This post is a second installment in my blog series, Living in France. Check out the first one about imposter syndrome here.
When I first decided to move to France straight after graduating from university, there was one thing weighing on my mind.
Of course, I was rightfully nervous about perfecting my French skills, teaching terrifying high schoolers and opening a bank account.
But above all, the one aspect of living abroad that scared the pants off me was making friends. It's not really an easy task for anyone (or at least that's what I tell my introvert self), but I've always felt that it has never come naturally to me. I've been in plenty of situations where I've had to step out of my comfort zone, and I've formed some amazing friendships as a result. For example, moving from Philadelphia to Chicago for university, or studying abroad for six weeks in the south of France. And yet, when I thought about making friends in Mulhouse, with no university or study abroad program to use as a safety net, my stomach would drop. I imagined the worst – I would constantly feel alone, awkward, excluded.
Of course, none of these things happened (except for the usual amount, because we are only human, after all).
I have met some of the most wonderful people and found some of the most like-minded friends than perhaps I ever have before. Because of the nature of my experience in France so far, as an assistante de langue and a lectrice, some of these friendships were just for a few months, and brought me a lot of joy in the moment. But others have lasted longer and become extremely solid and dear to me.
A classic observation that people who move abroad often make is that their friend groups usually consist of other "foreigners" – people from their country, or people who have also moved from another place. Of course, because this is a more straightforward way of meeting people, I also have a lot of great friends from America, Scotland, Germany, and more. However, I've managed to make French friends, too. This has been a godsend for my French.
So, I thought I would give you some of my tips when it comes to making friends abroad.
1. Friends of friends
My top tip is definitely capitalizing on friends of friends. This is how I've made the majority of my French friends. Find a nice one (a nice French person, I mean) and try to get invited to things! Or offer to meet up for a drink or coffee, or just check in every so often to see what they're up to that weekend. I got lucky in this aspect because my partner, who I met just a few days after arriving in France, is French. He and his brother and sister have introduced me to their circles, which is so nice. It has been so fun spending time with them. Or, for example, the French roommate of my lectrice friend has become one of my best friends. Take advantage of those connections! I will say that I have never been the best at consistently "prendre des nouvelles," or regularly checking in and seeing what others are up to, but it's a really, really important part of a French friendship.
Quick tangent: I like being the "American" who kind of infiltrates French friend groups or parties, but it can feel like a double-edged sword. I love getting to share things about me or where I come from, or fun English words, but I also don't want that to be my entire personality. Basically, just because I've made some good friends doesn't mean I always feel included or fully "part of" the gang. If you feel the same, you're not alone.
2. Give it time
This leads me to my next point: give it time. I usually don't feel comfortable with friends – or people in general – right away. In fact, I felt a little uncomfortable with some of my French co-workers at the high school I taught as an assistant for several months. And then, fast forward to a few months later, we would drink beer together in the teacher's lounge on Friday afternoons (!). Don't expect a friendship to be perfect right away. Just keep making conversation, or offering to get together outside of work one-on-one to really get to know each other. Above all, say yes to things!
3. Connect on social media
Another way in which I've been able to make some connections is through social media. My Instagram has led me to cool people in the area, both French and from elsewhere, or helped me stay in touch with some people I have met previously – even some of my students! Having these kind of acquaintances or connections makes a big difference when it comes to feeling at home in a new place. Plus, Facebook has allowed me to get to know and spend time with many of the different language assistants who pass through Mulhouse or Alsace on seven-month contracts.
4. Try something new
Finally, it's a bit basic, but try something new. I've been able to make friends through my boyfriend, through my university, through my job as an assistant and as a lectrice. And yet, I still wanted to branch out and try out a new activity. For me, this was tennis lessons (I'm very bad). I wasn't necessarily expecting to find a BFF, but it is still fun to meet new people and have some different conversations. I have friends who take salsa classes or Mandarin classes, or who have joined a choir or a water polo club, and more. Find something you like to do or that you want to try, and take the plunge.
It's not always an easy task to make friends, and I've had many moments while living in France where I've felt lonely and struggled to make meaningful connections. But when I look back on how terrified I was before moving to Mulhouse, I'm pretty proud of the progress I've made.
Sara (@sara_somewhere_), my fellow lectrice and a wonderful blogger, also moved to France all alone and had to make new friends. Here are some of her thoughts:
Making friends was also the thing I was the most worried about when I came here. Don't be afraid to shoot your shot. Put yourself out there; the worst anyone can do is say no. Doing things that you enjoy with other people who also enjoy it is likely to lead to good friendships. But don't worry if the first friends you make don't last. Through them, or with a bit of time, you might find people who you vibe with better. It's terrifying; it's scary, but usually even if it doesn't go well, it's never as bad as you think it's going to be.
- Sara, 24, English lectrice from Scotland
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment your thoughts here or reach out on Instagram (@uneboucheeaday). Let me know what else you'd like to see in my series Living in France.