Years ago, after my high school graduation, I was looking for adventure and a fresh start. My big adventure involved moving over 500 miles from my home in the Midwest to Ottawa, Ontario — a relatively large city where I knew only one person. Since that one person was often busy, I spent a lot of time wandering the city alone… at first.
It can be intimidating being in a new place full of new faces and feeling unfamiliar with all of it. However, I was determined to make a life in this new place, so meeting people to share it with was high on my list of priorities. With some effort and a few happy coincidences, I found myself a great group of friends before too long. I remain in touch with several of these people to this day, even though I’ve long since returned to the U.S.
While no two people are the same, and the story of how every friendship began is different, I wanted to share what I did to make new friends in a brand new city. The following is a brief, laissez-faire guide to finding friends in strange new places.
Go for walks
When I first moved to a new city, I spent a great deal of time going for walks. I explored all of the downtown area, all of the surrounding neighborhoods, and delighted in following roads as far as they went. I stopped in interesting-looking cafes, shops and meeting places, open to the adventure that each new turn could bring.
During these walks, I met many people, simply by making conversation with anyone who seemed nice, intelligent and interesting. Some people I talked to along my travels I never saw again. Others, I saw now and then in random places around the city — always a nice surprise. Yet others became close friends.
If you are in a new place and are feeling isolated, my number one recommendation is to get out and walk as often as possible. You’ll get exercise, you’ll feel refreshed, you’ll get to know your new city and you’ll encounter the people who dwell there. It’s a great way to meet friends.
When you’re out and about in your new city, don’t forget to smile at people that you meet. If you simply shuffle from place to place with your head down, you may miss connections that are all around you. If you want to make friends in any situation, you need to be open to that possibility, and it helps to communicate this openness by looking people in the eye and smiling.
Even if it’s just a stranger passing on a street, it doesn’t hurt to smile and say hello. I met a very good friend of mine during a blackout; the city was dark and many people headed downtown. I walked up to a woman, smiled, she smiled back, and we spontaneously started talking. After this chance meeting, we were friends for many years. Smiles are powerful!
Of course, you need to use your best judgment — if someone gives you an “off” vibe, trust yourself and do not engage. But, if there are no negative warning signs, smile.
If you want to meet people, notice the things you like about the people around you and let them know! If there is someone standing next to you in line at the coffee shop who is wearing a hat that you really like, tell them! If you see someone with a great smile, smile and tell them that you appreciate theirs. I’ve had many great conversations with people who I randomly complimented. Once, I complimented a woman on her awesome hair. She then offered to do mine, an offer which I gladly accepted!
Some people may be shy in receiving random compliments, but you might just make someone’s day or even start a conversation.
Make small talk
I met a very good friend of mine simply by walking into a bubble tea shop that I thought looked interesting and striking up a conversation with the friendly girl behind the counter. We got to talking. I told her I was new to the city and we soon had plans to grab some food. Soon after, she introduced me to a number of her friends and we all began spending time together.
Don’t be afraid to start small talk with people you meet in various places around town. The ones who don’t want to talk will not engage you. The ones who do want to talk will be pleased that you made the effort.
Join a club
If there is a certain activity that you love doing, look around your new city and see if there are any clubs that you can join. Joining a club, sport or activity is a great way to do something you love while also meeting like-minded people. If others in the club know that you’re new to town, they may take you under their wing, show you around and introduce you to others, as well.
Take a class
If there’s a craft, art, dance or anything else that you’ve always wanted to learn, but never got around to, moving to a new place is the perfect chance to sign up for that class. It’s a great way to meet people and also a wonderful way to have fun and shake off the loneliness and jitters that can accompany a location change. When I first moved to Ottawa, I took a class in Mandarin Chinese — a language that has always fascinated me. I met many friendly people in the class, and it was a great experience when I was new in the city.
One of the best ways to help yourself do anything is to help others. If you’re looking for something to do in your new city, one great option is to volunteer to help out with a cause that means something to you. There are always organizations that need help — a simple internet search or a glance at a community bulletin board can help you to find your perfect volunteering fit. When I moved to Ottawa, I volunteered for a grassroots newspaper — it was tons of fun, and I got great writing experience.
When you volunteer, you’ll not only be contributing to a good cause, you’ll also meet others who are interested in doing good. Talk to your fellow volunteers — maybe invite them out for a coffee. You’ll have new friends in no time!
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there
If you’re not naturally a social person, doing some (or all) of the things on this list may seem daunting. If this is the case, start small. Make a goal to smile at one new person every day. Maybe decide to start one conversation with a coworker, fellow volunteer or classmate each week. Perhaps you could buy a coffee or tea for someone waiting in line with you. Small steps lead to big changes.
Importantly, don’t get discouraged if some people do not return your efforts for friendship. Simply move on and engage someone else. I always remind myself that there’s nothing to lose in reaching out to someone… so I might as well try! When you put yourself out there, the people who are also looking for new friendships will find you. Smile, get outside and discover the opportunities that await.
— Tanya Mead