Making friends abroad… or not

I moved to Melbourne, Australia as an Au Pair in September of 2012 and didn’t know anyone other than my host family in the city. I thought this whole friend-making business seemed like a simple task, as I had never had issues meeting people back home… I was wrong.

My best 'Au Pair' friend May (from Boston) and I on holiday in Tasmania

My best ‘Au Pair’ friend May (from Boston) and I on holiday in Tasmania

The idea of staying in on a Friday or Saturday night was foreign to me… people actually did that? While living in Canada, attending university, and serving in various restaurants, I felt like I had a million friends and I never spent a night in on my own. Some people would say I suffered from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and I would have to agree. Even when I was bed-ridden for three weeks, suffering from the worst ‘post-wisdom teeth removal surgery’ known to man, I snuck out to the bar with my best friend, medicated, puffy cheeks and all (real sexy, I know).

As if staying in on the weekend was bad enough, I soon came to realize that I would have to start doing things on my own, such as meals out, going to see a movie, or simply just exploring Melbourne. I will never forget the first time I went to the movies alone. It was one of the Twilight movies and I tried to sneak in behind a large group so it looked like I wasn’t there by myself. Once inside the theatre, I went and sat in the very back corner and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. I was mortified. I realized something very important that night… no one is looking at you or judging you for being at a movie alone because guess what? They don’t care. People are too into themselves or their conversations with their friends to notice you sitting in the back corner stuffing your face with popcorn and pretending you don’t exist. I felt liberated. Going to the movies every Sunday by myself became my own little ritual and to this day I will happily go alone.

Working in the restaurant industry for so many years always had me feeling bad for those guests who would come in and eat alone. I always said to myself that I would never do that, ever. In Melbourne however, I realized my undying love for food and trying new cafes and restaurants would force me to eat alone. I had a favourite vegan/vegetarian café called Monk Bodhi Dharma, which wasn’t actually too far from my suburb. One morning I was craving their Apple Buckwheat Pancakes so badly that I was left with no other option and had to go alone. I am actually really happy I did. I went early as I am an early bird and I didn’t have to wait around for a friend to be ready, which meant I got a table straight away. It almost forced me to be more social with the owner/employees and other customers. When you have an accent people will automatically be friendlier with you so this often worked to my advantage. I became known as the Canadian who liked the pancakes from Melbourne more than the pancakes and maple syrup in Canada. Eating alone actually made me more social and more confident as an individual and I realized I should have never felt bad for that people back home who were dining alone.

Now that I have talked all about how much of a ‘No Mate Nigel’ I was (yes, my friend from Sydney actually called me this on the daily), I will discuss how I actually managed to make friends. In my own opinion, making friends as an Au Pair who worked Monday to Friday from six in the morning until roughly seven or eight every night was difficult. You spend all of your time around children or their parents, you’re not exactly hanging out with young people all of the time. Thankfully I found out that there was a Facebook group made for Melbourne Au Pairs, and so begins what I like to call ‘blind nanny dating’. You basically post in the group that you’re looking to meet up with someone, where you live etc. and wait for a reply. Once you start chatting with another Au Pair and you think you may get along, you arrange to meet up. A lot of Au Pairs made a lot of great friends this way, I did not. I did however meet my best ‘Au Pair’ friend, a 20-year old from Boston, Massachusetts named May. We got along well because we had the same sense of humour, loved the same bars, and fell in love with an amazing restaurant called The Vegie Bar, which we frequented every Saturday for lunch. She had also met a boyfriend named Chris from England who was living in Melbourne and we got to spend a lot of time with his friends as well.

My beloved Vegie Bar... the best restaurant in the world

My beloved Vegie Bar… the best restaurant in the world

The Vegan Burrito... my favourite meal at the Vegie Bar

The Vegan Burrito… my favourite meal at the Vegie Bar

A few other ways I made friends were actually quite random. One morning my Boston friend and I were at Monk Bodhi Dharma waiting to be seated for breakfast and started talking to another American from Hawaii who was dining alone (see it’s not a big deal). He was really cool and a month and a half later I ran into him again at the same place and we exchanged numbers. He and I hit it off and he ended up showing me a ton of cool restaurants in Melbourne, which was awesome. Incase you can’t tell from all of the vegan/vegetarian restaurants I keep talking about, I was a vegan when I moved to Australia. I used the Internet and went on a website called meetup.com to see if there were any groups for vegans, where I met a friend from Scotland who was living in Melbourne with her Australian boyfriend at the time. I realized there were a variety of ways to meet people even if it seemed sketchy through the Internet (if you decide to do this, be careful).

