You’ve finally worked up the nerve and moved to a new city. Whether you’re in another country or not meeting people and making friends can be really hard. Here are Victoria’s pretty great suggestions:
You’ve just arrived in a new city, you’re staying for longer than a few days, and what you really want is to meet some people who live there. So what do you do?
I’ve been in this situation a number of times – first when I moved to Barcelona for a few months and most recently when I spent five weeks in Buenos Aires. Both of these times I was alone in the city, so making friends was a priority, but I’ve also sought to meet people as a couple or group. These are my favourite ways of going about it.
1. Living with a Local
If you’re looking to make friends, and you’re sometimes a bit shy (like me), then living alone probably isn’t a good idea. You could live with fellow travellers, ex-pats or foreign students, who are easier to find, but if you really want to meet local people then the best way is to live with some. In Barcelona, I lived with a couple I met through Couchsurfing, and in Buenos Aires I found a shared flat with an Argentinian girl, Aldana, through CompartoDepto. Aldana taught me the intricacies of mate drinking, introduced me to her family and friends and even handmade a pizza for my birthday. She also spoke very little English, which did wonders for my Spanish. Craig’s List is good for finding rooms but tends to lean towards foreign lets. It’s better to seek out the local option like CompartoDepto.
Couchsurfing (CS) is much more than finding a place to stay – it’s a whole community of people who love to share. I always try to find a host for the first few days in the city to make some friends and get some insider knowledge. Beyond that, I look to the groups, events and ‘coffee or a drink’ options of the community. Practically every city has a CS group where members post events or discussions. There are often sub-groups – like ‘rock climbers’ or ‘vegetarians’ – where you can find people with shared interests. I’ve been to museums, picnics, live music and gallery opening nights with people from CS who then went on to become friends. You can also use CS to meet up with individuals. In Spain, I was teaching English so I did a keyword search for English teachers in Barcelona. I found a few and sent them all messages asking if we could meet up, or if they had any tips. Through that, I made some good friends and even found a job. I’ve also used it to simply meet with people I thought looked interesting. I once had a 6 hour lay-over in Madrid so created a shout out to couchsurfers and found some people to hang out with for the duration – we ended up eating chocolate and churros in a late night bar until my bus at 4am.
3. Kitchen parties
Mealtimes are a great time to meet new people. There’s even a social network dedicated to it at Kitchen Party. The premise is simple – people who love food get together and share a meal. Joining Kitchen Party is one way to find such events, and you’ll also find them on Couchsurfing. Many restaurants or individuals host open dinner parties too. In Buenos Aires, there’s an established network of puerta cerrada (closed door) restaurants where someone opens their own home as a restaurant. Some of these have private tables, but most encourage guests to sit together and socialise. In England, there’s also a growing trend towards similar events. I went to a few in London and one in Bristol. They are harder to find as they’re normally small-scale and advertised locally, but keep your eyes open and ask around. You could even initiate your own event. I went to one in Buenos Aires arranged by a guy from Singapore and hosted by an Argentinian girl.
One of the most obvious times to meet people you’ll get along with is when doing something you love. Instead of practising yoga at home, I like to go to a class and chat with the teacher or other students. Yoga can be replaced with whatever hobby you like – football, painting, knitting – there is likely to be some sort of class or group in the city. Check notice boards in cafés or do a search online.
5. Language Exchanges
No matter what level you’re at with the local language, exchanges are a great way to meet people. In some cities there are dedicated language exchange programmes, such as Spanglish in Buenos Aires. Spanglish is based on the same concept as speed dating, but without the dating. You get paired with a Spanish speaker for about 10 minutes and speak for five minutes in English and five in Spanish. It’s a great way to practice and, as the events take place in bars, people tend to stay on afterwards. Other cities have similar programmes or less formalised language exchange events. Individuals are also often looking for people to practise with. The best way to find out about language exchanges is by looking at the notice boards in local language schools or searching online. Sites like Couchsurfing, Craig’s List and Gumtree are good places to start.
6. Ask Questions
The final and most important tip is to be open and friendly. There are people everywhere – in cafes, on the street, on the bus. Smile and strike up a conversation. Coming from London, where it isn’t that usual to talk to strangers, I haven’t always been very good at this, but the more I try, the easier it becomes. I find the easiest way is to ask a question. Even just asking the time can lead onto something more.
All of these methods meant that nearly every every night in Barcelona and Buenos Aires, I had the option of meeting up with someone if I didn’t feel like being alone. I hope you find it useful too. Let me know how you get on.
You can find Victoria at http://www.bridgesandballoons.com