I’ve always struggled to make friends. That’s no secret. Growing up, I was pretty introverted, moved a lot and was an only child. You can imagine that this created a constant cycle of, which I only recently realized, loneliness. Once I get friends, life is good. But it usually takes a while for me to find my people.
But I’m not here for a pity story. Yes, that’s a very basic background of who I am, but my purpose here is not to create an exposé of the solitude I’ve felt in my life. I want to tell others like me, those who are super awkward and shy, that studying abroad is so worth it. That even though the struggle is evident in your everyday life, you’re not destined to navigating Scandinavia by yourself. After all, any new social situation is terrifying… I know. But it’s not impossible.
To preface this post, I came to Scandinavia not knowing a soul. No one from my school would be joining me. No one that I knew from past experiences. And to make matters worse, I am nonexistent on social media, so I lost out on all potential pre-departure buddies. I really was flying across the ocean… alone.
But miraculously, I found friends! And some pretty great ones too. I am still wrapping my head around how that all happened so fast. Here are some tips I have though, on how to combat being lonely abroad.
Dive Into Your Classes
I’ll continue to be completely honest here: my problem wasn’t miraculously fixed when I arrived. In fact, I was already texting my parents a few days in about how lonely I was, that I was afraid this would be my whole time studying abroad, that I wanted to make friends but didn’t know how… I’m sure you know the way your mind can spiral.
It wasn’t until a couple days into my class that I really felt a connection with someone. As previously discussed, I took Positive Psychology last session and we researched why Denmark was supposedly so happy. One of the ways we did this was an activity the Danish call “hygge”. In our hygge activity, we were taken to a café and told not to take out our phones, but rather to engage (and enjoy a delicious lunch) with one another.
It was there I met one of my companions for the rest of the first session, Grace. My professor provided us a list of questions to provoke discussion, and they were kind of deep. Like, definitely not “second day of class” material from my understandings. But I didn’t freak out. I instead dove into the conversation, trying to be as genuine as possible. And she did the same. If we had both been of the “we’re not doing this, this is stupid” mindset, we wouldn’t have eventually become the adventurers we were just five days later.
This is just one example of a time where my professor provided us a great way to get to know each other. The people in my class never had to fully engage in our activities. We could’ve just given fluffy responses. But the whole class dove in to what we were doing, and it made our relationships much more real.
Announce Your Plans
Okay, this one sounds terrifying to the classic introvert. But in truth, I just couldn’t come up with a less clunky way to describe it. You don’t have to grab your bullhorn and tell the world your plans, but don’t be afraid to share something you’re interested in doing. Because the chances are, someone else also has your same interests.
When I was in Vienna for my study tour, I wanted to explore. Like really just see as much as possible in a crammed time. Thankfully, my classmates Nikol and Madison followed this principle the very first night we were there, announcing within my earshot that they wanted to see the city a little while the rest of the class went out. This was so exciting to me! Because these two had the confidence to invite others to their journey, and I took a risk to say “yes”, I got my wish: to start seeing and discovering Vienna!
As the week in Vienna continued, we all continued to share what our plans were, and were able to gather more and more people! I was afraid going into that week that I would be regulated to following a crowd, but it turned out a lot of people had the same interests as me, and all it took was for someone to say it out loud!
How corny, I know. What have I become? A Hallmark card?
But it’s true! I’ve already alluded to it through the first two tips, but being authentic and real is the biggest way to find friends abroad. Everyone is only there for a couple weeks (or months). They, too, want to make friends. Our natural inclination is to ease ourselves into relationships, waiting until we feel comfortable to showcase who we truly are. But in study abroad, you gotta just go for it!
My best example of this is my friend Mudra and I at an opera in Vienna. I previously detailed this experience, but it works in this story too. We were laughing so hard, without a care in the world. The rest of the opera house was rather quiet, our class was half falling asleep, but Mudra and I didn’t care. We just laughed and laughed, because it’s who we are!
After that night, we felt like we had nothing to hide. We tended to callback to it jokingly, as we created other inside jokes as well. But if we hadn’t been ourselves relatively early on, who knows if we would’ve even built a relationship.
There’s Still Always Time To Be Alone
As much as I love forming and cultivating relationships, it can be exhausting. My social battery probably has a lower lifespan than average. I love maximizing my time, but sometimes I need a break. And there are so many opportunities to do that in Scandinavia!
One of my favorite parts about Copenhagen was how walkable it was. I could walk anywhere in twenty minutes. It was nice sometimes to just look at the world around me and try to take it all in. The city had so many beautiful buildings, sights and water… it was really nice to just be outside exploring sometimes!
My tip for those who know they’ll need a recharge every now and then: find your “quirky” time. For me, it’s usually in the morning. Most college kids like to sleep in as much as possible, I for some reason have never been able to do that. So instead, I just work in my own world for a little. Enjoy some cereal, search the internet, listen to music. It’s a nice way to start off a, most likely social, day.
And Finally… Just Say “Yes”
Again, quite a stereotypical tip. But it was one that I didn’t really start to figure out until my third week here, so I thought it was an important one to share.
We all come into Europe with our conceptions of what we want to do. And it’s hard to buck those thoughts. I had seen quite a few things on the internet that were intriguing to me, and therefore made my “to-do” list. The thing is, everyone else also has their own lists.
As we dwindled down our time in Copenhagen, I was stressed running around trying to check every box (see my last post). But the explorations that I didn’t see coming were just as important to me as the ones that I had planned.
For instance, I had really wanted to find at least one of the Six Forgotten Giants. They looked so cool, I had to see one! When the last day rolled around, I still had not. I had tried to hatch some plans, but it was looking grim. However, my friend Tia mentioned an alpaca reserve called Sydhavnstippen that she wanted to go to. I was back and forth on going, because I definitely wanted to see the giant, but the alpacas sounded neat too.
I eventually said yes, and embarked with Tia and Grace over to the suburbs to explore a little. As our time began to dwindle, I did a little research, and plotted the course we would need to get to a giant. And to my surprise, my friends decided to go to! Because I said “yes”, I got both an exciting morning with alpacas and the last item off my list taken care of, all in good company.
When almost all of my Copenhagen friends did not come to Stockholm with me for Session 3, I again spiraled into my worries. However, just saying “yes” has helped me to start to form relationships here! Whether it be a meal, museum or walk, I’ve tried my hardest to say “yes” to as much as possible, and it has eased my transition.
So, to those of you who are holding back from studying abroad because you typically struggle to make friends… don’t. You’ll regret it. It’s hard, I won’t lie about that. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone more in Scandinavia than normal. But it’s not impossible. You can… you will make friends.
To all my friends from Colorado Springs, from Trinity, and from Scandinavia, thank you for showing me that it’s never impossible.