So you are going to a new country where you don’t know anybody. You are leaving behind your network of friends and family back home, and starting fresh. Crazy.
The first people I meet are through my housing. Both on a tour of where I am going to be living, and otherwise there is the best conversation starter of all time, “So where are you from?” The upside of being an international student is that most of the people you encounter are also international students who don’t know anyone either. This breaks down the usual boundaries and comfort zones you inhabit when you can just hang out with your friends at an event. You talk to people you don’t know and it’s easy. You just have to get past the awkward bit where you are standing there saying to yourself but I don’t know anyone and start talking to people.
Going to a foreign country is all about breaking out of your usual life and habits. It is about pushing your boundaries and discarding your comfort zone. And yes despite what you say to yourself during your exchange orientation — where they warn you about these things and you fancy yourself immune — you are likely going to be lonely at times. You may spend a Friday night on your own for the first time in a long while — this of course depends on the type of housing you are in and hopefully your university is smart enough to schedule orientation after international students can move in, which KU was not. You may not have that friend that you usually text by default to go for brunch with when you discover a cool new place. A girl I meet who was on exchange last semester told me it takes about two months to build up a life in a new place — a network of friends, dinner plans, regular hangout spots, inside jokes, and routines.
But it’s okay. You will meet people. You can text people you only kind of know and go for brunch with them and then they become your new circle. But hopefully you appreciate them more because you know the work that it takes to build a social group. Hopefully you become more open to talking to people you don’t know — as long as they are not standing near unmarked vans with bags of candy. Dive in and see what happens.