Tip #1: take part in university events or clubs

This is easily the most common piece of advice from our students – and rightfully so: by attending events or joining student clubs, you can easily find like-minded people. Yulia Shik, a PhD student of economics at ITMO, says this about her student exchange experience: 

“During my first exchange semester, I was too shy to attend events alone. I always needed a friend who would come with me. I preferred to stay with fellow Russian speakers because I was afraid of making mistakes while speaking English and being mocked for that. I definitely overcame it. I went on my last (fourth) exchange semester alone during the worst period of the pandemic but I learned from my mistakes and the first thing I did there was join the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) community. I started to attend events alone and found friends very quickly (we still talk  all the time and visit each other).”

You can find all the student clubs at ITMO on this page, while all university events are announced on ISU, as well as ITMO’s official pages on VK (Russian / English) and Telegram (Russian / English). 

Credit: ITMO University

Credit: ITMO University

Tip #2: be active and open-minded

Sometimes making new friends abroad takes a little effort on your part, and that includes stepping out of your comfort zone. Polina Aptikasheva, an ITMO graduate, says that she had to overcome her initial embarrassment when talking to strangers, but then found it easy to just start a conversation with another student.

“All students understand that we are so far from our homes and need soulmates near in another country,” says Polina.

Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong, a Bachelor’s student of computer systems and technologies, shares:

“I try to make friends at the dorm or in other places. Even though it is still hard for me to speak Russian, I believe it’s important to stay active and not be afraid of reaching out to people. We will learn from our mistakes and get better through talking.”

Tip #3: get accustomed to a new culture

Many of our students also mentioned the importance of getting comfortable with the new cultural environment. By treating the traditions and customs you encounter with respect and, again, an open mind, you are likely to enrich your experience, as well as demonstrate your curiosity to your potential new friends. 

Elizaveta Shevchenko, an ITMO graduate and a member of the English editorial team at ITMO.NEWS, says: 

“In Italy, where I spent my exchange semester, it’s a common thing to give air kisses on both cheeks when greeting someone. At first, my Russian mentality screamed that this was crazy – how can one not just hug, but kiss a person they barely know? But over time I got used to it, and also noticed that this is quite helpful: local students especially are way friendlier when you try to follow their customs.”

Credit: ITMO University

Credit: ITMO University

Tip #4: be yourself

We know that this might be easier said than done, and yet it’s a tip shining like a common thread throughout the replies of our contributors. Remember that you always have yourself, no matter where you go, and let this give you confidence when you find yourself in a new environment.

“As a Bachelor’s student, I went to a summer school in Sweden, where we were forbidden to speak any other language apart from Swedish to foster our learning. At first, this was very stressful for me, because it immediately seemed that I was incomplete: I couldn’t talk as eloquently as I was used to, couldn’t express my appreciation of art, couldn’t share the things that would normally serve as common ground with new acquaintances. When I “reminded” myself that I was still me, with all my hobbies and interests, it somehow became easier to talk to people. Yes, it might take me a little longer to explain what I want to say, but I am still me – even if not as well-spoken as I’d like to be yet,” shares Catherine Zavodova, a member of the English editorial team at ITMO.NEWS.

What’s the weirdest way you’ve made a friend?

What’s especially exciting about international experiences is that you never know where new acquaintances will find you! To prove that, we asked our students about the most unusual way they’ve made a friend. Serendipity or fate? You decide!

“One time while playing volleyball at my university, a player from the opposing team hit me in the face with the ball. He was concerned and took my number to check on me. We became friends afterward,” shares Mina Hakim, a Master’s student of industrial ecology.

“I made a lot of acquaintances during my exchange semesters, but the first real international friend I’ve made was during my exchange semester in Poland. We both came to the post office to pay for the dormitory, but we couldn't do it because we didn't speak Polish and the postal workers didn't speak English. So, we found the solution together and since then we have been inseparable,” says Yulia Shik.

Credit: ITMO University

Credit: ITMO University

“Once, I met a guy at a grocery store. He greeted me in Chinese because he thought I was from China. I replied in Russian that I’m from Vietnam and taught him how to say hi in my language. That’s how we became friends!” shared Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong.

“My first friend abroad was a Japanese student called Lana. We were in the same dorm for the first two weeks after we arrived (we had to spend some time in quarantine, because it was COVID time). We met on the first day of arrival and found a lot of common interests. Personally, I think that the main reason why we got close so fast is that for both of us it was the first experience of studying abroad and we had the same worries and dreams,” shared Alina Zashkola, a Bachelor’s student of business informatics. 

Luckily for all international students coming to ITMO, they can trust the ITMO Buddy System to provide them with their first friend in the city. Turn to them anytime – your buddy will always have your back!