As a digital nomad, moving to a new city has its challenges, especially if you’re coming from a different country. But besides the administrative hassle, there’s one thing to take care of, a more personal one: your social life.
You can have the nicest new apartment, all your visas sorted out, you won’t feel like home in your new city without friends. Everything is easy when you’re a college student on an exchange program: your university organizes a lot of events, you simply can’t avoid meeting new people. But how to make friends when you’re a grown-up professional, working 9-5? What to do, if you’re not the most sociable person, even shy around people?
The good news is, it’s never been easier to make new buddies, and I show you 8 practical tips on how you can do it:
The most trivial place to start is meetup.com. Create a profile and search for topics that interest you. You can find professional events, or you can experiment with new things that you always wanted to try. In Barcelona, there are hundreds of activities, such as entrepreneurial meetups, tech-related events, hiking excursions, handcraft workshops. Many of these meetups start with a few talks or presentations, followed by networking time – usually, with free food and drinks ;) Most of them are in English, so you can meet other expats too, who share the same interests. It can be beneficial for your career too if it’s a professional event: you can often find recruiters in the audience, or hear about new opportunities. Remember one thing: everyone who goes to these events wants to meet new people, just like you, so be the one who breaks the ice, start with some small-talk, the other person will appreciate it and this way you can develop deeper conversations.
If you want to learn the local language - and meet locals and internationals as well, language exchange events will take you far: the biggest one in Barcelona is organized every Friday in the bar in Estacio de Francia. You just put a sticker on your shirt with the languages you speak, and you can talk with others who want to learn your language. It’s a really cool way to practice your skills, but be aware that after a while it can get repetitive, as most people start with the same questions: what’s your name, where are you from and what are you working.
But maybe you want to get a bite from your home country. It’s also possible: just search on Facebook for groups about your nationality. Eg. “Hungarians in Barcelona”, “Danes in Barcelona”. Chances are, you’re not the only person who lives in your city from your country, and it can be nice to connect with your people. These groups often organize events to keep your national traditions for the holidays, you can meet for dinners from your own cuisine, or just simply have a chat on your mother tongue. It can be tempting to surround yourself with people from your own country, but if you want to make the most of your expat life, don’t make the mistake of limiting your circles to them. That way you would lose a lot of new experiments, and at the end, that’s why it’s cool to live in a new place: so you can become a part of this new community.
These are very similar to meetups, but their sole purpose is to help people making new connections. You can often hear about them by Facebook events or on meetup.com. They are organized around the city, and they usually include food and drinks to get people more talkative and accessible. It’s the easiest if you already go with some friends to not feel lost, but it’s perfectly OK to attend alone. You can also join any coworking place and enjoy their networking community events. One example is OneCoWork where every single member has the chance to create and promote networking events (on top of those organized by the coworking place). You can check them here.
Once there, If you don’t know how to start a conversation, it’s the easiest to eavesdrop someone talking, and then approach them saying: “I overheard your conversation about […], that sounds interesting. Can you tell me a bit about it?”. It’s a good tactic because everyone is comfortable with talking about the things they know and familiar with. Be a good listener at the beginning, and you can develop the conversations from there. But even if you’re the type who just can’t initiate a chat with anyone, you still have a chance: just walk around with your drink, and try to get eye contacts. Don’t play around with your phone, even if it makes you feel safer because that way people who would approach you might think that you’re busy with something.
The previously described events might introduce you to other expats or professionals, but to find local buddies you need to do what locals do. One of these is finding a sport that you can do with others. It can be a team sport or a group activity. It not only makes you fit and healthy, but you can surround yourself with people who value the same lifestyle. And there’s some special bond in getting sweaty and tired together. Do you like football? Find an amateur team in your city. How about basketball? There are always some people playing in the parks. Work out at the beach, stretch your body at yoga sessions, join a running club. After the sport activities you might stay for a drink, which is the perfect time to introduce yourselves and start building new friendships.
If you’re not a sports person, there’s still a lot of opportunities. Have you always wanted to try photography but never found the time? How about pottery, painting, racing with model cars, joining a choir? You’re in a new city, you can pick up new hobbies! And if you’re a total beginner, you can use it for your benefit: go to some events and collect information from others, how should you start. They will be more than happy to help, and you already made new buddies.
Here are two of my personal experiences that you might find useful: I couldn’t find any better sports community than Rockstar Lifestyle Barcelona. I’ve been a part of the group for more than a year now and made many new friends while training in front of the most spectacular background: the beach and sea of Barceloneta. Who could ask for more? And as I was always interested in performing, I attended a workshop by Barcelona Improv Group (in English), that is organized every Sunday at Teatre de l’Enjòlit. Not only did I have a lot of fun, careless times, but I met a lot of cool people.
If you’re spending your days at a coworking office, like OneCoWork, you can’t avoid making new friends. People are genuinely interested in new members, you will start conversations while preparing your coffee, eating your lunch, or just working at a shared desk. But if you’re in a regular office, you can become friends with your colleagues, too.
It might sound silly first, but mobile apps can help you with making new friends. There are some that are specifically made for that: Shapr is like Tinder, but with professional connections; ShowAround brings tourists and locals together, PartyWith helps you finding company when you want to go out at night. But regular dating apps can work too; it’s not awkward to look for friends only - but be prepared that not everyone will read your profile.
Finally, you can easily extend your friend circle when you already have a few acquaintances. When you’re invited to an event, simply say yes and go: you might get introduced to a lot of cool new people, and you don’t have to actively make the first steps.
My name is JohnnyFekete and I am a full stack developer and entrepreneur. My passion for technology started way back, when floppy disk was not just a save icon, and I have been involved in numerous tech-startups ever since. I love building mobile and web apps with strong focus on user experience. When I am not in front of my MacBook, you can find me at the beach or traveling around the world. I have lived in 4 countries in the last 6 years, so I was forced to re-establish my social life multiple times. The previous examples described within the article worked for me, and I believe they can work for you too. The key to success is to stay open-minded and curious about other people, and that way you will manage to make new friends, no matter where in the world you are. Enjoy the read!