may know the language, but a strong benefit to those who are native speakers, speaks largely for the opportunities you can find. I saw companies in Moscow that paid native speakers 7 times the salary they paid native Russians. More honestly, I worked for them.
Your University – Your Program
Your university or host program should have a great idea for some type of social activities. A lot of student programs in study abroads contain ‘immersion’ parts, which seek to throw students into common tourist attractions and socials. Take advantage of this, as each person you meet face to face, may know the person you’re looking for in your experience abroad. Lastly, it may even be your professors or directors themselves that have the contacts to get you hired abroad.
Try Something New
One time I attended an Internations event, and spent nearly an hour meeting expats one by one across the room. Moments later I was approached by some one with a letter, wrapped in a ribbon, saying, “We hear that you’re the American here. Take this and open it up. It’s an invitation to our studio.”
It was an international dance studio – and I am not a dancer. But I surely attended the invite lesson. The entire lesson was conducted in Russian. Salsa, Foxtrot, Tango.
Surely an opportunity not to be missed.
Perhaps one of the greatest things you can do abroad – there are many opportunities which you can reach out to help. From local trash pickups, to helping assist cancer patients in hospitals. Beyond institutions, organizations, and locals you can help, your experiences can always cumulate into other opportunities – like AmeriCorps, international Community Development programs, and more.
Found Something New
Going back to the Internations gig, I recall meeting American after American, in Kiev, who had founded companies. An Israeli businessman, an American insurance broker, and finally, and American who was in energy and natural gas. Whoever said your time abroad wasn’t an opportunity to create something? This is your experience. This is your time to carve out who you are, in the environment you live in. Not vice versa. Not one bit, because as a foreigner, you can make an impact in your [new] community too.
Where Can You Learn More About Going Abroad?
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