Finding Your People: Making Friends Abroad
I sometimes get asked if the University of Leeds “feels huge” compared to my home university. Though there are many things that are very noticeably larger—especially class sizes and number of courses offered—I always answer honestly that no, it does not feel very large. This, I think, is due to the fact that I managed to find a group of friends that was large enough to feel like a community, but small enough so as not to be overwhelming. I was so lucky that my group was easy to find. Unfortunately, it can be harder for some people to find a group that they mesh with well, so I did a little research to see what the University of Leeds has to offer in terms of inclusion groups and societies.
I make no claim to identify with any minority group, however I think of myself as an ally to any person who feels underrepresented in the world. To this end, here are some places that might help make Leeds seem a little smaller.
This is where I found nearly all of my friends. We have formed a large group of international students who initially bonded over the struggle of adapting to a new country. I highly recommend living in university housing for students who feel nervous about making friends. While this isn’t (unfortunately) always the case, most people are accepting of people from all walks of life.
Clubs and Societies
These tend to be more of a niche so I recommend them to anyone who is looking to spend time with a group that shares their particular interests or affinities. The LGBTQ Society is very inclusive towards international students looking for support. For more information about this society and all the others that Leeds Uni has to offer, click here.
The student union and the various clubs and societies often team up to do events for students. I recommend keeping an eye on the student union events page. If you see something that interests you, GO! The various cultural societies (there are dozens) have something most weeks, as do the special interest groups. My favorite event was hosted by the mental health society, it was an opportunity for students to de-stress during exams. It was a ton of fun, and it definitely did what it promised! It takes a little courage to go to an event if you don’t know anyone, but a step out of your comfort zone can have big rewards. Consider embracing the myriad of offerings like you’re a freshman again and join in. Be brave!
Obviously I don’t recommend talking during lectures, but especially during the early days of term, it’s easy to start a conversation with someone sitting near you. You already have something in common with them because you most likely share an interest in the subject. I have a friend who is a dedicated vegan, and she’s taking a class about cultural veganism. She has found help and support with the people she met in that class who share her lifestyle.
These are just a few places around the university that you can meet people. While the study abroad experience may last one semester, the friendships you make last a lifetime. When the world feels big at the beginning of your time abroad, find your people; they’ll help put it all into perspective.
Carley Roe is a psychology major at The University of the South: Sewanee and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in England at the University of Leeds in spring 2017. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.