One day, I decided to go rock climbing by myself. I had never been rock climbing in my life and had no idea that you needed a partner. Luckily there was a meetup group (meetup.com) there and one of the girls was happy to climb with me. Afterwards the whole group invited me to go to Chinatown for Yum Cha. I found myself sitting at a table with a South African, a German, two Taiwanese girls, and a girl from China. I realized that the expat community in Melbourne is huge and making friends is actually not that hard if you’re open to it.

While living in Melbourne I was actually very lucky. My friend Dylan from home decided to move there in February with two of his friends Evan and Adam, they lived a little bit far from me but they were worth the drive. I found myself partying with them on the weekends, traveling to Philip Island with them on a mini-holiday, and going out for either Thai or Indian every Sunday night.

Philip Island with two of my Canadian friends

Philip Island with two of my Canadian friends Adam & Evan

A night out in Melbourne with one of my best friends from Canada

A night out in Melbourne with my Canadian friend Dylan

I realized all of the friends I had made in Melbourne were almost all internationals. Luckily, my host family introduced me to their old babysitter named Rachel and her and I became instant friends. Her and her boyfriend were extremely good to me as they had both lived overseas in Seattle and knew what it was like being on your own in a foreign country. Her and I ended up traveling up to Darwin in the Northern Territory and spent five days camping in the outback, which was one of my favourite trips. We also enjoyed going out for Thai dinners and seeing a local band ‘The Pierce Brothers‘ play in the city.

Kayaking in the Katherine Gorge (Australian Outback) with Rachel

Kayaking in the Katherine Gorge (Australian Outback) with Rachel

Lets not forget the friend I made in Sydney, his name was Ben. I had decided to take a little weekend trip up to Sydney by myself and was a little nervous to go alone. One of my friends from home had been living in Banff, Alberta at the time and had a friend from Sydney that she had met out there. She told her friend that I was heading to Sydney alone and he insisted on connecting me with one of his friends who lived there so I could have someone to show me around and maybe party with. I ended up meeting one of the coolest guys in the world; yes he is the one who called me a ‘No Mate Nigel’. We had such a great time getting drunk at a food and wine festival at Manly Beach that I had to see Bondi Beach the next morning in the pouring rain. I will never forget that weekend and it wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t open to making new friends. I even went back to visit him a month later and he took me on a little trip outside of Sydney to Kangaroo Valley, which is actually one of the most amazing places I have ever been. I love the way things turn out. I also can’t wait to be his tour guide when he comes to Canada in a few months. I have promised to take him to Stratford, Ontario… Justin Bieber’s hometown and yes he is a 26-year old male who loves The Biebs.

The day Ben and I got drunk at Manly Beach

The day Ben and I got drunk at Manly Beach

A stunning view in Kangaroo Valley

A stunning view in Kangaroo Valley

All in all, making friends took a really long time for me. I don’t look at it in a bad way though, maybe I needed some time to get to know myself. I was so used to always being around other people at home that it was nice to spend time on my own and become more independent. It also made me realize that a lot of the people I would have considered ‘friends’ back home were actually just party ‘friends’, those relationships weren’t what I would consider real now. Since living in Melbourne, I have become extremely picky about who I choose to spend my time with. Yes, I am open to meeting new people but if the connection isn’t there then I would rather spend time on my own. I still keep in touch with all of my international friends and I look forward to seeing all of them again at some point when I am traveling the world.

Dylan and I... dressed to impress

Dylan and I… dressed to impress

Summary

  • Be open to meeting new people, they may not have been people you would have seen yourself being friends with from back home but guess what? You’re not back home!
  • Never say no to an opportunity, you never know who you’ll meet.
  • Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself… people aren’t judging you, they’re too into themselves to even notice you stuffing your face with popcorn (or vegan cupcakes, which were amazing by the way) in the back corner of the theatre.
  • Spending a Friday or a Saturday night by yourself, watching a movie or reading a book can actually be a nice break from blowing all of your money at the bar and save you from feeling like complete garbage the next day.
  • Explore different avenues for meeting new people, such as Facebook groups or Meetup groups.
  • Remember that maybe you didn’t go somewhere to make the best friends in the world, maybe you just need time to be on your own and there is nothing wrong with that at all.
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