Making Friends as an International Student

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By Max, Chemical Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham

To be honest, my first few weeks in the UK felt a bit lonesome. Sure, I had friends here and there, but being the shy person that I was, actively socialising was something that was outside of my wheelhouse. I was lucky enough that I had a few friends that I knew from doing A-Levels together, so that became my source of socialisation but I’m about to tell you how I made friends or meet new people in general, so keep on reading.

A tip that I have for other international students who are in the same boat is to simply attend lectures. It is by far the most foolproof way of making friends in my opinion and chances are, you probably have a lot in common. For starters, you are doing the same course so inherently probably interested in the same things. To make it a little less daunting, know that most students are probably feeling nervous on their first day too, which will ease the process of breaking the ice.

Personally, some of my best friends that I’ve met at university did the same course that I did. We even decided to live together in the next coming years and became each other’s shoulder to cry on ever since. So, piece of advice, don’t skip lectures! Not only will you miss out on the knowledge, but it’ll also be a missed opportunity for you to make friends.

In my previous blog post, I’ve mentioned that one of my pre-requisites, when it came to choosing my university, was the presence of a club or society dedicated to my home country. In my case, I knew that the Malaysian Society did in fact exist and after mustering up a lot of courage, attending the ice-breaking session became a pivotal step for me to loosen and warm up to people. I felt the sense of camaraderie from the members and being surrounded by other Malaysians under the same roof revived a sense of comfort and familiarity.

If there is a society or club that is dedicated to your home country, I would suggest to sign up for it and attend the events. If there isn’t one, there are plenty of other events that can give you a chance to interact with and meet new people. For instance, there’s the Global Cafe, where international students are allowed to meet other students and the arguably the best part though, is that you’ll get a free cup of Costa coffee. Alongside that, the Global Buddies scheme is an excellent support system for you to gain some guidance and help you to engage with other students.

Another major turning point for me was taking language classes. My friend and I took the free access Mandarin class (you should take advantage of this as well), and little did we know how life-changing that became. An important catalyst was the teacher that was in charge of our Mandarin class, who made the learning process very interactive. This led to a few small talks with the other students which eventually led to us being inseparable even up to this day and perhaps for eternity.

Knowing your interests and attending events or activities related to your interests will also help you out a ton. For me, I wanted to learn more about exercising so I signed up for a small group exercise class at the Sports and Fitness centre. Small groups will work in your favour because it’s less intimidating and sometimes, you’ll get paired up with another member to perform exercises together which is a perfect opportunity for you to strike up a conversation. As a Catholic myself, I was compelled to join the Catholic Society and even if I wasn’t as religious as the rest of the members, bonding was still possible because of the shared interests between us. The takeaway message is, find something that you like, be it anime, photography or maybe even K-pop and find your tribe through these shared interests.

One last piece of advice, diversify your circle of friends while you’re at the university. As an international student, I didn’t want to limit myself from only having Malaysian friends. By having friends from every corner of the Earth, I became a lot more open, understanding and a lot less judgemental.

Before coming to the UK, making friends was something that would keep me up at night, especially because I was pretty shy. I soon realised that by being brave, I was able to break out of that shell and that character development starts with doing something out of your comfort zone. Making friends isn’t necessarily easy but it is essential. Also, your university life will be a lot more colourful and who knows, maybe your university friends might end up being lifelong friends too.