An interesting situation occurred while I was studying abroad. While the COVID-19 pandemic is the obvious winner as the craziest thing to happen during this time, the other was a simple one that affected a great deal of people: being separated from friends.
When I first came to Sydney, I was part of an affiliate agency program through whom I met some of the best friends of my life. We connected and bonded more than I thought was humanly possible in such a short period of time. Knowing that we had all come from abroad and were embarking on this new experience together, not to mention living as flatmates, we invested the bulk of our time to school and to exploring Australia together.
Once the pandemic hit and our program was cancelled, my new friends started to go home one by one. Soon there were only a few left, others who also chose to stay in Australia. Once their programs ended though, it was time for them to go home as well. Now, here I was, in a country across the world and in a precarious situation in which I could not meet people around campus or approach new people out in public. Everyone was staying home, doing things virtually, and taking precautions like wearing masks and social distancing out in public, making it difficult to approach new people.
I’d not often found it difficult to make new friends, but here I was having to think of new ways to meet like-minded people. With the time zone differences and the abundance of hours to fill, I could only talk to my friends in the US so much. I realized that I could not be the only one in this situation; it was tough on a great deal of international students, backpackers, and other young migrants who came to Australia with high hopes of a fulfilling social life. Here are the methods I used to not only make friends, but also to stay socially stimulated during lockdown and restrictions.
When my first semester’s classes went online, Sydney was still on lockdown. This meant we could only leave home for limited activities like essential work, household shopping, and exercise. Being cooped up in my room through the day and watching classes on a computer screen got old pretty quickly. Our professors even still made students collaborate on group projects! Ridiculous, right?! Well, I thought so at first, but it actually turned out to be extremely beneficial, and I was grateful they didn’t subject me to even more isolation.
I realized, watching everyone videoconference in from their bedrooms, that it was not just me going through this. I was not even the only one who had just come from abroad! On several occasions, my breakout rooms* (private meetings within a class through Zoom) became therapy first, classwork second. I made truly fulfilling connections with other students this way and had many hours of getting to know each other and just have a bit of conversation with people our own age we could relate to in some way. While many of these connections ended with the courses for me, it is a great tool to recognize when in online courses. Had the situation not been a strict lockdown, I’m confident I would’ve met a few of these people for a coffee on campus, a stimulating chat about our coursework, or for a study group/project collaboration. Even though we couldn’t do that face-to-face, I’m glad we were pushed to at least attempt it screen-to-screen. With that said, if you must take online courses, look for some that include discussion-based or group project components where you can still interact with others at your school. Don’t be shy, initiate a chat! 🙂
Online: Bumble & Hinge
While it may seem very strange to seek friends on dating and social apps, it’s a great way to find like-minded people and even great friends! Be sure to do some research about the nature of these apps in your host country, and always go into it cautiously with two eyes open. Be sure to get to know people over messaging and video calls first, and only meet in public spaces while you’re getting to know and trust. You can look for fellow students who attend your host uni, or other locals with similar interests.
A great app for women is Bumble on which you can make a Bumble BFF profile to meet other girls your age and even filter by location, interests, and lifestyle. This connected me with lots of other girls while in Sydney, typically students and girls who just wanted to go out on the town and have fun! It was a great tool when lockdown was just easing. The only downside is that it is for women only, but using the BumbleDate function and outlining whether you’re open to friendship only or romantic endeavours as well is quite common. As long as you’re open and honest about what you’re looking for, you can typically find others who are open to those same things. This same method can be employed on Hinge where I met my best guy friend in Australia.
While I can’t vouch for apps I haven’t used, I’ve heard of Meetup (convenes groups for activities, example- let’s go kayaking this weekend) and other apps (depending on country, I suppose) that seem to connect people quite well. I would not recommend ‘hookup’ apps like Tinder (very different in Australia than in the US) or serious relationship apps such as eHarmony for this method.
Read Part Two here for more advice on meeting friend when life is online!