How to meet and befriend locals as an international student (and improve your English)

Most students and new arrivals hope to experience Australian culture by meeting and making friends with locals. It’s not always easy to do but if you make an effort it is worth it: You get to know a bit more of the culture, language and local knowledge first-hand, as well as forming friendships which is ultimately very rewarding. Below are a few tips and suggestions on how to do this.

Work

This isn’t always possible as you may not have many locals employed at your workplace. If not, maybe try to strike up conversations with customers or clients, ask questions, be curious. You may not make friends with them but you can feel a bit more a part of the local culture if you get to know them on a friendly basis.

Clubs

There are many sports clubs, fitness groups and meetups you can join – many are free and others are inexpensive to become a member.

  • Sports Clubs: Whether it’s football, tennis, sailing or some other sport you’re into, there are plenty of clubs looking for members to join. Just do an online search for the area you are in or keep your eyes peeled around your local area for signs for clubs looking for new members.
  • Groups: All sorts of groups exist for hobbies, church groups, arts and crafts. Think of something you are really into and search for a group, club or local community centre.
  • Meetups: There are all sorts of established groups on Meetup or you can start your own. Maybe you love cooking, doing marathons or watching films – try searching on Meetup for ideas on joining a group.
  • Dancing: Salsa, Latin dance (and other types of dancing, such as Ceroc) have really taken off in Sydney in the past 15-20 years. There are now an abundance of classes and events and most of them you can attend on a casual basis. Many events have optional classes – you can just dance or you choose to take part in the class as well.

Community Classes

Free (or inexpensive) community classes are run regularly in libraries, art galleries or other organisations such as Laneway Learning. They provide both an educational and social forum to people in the community who are looking for an affordable or casual option. Some places that provide many interesting classes are listed below:

  • Laneway Learning: Classes of all types take place around Sydney, Melbourne and other cities in bars and cafes on weeknights. They are around $14 per class (if materials are needed it is an extra charge). You only need to sign up on a per class basis but it’s a great way to meet people and practise your English as well. Find more @lanewaylearning
  • Art Galleries: Many free classes, workshops and talks are held each week – some you need to sign up for, some you just turn up. Others are ticketed but mostly they’re not. Check out what events are held: MCA in Sydney, the Art Gallery of NSW, Queensland Art Gallery (QAGOMA). For the best free Melbourne art galleries click here.

Community Events

  • Welcome Dinner Project: Dinners are hosted for newly arrived people to Australia. The idea is to welcome them and help them connect with locals, breaking down cultural and social barriers over a shared dinner. Find them @the_wdp
  • Council Events: Councils around Australia hold local and mostly free events for the community. on topics such as film, photography, art, comedy and loads more. For Sydney, check out the council’s What’s On page.
  • Libraries: Just about every suburb has a library but if you are looking for free interesting events held at libraries the most likely area to find them in Sydney are in the City of Sydney Council. You can find a list of these libraries here for the ones located in and around Sydney. Or click here for events and workshops on now.

Volunteering

A good way to meet people, improve your English and gain some skills while you are looking for paid work (or as additional work) is to volunteer. On GoVolunteer you can choose the category you are interested in as well as the days and times you are available. For example, if you love animals, you can search for places looking for volunteers in this area. Or if it’s IT or web development you want to gain experience in while building some contacts and improving your English, you can search for jobs in this field. You can also search for the days and times you are available – for example evenings or Fridays. You never know what opportunities this may lead to!

Image courtesy of RSPCA