Updated: Sep 15
“Have fun at school, I am sure you will make lots of friends…!”
That’s what you as a mom said when your teen left for school or college this morning. I am sure that what you meant was ”oh, gosh, I really hope she/he makes friends….” because we as adults know that it is hard to even meet new people in a foreign place and to make friends even more. We really do!
The truth is, making friends is not easy. You might meet many new people, but that doesn’t mean that you will be fast friends immediately. Being real friends is much more! Friendships take time. Making friends is a process! But the good news is, that you don’t need to look for this one special person, but you can search for “potential friends”. And then they become special to you over time.
So, what is the minimum requirement for becoming a friend? Somebody being friendly to you! That can be someone who smiles at you, somebody who says “hi” and someone who makes small talk with you. You can see that the bar is really low. So, you have identified a few “friendly” people, what is next?
There are 3 steps:
1. Seeing them often
You see this person over and over again. Maybe she/he is your classmate, your roommate or in the same sports group. You see each other regularly. So, smile, be friendly and say “hi”, “how are you?”
Make a bit of small talk, nothing personal, and nothing complicated. Safe topics are: the weather, the activity you are all doing together, school, teachers, class, food and… the weather (I know I said this twice…).
Start with “open” questions, questions that require answers with more words than a simple yes or no. Use what, where, who, when, why and how. Examples after the usual “hi” and “how are you?”:
Weather: Why is it so hot/cold today? When does it normally get cooler/hotter?
Activity: Who is the band leader? How long have you been in the band?
School: What class are you in? How do you like your new grade so far?
Teachers: Who is your math teacher? How do you like her/him?
Class: What class do you have next? What class do you like best?
Food: How did you like lunch? Where is a vending machine here?
Small talk is like art, the more you practice, the better you get. It gets from really awkward, to less awkward over a period of time…
Research shows you need 6 – 8 conversations until people consider you “a friend”. You might feel awkward in the beginning, but just keep on going. Many people wait for the other person to start the conversation, but honestly, then there is just this weird silence. Take a deep breath, smile and break the silence because everybody is SO happy and relieved when someone just starts!
2. Tell them something personal
This does not mean to tell them your deepest secrets! But you could start talking about, you guessed it, the weather and make it personal.
Say something like “When it was raining like this in Germany, my brother and I would put on our gumboots, go outside and jump into as many puddles as we could! We had so much fun and ended up completely soaked!”
You are telling them something about yourself and opening up the conversation. This can be something you just did, you are about to do, or something you are thinking about. It does not have to be very smart and articulate, just about you.
Attention: you might feel weird, selfish and like you are talking too much at first. But what you actually do, is giving them a chance to comment on what you just said. Does someone answer, great! No comments, well, then be curious, ask them “did you do anything special in your home country when it rained?”. The truth is, people LOVE talking about themselves!
3. Make it clear that you like the other person
Secret: People like people who like them. Let me repeat this: people like people who like them. The easiest way to tell another person that you like them, is to be friendly to them! (By now you know the deal: smile and say “hi”!) People need to feel that you have positive feelings for them! Then, when you have exchanged a few smiles, had some small talks and conversations, maybe ask them if they want to: sit at lunch with you, go for a walk, want to chill out on a bench and chat or maybe go over English homework together. Anything you feel comfortable with is great.
And here is some good news, people don’t want a friend who is perfect, always confident and knows everything. People look for warmth, friendliness and kindness in a friend, someone they can trust! Someone that makes them feel good, you!
So, show up, share a bit of yourself, make it clear that you like the other person and just GO FOR IT!
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