Meeting people while traveling is often the most precious experience rather than just seeing beautiful landscapes and taking selfies.
But how do you meet these people?
Well, you can go to the numerous Couchsurfing, Meetup, Internations or Facebook events, but then how do you make meaningful human connections when you are in the middle of an unknown crowd in a foreign country?
Are you feeling comfortable or awkward talking to strangers?
Here is a little guide on how to become more confident and make new friends when you are abroad.
You never know who you will meet
Let’s take such an evening network event where I don’t know most people. I would like to make potentially useful connections but I also want to have a good time. I don’t need to sell anything, it’s enough if I come off as pleasant, interesting company.
From experience I know the different categories of people: the over-confident pushy guy that likes to hear himself talking, or the shy nerd who goes into awkward
silences, or the overdressed woman who is seeking too much attention. There are of course the many normal people who do okay and this is who I’d like to be, easy to talk to, easily talking to new
But my horror is to be of the last category: The one unable to connect, standing around alone, sheepishly smiling into a room full of groups eagerly engaged in conversation, hoping that someone has mercy and takes me in.
If you had similar experiences in the past, then probably out of reluctance you developed one of these story-lines:
“I don’t know how to manage, I’m not confident enough, others are confident, I’m just too shy”, or “I’ll force myself to go, tell myself that I can do it, it will be fine, I’ll drink two beers and relax”, or “Actually I shouldn’t go, why should I force myself to hang out with these superficial people, my gut feeling is telling me the truth, this is just not for me”.
Self-image and expectations eventually become real
If you have developed and got used to this kind of thinking, you have the problem and the solution right there. Time: When I figure out if I should go. Place: In my
head. This negative expectation, story-line or rather fantasy of what will happen, set the stage for the following moody, hesitant, unrelaxed path into a meaningless and possibly drunk
To make it very clear, following these expectations or fantasies is actually like going to a truth teller and believing in the prediction of the crystal ball. It is a pure fabrication that relies on the power of self-fulfilling prophecies.
So, to believe that it will be an uncomfortable and awkward evening is the first great step to create that very uncomfortable evening. It’s very important to see that this is true. If you don’t think it is, take the next typical network event, observe the mood and line of thinking you build up and see for yourself.
Develop a positive and realistic view of yourself
Of course this is not a new discovery. Self-help guides are eager to counter negative expectations and self-images and there are basically two ways to do it. The
first one is to replace a negative self-image and expectation with a positive or at least realistic one.
“It’s not true that I’m a loser, or overly shy or have problems to talk to strangers. There are occasions where I do it easily, for example at work, or when I meet friends of friends” etc.
When this kind of ‘re-structuring’ is done well and modestly it is actually helpful. I understand that my reluctance is exaggerated, remind myself of my strengths and see that I’m probably as capable as most other people.
The wrong way is to go too far with this attitude, developing a new persona of “I’m a winner! I will go there, be charming and work the room. I’ll set myself the goal to have ten new likes on my Facebook page after this evening” and so on. It might work short-term, but after a while I would have to admit to myself that reality doesn’t agree with the grand new vision of myself.
... or get rid of your expectations altogether
In contrast to this first way of creating positive thoughts and expectations there is a second way that I actually prefer, which is to have no expectations at all. Why not to get rid of all the pressure?
“Maybe it will be a boring evening, maybe not, who knows. I don’t have to ‘perform’. The others don’t know me, so why should I bring all the garbage in my head into the picture? Nothing serious will happen if I just talk to some people. People are not perfect, neither am I, and people will probably see that, big deal. If it’s boring I’ll go early and try again another time.”…
This approach of reducing or getting rid of expectations serves one big goal: to feel comfortable with myself. When I am free of pressuring myself into being
‘interesting’ or ‘confident’ it’s much easier and even natural to talk to people - I entertain myself with being unexpected.
“It depends so much on each individual case!”
For some of you a simple guide like this one will be helpful. Others are so used to look into the gloomy crystal ball of their negative self-image, are so shy or self-judgmental that they need professional support from books or an actual therapist. Either way, it’s good to remind oneself that every friend and successful contact we ever had was a stranger at some point.
And if you need inspiration, go to a kids playground and watch the pros connecting to strangers with ease.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabriel Ellis is a professional expat counsellor and therapist living in Warsaw and having vast experience in traveling and living abroad. Having a multi-national background he grew up, graduated in Psychology and worked in Germany until 2012. He eclectically applies different therapeutic approaches and prefers pragmatic brief therapies. Next to elements from cognitive, systemic, and narrative therapy Gabriel utilizes his long experience with mindfulness and Buddhist meditation to not just get rid of problems but to develop an actual well-being. Issues he usually deals with are depression, anxiety, burn-out, family and partnership problems, and the typical adjustment issues of expats.