How to make friends abroad – a post for African J.J.Cs

I moved to Canada on May 10, 1997. I hated everything about the transition as soon as we landed. The weather was cold. It was pitch black because we arrived at night. People around me were speaking a language I wasn’t fluent in. And I thought the food was horrible, well the pasta I sampled on the plane anyway.

My first few years in Canada weren’t the best. Needless to say it took me a while to get use to things. And a part of that ‘getting use to things’ was not having my family and friends around. I grew up in a relatively close, extended family back home and I was very used to always having someone around. Moving to Canada changed all of that.

When you move to a new country, you not only have to cope with the cultural shock/differences, you have to learn how to make friends. This is not always easy, especially if there’s a language barrier. To make things worse, the winter season can put a damper on things when all you probably want to do is stay home, cuddle up under a warm blanket.

For the J.J.Cs abroad (Johnny Just Come – refers to Africans that just arrived in a new country), making friends doesn’t have to be as daunting. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Hangout by yourself

I’m finding that as I grow older, I’m becoming more of a homebody. I enjoy spending time by myself. Hanging out with myself gives me time to reflect on the day, week and think about the future. It’s also a chance to indulge in mindless activities like blogging, photography, or planning my next trip. I can be a very curious person so I like to explore new things and areas in my town, especially in the summer time. You too can hangout with yourself. Cozy up with a book and some good snacks at the park, laugh out loud by yourself at a comedy over at your local movie theatre, stroll around at the mall even if you’re just ‘window shopping’, or grab a good book or your laptop and head to a café (which is where I’m at as I write this blog post).

You might be lonely and be by yourself a lot but that doesn’t mean you spend enjoyable time with yourself. When you start spending enjoyable moments with yourself, you stop dwelling on the friends you don’t have and really get to know the most important friend you’ll even need – you. Knowing yourself well also helps you figure out the type of relationships you need in your life.

Put yourself out there

Let go of your insecurities and get out there and socialize. Nothing comes to you if you’re just sitting there. If you’re serious about making friends and building meaningful relationships, you have to put in some effort…and a part of that involves you putting yourself out there, which could even mean you being vulnerable. Put yourself out there by letting go of all insecurities such as feeling that you don’t speak the language well enough. Put yourself out there by initiating conversations with people (coworkers, people on your route to work/school etc). This is very helpful because people are not always going to make the first move, so you have to be ready to do it instead. You can take it one step further by inviting one of your acquaintances to hangout. This might be scary at first and there’s fear of rejection but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. You might find too that some people really have a good time when they hangout with you but they wouldn’t think to invite you out. Sometimes you have to take an interest in them first before they start to take note. And likewise, as you extend invitations, also accept any that comes your way.


There’s no better way to make friends than by helping someone else in need. If you’ve never volunteered before, pick up the phone and call your local YMCA or other charities that interest – better yet, walk over to the location and ask to speak to someone about volunteering. You can also volunteer at work, church, school; and for one-time, short-term or long-term projects or activities. When you volunteer, you meet people that you already have something in common with. And again, you can’t just show up and expect to round up a friend or two. You have to put in the effort. If you’re volunteering for an event that lasts a few days and there’s someone you keep running into, start a conversation with that person and exchange contact information if possible.

Join social groups

If you’re like most J.J.C, you probably have activities and things you’d like to do but don’t have anyone to do those things with. Though I’m not a J.J.C, I’ve been in that situation too. I recently joined the Edmonton Outdoor Club because I don’t have many close friends who enjoy the same types of outdoor activities that I do…and if they do, they do, it’s not to the same extent as me. Those people would like to go snowboarding with me maybe once a year and to them, the idea of outdoor camping is ‘sure, ok’ in theory, but putting the ‘many years in the making plan’ to work is another thing. When you join social groups, you don’t have to worry about people not committing and you can sign up for as many events/activities as you want. The people in your group are wiling participants who may also be seeking new friendship. If you research well enough, you can find groups for just about anything these days.

Get your sports on

Joining a sports team is another good way to make friends. From football to baseball and everything else in between, the people on your team also like to have a good time outside of sports too. And if you play on a recreational team, there’s nothing those teams love more than to socialize with one another outside of the games and practices. So say yes to every offer and get to know your team. If you feel comfortable, you can even be the one who invites your team out for an event/activity.

Get a hobby or two

If you’re not into hobbies, get one any way. And if you have hobbies that are mostly solitary, then it’s time to add some new ones that are more people oriented. If your hobby is scrapbooking, you could enroll in a weekend course on how to be a scrapbook guru. If it’s photography you like, head to scenic photography hotspots in your town and you might bump into a prospective friend.

Remember that there’s no perfect time – and it’s never too late

For some crazy, unknown reason, I used to think that the best time to start something new or different was either on a Monday, the first day of the month or in January. I did this when I chopped off my hair and started growing it natural, and when I would start a new hobby. I also used to think it was too late to start a relationship or conversation with people I had never said a word to after weeks or months of been around them. This is a stupid mentality, don’t be an idiot like me. If there’s someone you work with, in your class, someone you see every time but you’ve never said hello to one another, then make the first move. It might be awkward at first, but you never know what could come out of it.

Making friends can be hard and scary. Putting yourself out there to find “the one” — that friend who you feel truly at ease with and can confide in – is worth it.

“Knowing people is not hard. Making friends is not easy.” – Anonymous 

~ by omonaij on October 14, 2012.

3 Responses to “How to make friends abroad – a post for African J.J.Cs”

  1. […] weekend shenanigans reminded me of a blog post I wrote back in October 2012 about how to make friends if you’re new to a city. That post focused more on how to meet people in person. Consider this post is the follow up, how […]

  2. I may be two years late on this post but making friends in a country where i might soon be living in (count a few months from now) has recently been of great interest to me. What with all the stories of how difficult it can be for new immigrants to really adapt in canada, i have been on the net day and night digesting all manner of ‘tips and tricks’ of the adaptability game. I am especially grateful i stumbled on Omonaij. I am an ‘omonaija’ myself and i take this as a first hand account of a ‘blood’ sister. I guess ‘silence is not going to be so golden’ after i get to canada if i really am serious about making anything meaningful out of my stay there. Thanks Omonaij.

    • Hi Ella,

      It’s not easy but you can do it. I hope the resources you’re finding online will be helpful once you put some of them into practice, like the part where you actually have to put yourself out there and reach out to people whether that’s volunteering, joining a team of some sort or attending events/activities. If you’re heading to Edmonton, stay touch, plenty Africans + Naija dey for this side.

      #LifeOfImmigrants #eGoBetter


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