How to Make New Friends

Imagine the scene… You’ve just traveled from your home country – maybe your first time away from home – and you’re now in a strange place for the next three or four years. Wow! And, to make it a bit more challenging, maybe you’re only 17-18 years old. Hmmm… Does this sound a bit familiar to some of us? And, to make it possibly even more interesting, the UNYP student body comes from so many different countries and cultures that it’s hard to count sometimes. Are you catching on to how some of us might have a hard time, at least early on, fitting into the social scheme of things at UNYP (or any other such scenario)?

For some of us, it’s easy. For others, especially those from cultures with differing friendship-making values than those common to Central Europe, getting into the swing of things in Prague could prove to be temporarily challenging. Yes, it can be frustrating, until we can get the process sorted, and until we have comfortably established our place within the new cultural-social structure.

As a semi-long-term instructor at UNYP, I am occasionally asked by new students how to make friends in a new cultural reality. Cultures are different, and making the social transition can be difficult. So, though I have my own ideas, there’s nothing like turning to an established authority for guidance regarding such questions!

Kara Mayer Robinson offers us a number of suggestions that we can take into account with regard to how we might begin to work our way into a new reality (reference

How and Where to Seek New Friends?

Your first thoughts might settle on pushing yourself to bravely invite newfound “acquaintances” to coffee or other such conversational venues. This could be a good solution if your intention is culturally correct with regard to the persons with whom you’re speaking, but remember that these newly met people might themselves come from cultures that view initial contacts from a more guarded perspective. Take your time! Don’t push too quickly. Assess the situation and learn a bit about the people with whom you’d like to engage in a more developed way. Some people are imminently approachable, and others are more reserved, so be patient and measured in your tactics.

Beyond the environs of UNYP, how might you find a grouping of people who might want to establish a possible friendship? There is a variety of teams, clubs, and interest groups in Prague that could suit your purposes. Religious groups, sports teams, music clubs…special interest and educational gatherings? These all exist in satisfying numbers in Prague and are accessible via a simple Google search. Want to learn to dance, do some volunteer work, take a language class, or check out local events? These are all fertile ground for finding new contacts.

Another way to meet people is online. Of course, extra care must be taken to ensure that the people you “meet” through the various sites available to you are the sorts that would ordinarily be of your choosing if you had met them in person. But, online contacts can sometimes work out well, especially if you are the shy type. Just try to “meet” people online that you can eventually and safely meet in person. It’s easy to stay within the comfort of your apartment and engage in agreeable chats, but if your objective is to get out of your shell and develop your interpersonal skills…interpersonally, try to use the online option only as a way to make the initial contact, then progress to a face-to-face meeting. Importantly, remember to keep “healthy boundaries” between your contacts and yourself, at least until your comfort and safety specifications are reached.

How to Start and Maintain a Friendship?

“Friendships take time, but you can take steps to spark a relationship and nurture a connection.” Yes, patience may be needed from time to time, but Ms. Robinson offers some guidelines that could be helpful:

• Though this should be an obvious tip, it’s one that’s often ignored. Simply put, when invited to an event (and assuming you sense that it’s safe), say “yes” to the invitation! Depending on your cultural background, invitations can be challenging, maybe even threatening! But, remember that your objective is to make friends and fit in socially with your colleagues. And, if accepting the invitation works out well, don’t be shy about offering an invitation in return! • Or, maybe you’re ready to take the plunge and have the courage to offer an invitation yourself (after you’ve done the cultural assessment, of course)! Offering, in advance, to pick up the tab could be of help.

• Start a conversation with someone whom you think might be an interesting contact. Remember that they may be as shy as you, and might appreciate the overture. If the other person returns the gesture, show interest in them. Smile, as appropriate. Make the conversation more about them than you. Remember that people like to talk about themselves, so let them. Make good eye contact. Good, open body language is always a plus.

• When comfortable, share little personal bits about yourself. “Don’t go overboard,” but offer enough to be interesting – enough to give your conversation partner a sense that you trust them, if only just a bit.

• Offering, or agreeing to, a small favor can only help you earn the positive attention of your new “friend.” Care should be exercised, of course, to keep it small, at first. Again, “don’t go overboard” and don’t appear to be desperate! This could be viewed as a turn-off.

Obviously, and once you’re comfortable with your new ‘friend,’ keep it going by exchanging contact data, all the while noting your interest in future meetings. Once you’ve been able to progress this far, “staying in touch” is important. It’s easy to simply let a new contact go for a time (we’re all very busy), expecting to pick up where we left off weeks or months later. However, and depending on the culture of your new “friend,” this could be problematic. Sometimes people can feel neglected if the follow-up contact does not occur within what THEY believe to be a reasonable period of time.

Hopefully, Ms. Robinson’s offerings, as outlined above, are interesting enough to give you “food for thought” regarding how to proceed in developing your friendship base here in Prague. With a bit of reflection and planning, and possibly taking into account advice offered by competent authors such as Ms. Robinson, maybe your transition to a new social culture can be smoother.

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