MENA 101: Making Friends in Your Host City

We hope you enjoy another installment from the MENA 101 series. This is a series of featured articles about living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including MENA history and culture, as well as advice for students preparing for travel to the MENA region. The entry below was crafted by Education Abroad interns and former participants Grayce McGregor and Rachel Durning. We welcome submissions from alumni of AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs—please send your articles and photos to DocsEdAbroad@AMIDEAST.org!

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A group of friends in Rabat, Morocco.

So, you have arrived and settled into your new living arrangements in your new host city. Whether with a host family or in an apartment, you are ready to go and start experiencing all the city has to offer. Just one issue – who can you call to adventure with you?

There is nothing wrong with some solo exploring, but it can be intimidating and possibly even unsafe in an unfamiliar city. Making friends is one of the most fun ways to immerse yourself in your host country’s culture! It can be difficult, however, to make the move from meeting someone to forming a real friendship. Here are five tips to help jumpstart those relationships when staying in the Middle East.

  1. Don’t be afraid to make plans, and keep them.

How many times have you suggested “Let’s hang out sometime” to an acquaintance, only to lose touch for months? Take responsibility here, and follow up with real plans. Mostly likely, people will be flattered that you think they are worth your time, especially if you already seem to have a bit in common. This can be as simple as inviting them to do something you planned on already, or asking where their favorite coffee shop is and meeting there sometime. Visitors should be aware of local social norms in which inviting members of the opposite gender to a solo coffee date may be taboo; usually, group activities are a safe bet. And plan to be flexible on the timing; you will need to adjust to the local attitude about time, which is generally less strict than the typical Western focus on punctuality.

  1. Latch on.

No one likes feeling like they are being clingy, but the most surefire way to make lots of new friends is to be persistent, especially in the early stages of meeting someone. Past alumni have found success in asking one friend to introduce all their friends. You could also start by hanging out with your host siblings’ friends and working from there. Just be consistent and clear that you are interested in a friendship by getting in touch regularly, every week or so. Soon you will have a group of new friends.

  1. Break the language barrier.

The language barrier is aptly named, as it can act as a wall between you and potential friends–but it will just take a little effort to break through it. A great icebreaker in new groups is card games. A deck of cards is a really simple thing to carry everywhere, and if you and your new friends know different games, teach them to each other! Games may seem a bit forced at first, but they are a good way to get conversation started and make you forget about feeling awkward, which can make the language barrier seem insurmountable.

  1. Always get phone numbers.

This is a no-brainer. If you like the person and want to stay in touch, say so and ask for their number! If Facebook seems more acceptable, that is also a good way to chat with new friends. It is always good to have people you can ask language or culture questions, or a buddy to explore with. Remember—once you have someone’s contact information, make sure to follow up and make plans.

  1. Remember: If you don’t reach out, no one will.

Take the initiative! You will be waiting forever for your new friends to make plans with you—they have friend groups and social lives already established. Local students may not be thinking of inviting a foreigner into their world, until you make them a part of your world. So, assume that nobody is going to do the planning, unless you do. It takes effort, but you won’t regret it.

Once you’ve made these friends, make sure to read our post about the different expectations for friendships in the Middle East.  Social relationships are different in every culture, so be sure you are aware of these differences and make sure not to accidentally offend anyone in your new host country!

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