Season Workers Guide - Learning a Language

Junk Boat

I have worked in a few different countries, not only as a TEFL teacher, and each time the job, accommodation and friends have come as one package. But how do you make friends when the job and accommodation are sorted out, but you find yourself living alone and working with couples who all seem to be settled? How do you make your own friends then?

After completeing my TEFL course I got my first job. I was working in a small EFL school in Madeira with only four other teachers, all of who were married. We were all about the same age, but their lives were much more settled. For the first few weeks this was ok, as I was getting used to the TEFL job, the students, the town and my new life in general. I went home to Scotland for the Christmas holidays and realised for the first time how much I actually missed my friends. This was the point when I decided that I actually had to make friends, not just acquire them as had happened in school and university.

My first step was to get onto a social networking site and look up people my age. I have never been a fan of this; I always thought that the people who met others over the internet were a little bit weird and lacked social skills. However, I found a handful of people who were my age and spoke English, so I sent them emails to get to know them a bit better before we met.

Back in Madeira in January, I was sitting at home one Friday night, feeling alone. It was then that I realised that either I could sit at home alone, or go out to a bar alone but with the possibility of meeting people. This maybe doesn't sound like a big deal, but I am not the type of person who easily approaches strangers and starts conversations. So after a couple of shots of whiskey, I walked down to a nearby pub and positioned myself at the bar. I had quite a fun night and got talking to few people, although I never really got rid of the impression that there was a reason why the other people were there without friends (maybe they were only used to socialising over the internet?) There was also the fact that a lot of the people in that bar were ex-pats who only ever socialised with other ex-pats and I had decided at the beginning that I didn't want to be part of that scene. Why move to a different country if you're not going to experience it 100%?

Things weren't exactly going as planned, so it was then that I decided to latch on to my TEFL colleagues social lives. Two of the teachers were into scuba diving and had got friendly with the people who ran the local diving centre. We went out a few times and I got a couple of phone numbers out of that. I also started to meet friends of these friends, so made a point of getting their phone numbers too. I met up with the people I'd been emailing for coffee a few times as well.

Fast forward a year and my social situation has greatly improved. I have a few friends and lots of acquaintances, some I met online, some in night clubs and some through other friends. I no longer sit alone on Friday nights or am desperate to talk to anyone who notices me.

So what have I learnt from this experience? Firstly, making friends takes time. I've been here over a year now and I am still meeting new people and building friendships. Secondly, going out as much as possible means that people will see you around and start to recognise you; some of my friends are people that I nodded at every weekend in the local night club. Next, take every opportunity that arises to get talking to people, don't be proud. When you get talking, ask for phone numbers. People in Europe seem to be more open to giving out numbers than in the UK, and every phone number is a social opportunity. Obviously, learning the local language gives you another advantage and opens up the amount of potential people you can meet.

Finally, no two experiences abroad will ever be the same. Things you take for granted on one occasion may cause problems the next time. This is the first time that I've had to actively seek out friends and although it hasn't all been fun, I've met some great people along the way and learnt lots about myself. My final piece of advice; don't be proud, be safe, step outside your comfort zone and good things will happen.

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