I was exhausted when I arrived in Spain. I’d just endured 48 hours of flights and layovers from Los Angeles to London to Mallorca.
I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t even have a place to live.
Fast forward three months. I was going to Salsa classes with friends, and my schedule was filled with lunch and dinner plans.
I knew native Mallorcans, Spanish transplants and expats from countries like Germany, Italy and Morocco.
This guide is a collection of the measures I took to create an active social life in a new and intimidating country.
Making friends can be the difference between a vibrant, exciting time abroad and being lonely and homesick. Friends can introduce you to new things and make exploring a foreign country and culture more fun.
It might seem daunting, but building a social circle from nothing in a foreign country is sure to be one of the most enriching experiences of your life.
What’s socializing like in Spain?
Whether you’re an introverted bookworm or a party animal, making friends in Spain is a lot of fun!
The Spanish people themselves are friendly and outgoing, and there are plenty of other expats in the country who are in the same situation as you and looking to meet people.
Spain is full of culture, rife with new experiences and opportunities to make lifelong friends.
Keep in mind that you might find a considerable lack of English when you get to Spain. Because the Hispanosphere is so large (even larger than the Anglosphere), the Spanish don’t have as much pressure to learn English as people from other countries.
You might even find that expats from other European countries like Italy or France are more likely to know Spanish than English, so learning the language will be a big part of your social life.
Make Friends in Spain: 7 Tips for Finding Your Squad Abroad
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1. Become conversational in Spanish
The first step to making friends in Spain is learning Spanish.
Some Spaniards do speak English, and you could probably get by with points and gestures. But you won’t expand your social circle that way.
If you can speak the language, people feel more comfortable around you, and you can make friends you wouldn’t otherwise be able to communicate with.
It takes courage to talk in a foreign language, but the key is confidence. The Spanish aren’t the type to mock you for your mistakes. Most have been studying foreign languages since a young age, so they know how difficult it is to speak like a native.
If you want to speak like the locals, it takes more than a textbook knowledge of grammar. You need to learn with authentic materials so you can hear native accents, learn about the culture and immerse yourself in Spanish.
If you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with Spanish as well as deepen your knowledge of the culture, FluentU is the best way to go!
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Each video also comes with flashcards and exercises to help you remember the words even after you’ve finished watching.
It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in Spanish the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary. This way, you’ll be prepared to converse with Spanish people and hit the ground running.
2. When in Spain, do as the Spanish do
The language might be the biggest piece of the puzzle, but you also have to learn about Spain’s culture and customs. You don’t want to make any faux pas that might offend potential friends.
Maybe more importantly, you want to know what to expect from the people you meet. You need to know the nuances of Spanish social interactions.
There were a few social norms that really caught me off guard:
- The Spanish eat late. Lunch is around 2:00 and dinner around 10:00. If you’re going to make a dinner date for 7:00, expect some weird looks.
- They also take their time with their food. They might spend several hours at the table eating, drinking and talking. You’ll almost never catch them eating on the go, in the car or walking on the street. In fact, trying to rush a meal might make you seem rude.
- Every country seems to have their own rules for shoes. In Spain, leave them on. Even in a close friend’s home, slipping off your shoes could look unhygienic.
- Unlike in the Anglosphere, in Spain your birthday is your turn to pay. For example, on their birthday, people usually bring food like cake or chocolate to their workplace to share with their coworkers. Also, if you arrange a lunch of dinner for your birthday, expect to foot the bill.
- In Spain, businesses traditionally close for a long lunch. Don’t try to arrange any professional meetings from about 2:00 to 4:00 unless you want a grumpy colleague.
If you do screw up when it comes to the local customs, don’t get embarrassed. Instead, make it a conversation topic. Most people will find the differences between cultures amusing, and you’ll be one interesting conversation closer to making a friend.
3. Get out of the house
You can’t make friends if you never leave your room! Luckily, there are plenty of options in Spain.
I’ve met people at the gym, in dance classes and in outdoor clubs. Find something that interests you, and not only will you end up expanding your horizons, but you’ll get to know others who like similar things.
A great way to get out of the house is meeting up with a language partner. This can be a Spaniard who wants to learn English or a fellow expat who wants to practice with you.
A language partner isn’t just a good way to improve your Spanish, it’s a good way to make a long-term friend, too.
4. Take advantage of the internet
These days, you have more resources than ever to make friends.
Meetup is one of the best resources to find friends with similar interests. People make groups and arrange events for everything from watching movies to working as a digital nomad. You can expand your social circle and even network professionally. In fact, if you want, you can start your own group.
Take advantage of other websites, too. For instance, if you use CouchSurfing, you can find frequent local meetups.
5. Stay open and positive
If you’re going to live in a foreign country with a different language, you probably already know the value of stepping out of your comfort zone.
On top of new people and places, moving to a new country means situations you’ve never experienced before.
If you’re positive, people will enjoy your company more, and you’ll enjoy theirs more.
6. Get to know your roommates and neighbors
When I first moved to Spain, I lived with an eclectic group. It was four of us: an Italian learning Spanish and English, a Moroccan who spoke Spanish and Arabic, a native Spaniard and me.
Because I didn’t really know the language yet, it was tempting to hole up in my room watching Netflix instead of making the effort to get to know them.
Luckily, my roommates didn’t let me do that.
They desperately wanted to improve their English and weren’t going to waste the opportunity of having a native speaker down the hall. They all congregated in the living room in the evenings and encouraged me to join them.
They practiced English with me and gave me tips on Spanish. We had sticky notes with vocabulary all over the apartment.
Be like my roommates. Don’t waste your chances.
The Spanish are friendly and open, so getting on a conversational basis with the people around you is easy if you put yourself out there.
In fact, making friends for the purpose of language exchange is one of the best ways to learn a language abroad. They also can introduce you to more people and expand your opportunities for making friends.
7. Stick to diverse, populated areas
I’m from a small town in the South, and cities make me anxious.
The first time I lived abroad in Germany, I was placed in a rural town and thought I would be more than comfortable there. I learned my lesson.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with small towns, but there are just fewer people to meet. On top of that, the social circles are already established and the cultures tend to be more isolated.
In cities, there are plenty of other new people who are also looking for friends. They come from a diversity of backgrounds, so you have a better chance of clicking with someone.
When I came to Spain, I was once again placed at a job in a small town.
This time, though, I chose to live in the city and commute to my workplace. That way, I got the best of both worlds.
Even if you’re not really a city person, when you move to Spain, try to live in the most densely populated area nearby.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this guide should be that courage and confidence are necessary parts of socializing abroad, from learning the language to connecting with your roommates.
If you follow these steps and put your best foot forward, you’ll make the most of your time abroad.
Best of all, you’ll make friends in Spain and memories to last a lifetime.
Christian Monson is an American living and working in Mallorca. After studying English and German at the University of Arkansas, he was a Fulbright Fellow in Germany before moving to Spain. He speaks German and Spanish and an ever-increasing amount of Catalan. You can learn more about his articles and fiction at christianmonson.com.
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