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University of Missouri

Building bonds in a foreign country

Filed in Blog, Scholarship, Spain by on January 7, 2020
by Priyanka C.

There’s something about traveling abroad for a long period of time that opens up parts of you that you may not have been previously acquainted with. As any of my friends in the United States will attest to, I am, by nature, an introvert. I frequently feel nervous around new people and don’t know how to express myself properly. This was the main source of many of my fears about studying abroad. How could I ever make friends when I’m so nervous as it is? It’s not that I don’t like people or even that I don’t like talking (I like talking very much), but I’ve always struggled with small talk and introductions. The answer to all of my questions came without me having to even work for it.

When I met other study abroad students for the first time, I noticed something immediately. Almost all of the people seemed uncomfortable and scared, too. I think that it’s an obvious point that almost everyone experiences the same struggles that you are socially and even mentally on many levels. And if you give them a chance, they’ll probably want to talk, too. They just don’t know how to start. Now, many of those people that I started conversations with at the airport didn’t become my best friends, but it made me feel more comfortable operating in a social space with people from all over the world. And then, as soon as a day later, I met people at the hotel where we were having our school orientation who then became friends that I know I will make efforts to see once I leave this country. All because I was open enough to say hello and introduce myself. And it sounds simple, but that’s really all it takes. A lot of times, they will take the conversation from there. All anyone really needs is a little push in the right direction. Despite my introverted tendencies, making a little extra effort to go out of my comfort zone socially really paid off. I’m lucky enough to have a big group of friends to explore Japan with and many more acquaintances that make navigating classes and school very pleasant and fun for me! This goes for locals, too. They are often interested in making international friendships and meeting new and interesting people, but don’t know anything about our cultures or our social cues, so often they won’t come up and talk to you off the bat — even the people who speak a good amount of English. Introducing yourself and holding yourself in a friendly, approachable manner really helps them, too. The main takeaway that I hope you have from this is that everyone, even the extroverts and locals, are probably nervous to start conversations. Showing that you’re nice enough to say hello and introduce yourself is enough. You don’t have to carry every conversation and definitely take time to rest when you feel exhausted, but making the effort counts for a lot. It will be emotionally draining for a little while, but you will eventually fall into a place where you can comfortably pull back from social interactions for a while and know that you still have good relationships with people.

I hope that your study abroad trips now and in the future are as amazing as mine has been and that you make a lot of friends from all over the world. Remember to take care of yourselves physically and mentally and take every opportunity that you can! Good luck out there.

Me and some friends out on the town in Osaka, Japan

Group of students posing for a selfie by downtown Osaka waterfront.

About the blogger

Priyanka C. is studying abroad on the Kwansei Gakuin program in Nishinomiya, Japan.

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