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How to Make Studying Abroad Less Lonely

Updated on August 11, 2020
Martyn Christophe profile image

Martyn has been a Modern Languages and Translation student at Cardiff University for the last 5 years.

Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University | Source

If you're reading this, I assume you're like me and went to study abroad on your own.

In 2015 I went to Cardiff to study. That was the first time I had ever gone to the UK, the first time I had ever travelled alone, and I knew absolutely nobody there.

I remember being unable to pronounce my dorm's name, as it was in Welsh, a language I do not speak, and asking for directions to find it, because in my eagerness to get there I had forgotten to check any maps.

Thankfully, I found it without a problem, found my room, told my family I've arrived just fine, and then sat on my bed wondering what I was going to do now. There was still a week before lectures started, so I was free to explore.

The problem is, that week was one of the loneliest in my life. I was still very shy and nervous to talk to people, so I did not go to any Freshers' events, even thought they were for people like me. Besides that, although I was already fluent in English, the sudden change from my native language to English was rather jarring and I spent that first year mostly walking with my headphones on, as while the music I was listening to was still in English, it was at least something I was used to.

If I could go back in time and give myself some tips, here is what I would say:

If I could go back in time and give myself some tips, here is what I would say:

Go to the Students' Union, they have free pizza and vouchers for popular food places or newly opened restaurants. Take pamphlets for different Freshers' events - you don't have to commit to them if you don't want to.

Join a club! There are tens of clubs at uni and you are bound to find one or three that you are interested in. It may be awkward at first, but you have one advantage at making friends there: everyone there already is interested in whatever the club is about. I made my first friend in uni because we liked the same show and started talking about it.

If you are short on cash or just not the type to go out much, see if your flatmates want to have a night in. Take advantage of those vouchers for food and order in while you watch a movie or a show.

Another very important thing to remember is: seek help if you need it. I was sad to find out a couple of years later that there was a free counselling service at the university that I could have used at the start when things were hardest. Ask a professor or your tutor, or look it up on the internet: even if you know you will be fine, it doesn't hurt to share with a professional the things that weigh on you.

I know firsthand how hard it may be to initiate conversations or reach out, so if those are not options right now either, go online. Join a forum, or a social media site. Your profile picture does not have to be your face, or even you - it can be a character you like, a picture you've taken, anything within the site's rules is fine. That way you can find likeminded people without the scary ordeal of being known. They will know only what you let them know. Online friendships may not be the same as offline ones, but they can be invaluable in being less lonely.

Some of my closest friendships were born online, and later were made offline if we live close enough to each other. Sadly, some are too far away but we still are close. Online friendships do have drawbacks compared to offline ones, but they also have some advantages. In my experience, it is easier to stay in touch and talk more, because talking online is your only means of communication, while offline friends may leave talking for when you meet in person.

In conclusion:

Going abroad to study may be a rather lonely experience if you aren't prepared, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can go to events to meet new people and make new friends, or go online to find like-minded people. You also need to keep in mind you can and should seek help if you need it. It may look scary but it may actually be a lot simpler than it seems at first.

© 2020 Martyn Christophe


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