Make Friends from Scratch

What do you do when you move to a city and you don’t know anybody? If you find a job in an unfamiliar city, or an internship opportunity takes you halfway across the country? In addition to the turmoil of moving and finding your feet in a new workplace, you have to figure out your social life as well. It’s not an easy situation, but with some conscious effort, you can carve out a niche.

While at Olin, I moved to cities where I knew at most one person on three occasions. In the last two years, I’ve done it four more times: spending six months in California, England, China and France. I’ve gotten pretty good at speeding past the lonely days, skipping to the fun part where I’m integrated into local communities. It’s not always straightforward, so I want to share with you the methods I use. Maybe they’ll help you settle into your new home a bit faster this summer/after graduation.

When you move somewhere, think intentionally about how you want to spend your time, and with whom. This is your opportunity to create the life you want to lead. Investing in new friends is worth the effort even if you only stay for a few months. You’re moving, not dying. You can build a worldwide friend network. Who knows when your paths will cross again?

The first step is to feel comfortable on your own in your new environment. You have to get out of the house. Go for a walk in your local area. Visit a nearby neighborhood. Drop by that cool café, bookstore, arcade, market, gallery – whatever. If you’re going to lounge around all day, at least do it in a park. Read up on upcoming events. Sniff out the happening spots. Become knowledgeable about the place where you live. Act like the locals until you area local.

Note: Having just one or two friends at the start can be risky. Make sure that you push each other to be your best selves, rather than settling for spending your time closed in on yourselves.

Also, remember this: you are an interesting person. You’re worth knowing. If you met you at a party, you’d both have a great evening. Be confident in this, so you can make the most of your social opportunities.

Step 2: meet people. Social media sites like Meetup and Couchsurfing are the easiest approach, providing instant connection with low barriers to entry – the people on these sites are there because they are open to making new friends. Use these websites to find people and events in your area. Try online dating sites and apps – even if you aren’t looking for romance. Anyone using these services wants to make new connections.

Leverage your networks. Meet friends of friends back home. Get to know a “connector” – someone who seems to know everyone – and befriend the people they introduce you to. Follow up with everyone – it doesn’t matter how you met someone, if you get along well with them!

The technique I’ve had the most success with is to pick a social activity and stick with it. Find a group of people that does a thing you enjoy, or a thing you’d like to try) and just show up. At first, you’ll see each other once or twice a week and you’ll bond around the sport or game or event that you share. Soon you’ll start to recognize the regulars. Then you’ll be a regular too! Bam: you’re a part of the community.

This is a great start, but the real impact comes with step 3, when you start to drive your social circles.

Would you love for your new friends, colleagues and acquaintances to invite you to go to a concert or waterskiing or road tripping? It’s a symmetrical argument: they could be waiting for you. Don’t wait for them to reach out.Somebody has got to do the organizing. You’re the one with the most to gain, and nothing to lose… So it’ll have to be you.

Invite the people whose company you enjoy to do something besides the activity you have in common. Start low-key: propose a group meal or drink before or after your thing. Hit them up for a parallel activity, or even something completely unrelated. Leverage your research about upcoming events around town. You’ll be the one with the plan and with local knowledge, and people will come to you. Soon you can do all the things you want to do in your new city, and with new friends!

Invite friends from different social circles, or individuals you’ve met to join activities with other groups. I personally find great satisfaction in blending friend groups. And you multiply the value that you generate. Your friends will want to return it to you. The effort you invest will pay itself back in kind, and people will invite you to their activities as well.

This all may sound very mechanical and forced – but I think of it as self-aware and deliberate. Yes, be analytic while planning a life for yourself. But be authentic while you live it. Choose the relationships you want to foster, then be yourself and allow them to develop.

Celebrate every success. I try to do something worthwhile every day. Then, I write it on a slip of paper and fill up a jar over the course of a few months. Don’t compare yourself to others. If you’re proud of something, it’s a success! Write it down and put it in the jar. Challenge yourself to keep things interesting. Even if you have habits, find the uniqueness in each day’s activities or encounters.

The world is rich with social opportunities. I hope you can find ones that make you happy in your new home.

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