Making Friends During Your Year Abroad

The biggest fear of most exchange students is traveling unaccompanied halfway across the world from home, leaving their family and friends behind. Typically, when arriving in a new country, there are no home comforts or familiar faces. Making friends in a large university, like National University of Singapore (NUS), can feel extremely intimidating. For some, making friends might come naturally. However, others might struggle to mingle and ultimately isolate themselves. Hopefully, I can help you make friends easily through this blog! Let me describe my social experience at NUS and give you some top tips when making friends on your year abroad.
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Students from my college, Resident College 4, at end of year formal dinner (can you spot me?)

Did I have a hard time making friends?

At the start of my year abroad, I found it extremely difficult to make friends easily. I had never experienced being completely alone in a strange country before. I expected that making friends would be a ‘natural process’ as I went about my daily life, but it really wasn’t! I acted quite reserved and didn’t actively seek out friends, which is actually the opposite of my personality! This was a big mistake because I became isolated from new people and new opportunities. Another mistake I made was latching onto a fellow student from Sheffield because it was comfortable. I got into a mindset where I didn’t trust people and didn’t feel like I needed any friends, which is the worst thing you can do!

What was I scared of?

I was worried that people wouldn’t like me for me, especially when they came from different cultures and backgrounds. I have a very ‘English’ sense of humour which a lot of local students/internationals didn’t understand sometimes. I am usually a confident person but, because I was very different from others around me, my confidence got shot during my first semester. However, if you make enough bad jokes and sarcastic comments, the locals begin to get the hang of it! Whatever you do, don’t change your personality to fit into certain groups. You’ll find people who you click with if you actively keep searching. When you arrive at NUS, the sheer number of students at the university can be very intimidated and inaccessible.  
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How did I turn things around?

After Christmas break, I went into the second semester with a more optimistic mindset. I had the most amazing experience with awesome people. I forced myself to go to exchangers events/activities and joined a number of clubs. Even if it felt like a chore to go out, I did it anyway because I knew I’d have a good time. My attitude was more positive, and I was happier, which made it was easier to attract friends. Actively socialise! Don’t expect to make friends if you sit in your room and watch Netflix all the time! For example, I organised an exchangers games night in the common lounge of my accommodation and created a Facebook group chat for exchangers to meet each other. I met a lot of people in the second semester that were already at the university in the first semester. I could have been having all this fun all year if I didn’t hide away when I first arrived! Also, don’t expect every person you meet to become your close friends, because they won’t. Sometimes, talking to new people might feel awkward, but keep trying. Be open to every new student you meet (but also be cautious when traveling to other developing countries in Asia).

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RC4 tennis team!

Top tips when making friends at NUS!

  • Accommodation choice – to meet local students and have access to more community events/groups, I would suggest joining a college such as RC4 or CAPT rather than UTown towers. They are located in the same complex (UTown) but they offer more opportunities for socialising. I stayed at RC4 and made great local and international friends there!
  • Get out of your room– It’s small and claustrophobic. You definitely won’t meet anyone there!
  • Go to organised trips/activities even by yourself to start with e.g. Exchanger White Party, NUS Diving trips etc. Everyone is in the same boat at the start of the year, so try to mingle! There are a bunch of activities the week before classes start so don’t miss them! The earlier you make friends, the easier it is!
  • Join all the Facebook groups (NUS exchangers and accommodation groups) – lots of people post in these groups to organise trips and meet-ups in the city.
  • Can’t find anywhere to go? Create events yourself – if you are feeling lonely, most likely others will too. Make a Facebook group or create some flyers for a little games/movie night!
  • Talk to family/friends over to phone or Resident Assistants (RAs) in the college – they can help you with any personal matters and give you some good advice.
  • Talk to local students before and after class- especially module group mates.
  • Be open to locals – don’t be intimidated by people from different countries and backgrounds. They can sometimes be the most interesting friends.
  • Be yourself – you won’t be happy if you are pretending to be something you’re not. I had first-hand experience in this, and it made me unhappy during most of my first semester.
  • Join sports/club you are interested in – I played for my college tennis team, trained Muay Thai boxing and joined an environmental group! It was a good way to meet locals and make new friends.
  • Be friendly to lecturers/researchers at the university – they could be potential employers/contacts in the future!


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I’ve met some great friends during my time abroad and I am still in contact with a lot of them. They live all around the world and I’ve been to visit a few since I’ve arrived back in the UK! However, don’t feel disheartened if you don’t see your friends from abroad often. Many won’t be from the UK so you won’t get to see them on a daily basis like you probably did before.

Be confident, active and open-minded when meeting new people during your year abroad. You will meet people that you don’t gel with, but you will also meet some of your closest friends. Be open to everyone you meet along the way as they may become your great friends, locals and internationals alike. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t make my mistakes! Follow these tips, and I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time with many cool people.

Any questions about Singapore, Asia or the year abroad in general, drop me a line. Email: dina.leigh.simons@gmail.com. 

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