Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Congratulations! The hardest part is over.
You’ve made it to the other side of the planet. Although it’d probably be easier to sit back and enjoy the ride solo, your experience will be vastly improved if you venture one step further outside your comfort zone and take the initiative in meeting new people.
Feel hesitant, self-conscious or just plain stuck? Here are some words of encouragement:
Here are some tips to get you started:
· Remember that people are often just as eager to meet you as you are to meet them. Thai locals will likely find you intriguing, and expats will find you comforting as you already have something to connect over.
· Even if you are isolated, you will never be alone. The beauty of living abroad is that you have a built-in community of people in the exact same boat as you.
· You will meet people automatically unless you make up excuses not to. The only person stopping you from making connections is you!
· Remember that you’ll be OK. You’ve already made it this far and your life is changing for the better without you even trying. Don’t panic about making friends; allow it to happen naturally as you grow as a person.
· Get out of your head and into someone else’s. Ask people questions. Everyone has a story to tell. Learn as much as you can from them while you are away. You are likely to discover some of the most interesting tales from the most fascinating people while you’re on this adventure – all you have to do is ask.
1) Involve yourself in the local sport
It’s hard to live in Thailand without noticing the ubiquity of badminton racquets. When I lived in Chiang Mai, I noticed every man, woman and child in the city seemed to own one. My coworkers had started a mini-league of sorts and I figured I might as well give it a shot – if I hated it, I’d never have to try it again.
Long story short, I was hooked and we ended up playing several times a week. The league grew from four people to upwards of 15, both Thais and expats alike. Not only was it beneficial for my mental and physical health, but it allowed my friendships to flourish both on and off the courts.
A few friends of mine also took Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing classes. This allowed them the opportunity to meet new friends with similar interests, as well as learn plenty about Thai language and culture from the locals who trained them.
2) Say yes to everything once, then give yourself permission to say no.
I am eternally grateful for the times I bit the bullet and said “yes” to things I would have never thought I’d try.
I remember the day my coworker invited me to go rock climbing with her and her friends at Crazy Horse Buttress in Chiang Mai. I was thoroughly intimidated; these people had been climbing for years, and I had never so much as touched a harness. But I said yes anyway, promising myself I’d never have to go again if I truly hated it.
I ended up truly enjoying the climbing, but absolutely adoring the people. I met two of the best friends I’ve ever had and continued to go climbing each week just so I could hang out with them.
I often reflect on all the beautiful souls I’ve met simply because I went and DID something, and they happened to do the exact same thing at the same time. The kicker is that I never would have done most of those things had I been back home in Chicago.
Being in Thailand simply made everything infinitely more accessible. Please don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Think before you say no—especially the first time.
3) Join Facebook groups that pertain to your interests
Funny enough, the whole reason my coworker was able to invite me on a climbing excursion was because she met her climbing friends in a Chiang Mai Expats Facebook group. She simply posted that she was looking for pals to climb with and quickly received a response.
You’ll soon find out that there is a Facebook group for just about anything: climbing, meditation, hiking, virtual reality, board games, flow arts, fire spinning, and many, many more.
You can, too, find how to use Facebook groups to find creative ways to workout while abroad.
Typically, expats and locals will meet up once a week or so and have a blast together doing what they love.
If you don’t see a group pertaining to one of your interests, it’s easy to start one yourself! Odds are there are enough fellow weirdos in the area willing to join and connect with you.
4) Take a class or go to a workshop to find new interests!
As many as you want! Cooking, dancing, Muay Thai, drawing, Contact Improv, AcroYoga -- They’re so darn CHEAP, and come with free friends!
One thing I miss most about living in Chiang Mai were the dirt-cheap classes and workshops. There was a class for absolutely everything and they rarely cost more than 10 USD.
If you live in a region with classes available, you can often get groups of sessions at a super-affordable rate. Going to these classes repeatedly will guarantee making a connection with your peers.
5) Take your headphones out, put your phone down, and talk to strangers
Especially if you are alone! Ironically, some of my favorite memories of connecting with people happened in the context of showing up to something alone.
One night as I was walking home from a salsa dance class, a kind owner of a teeny tiny local bar flagged me down and invited me to sit with him and his expat friends. While normally I’d write the invitation off as strange or too “forward”, I figured heck, they seem nice enough and I’ve got nothing else to do. Of course, I ended up staying and chatting for several hours with a group of wonderfully unique people who had incredible stories to share.
There is a lot to be said about the energy you give off as you walk down the street. If you are present and open, you are far more approachable to the people around you!
Allow everyone the chance to get to know you, and allow yourself to be present and learn something new from them.
6) Smile, dude!
Allow yourself to be happy. Spread the happiness to others. They will naturally be drawn to you. As my mom always told me, “Some people light up a room when they walk in; others, when they leave.”
A smile is the universal language; it doesn’t need a translation. You’re in the Land of Smiles, after all.
About Journey to Teach Abroad:
Become a global citizen and discover life TEACHING ABROAD. Get paid to travel to stunning places, bond with an international community that you'll forever belong to, feel rewarded daily for teaching students who want to learn, and gain the confidence to discover new things. Journey to Teach Abroad is a teacher training TEFL certification course here in Los Angeles that GUARANTEES a teaching job abroad.
About our J2 Writer: Krista
Krista (on the left) is currently a camp counselor, secretary, flow artist, and random-odd-jobber based in Chicago. In her free time she enjoys writing, sitting under a tree, playing ukulele and dancing around with hula hoops. She misses Thailand dearly and plans on visiting again as soon as possible.