One of the best ways to adapt to a new place and make friends (not to mention practicing your language skills!) is to get involved in your community. There are so many opportunities to engage in your community abroad, you just have to find them- and then act on them!
How can I find out about ways to get involved? Look for activity fairs at the beginning of your stay. For instance, in early October there was the “Salon Nîmois des Étudiants” where you could go learn about different groups for students at the university. I found out about the fair from posters at several of the bus stops. The tourism office and youth centers (such as l’ORLOJ in the rue de l’Horloge in Nîmes) are another great resource. They have lists of many of the different sports and other special interest organizations in the area. Youth centers may be able to help you find second jobs tutoring and such. Check out the local university. There may be posters advertising events (this is how I found out about the international soirée in Nantes where I met Marine) and organizations. Look around the common areas. You may be able to advertise for private language lessons. Don’t hesitate to ask the teachers at your school or other people you may meet for advice. What do they do in their spare time? The biggest piece of advice- don’t hesitate to talk to strangers! Within reason of course, please be safe. Introduce yourself to your neighbors, or have your landlord introduce you. If you go to an event, talk to other people there. You might meet someone interesting.
What kind of ways can I get involved?
Language/ Other foreigners: Often there are language groups which meet at cafés and bars. In Nantes, these were called the “cafés polyglottes”. It’s a good way to meet other people interested in learning languages. Usually the people who come are interested in language, culture, and traveling which are common interests of TAPIFers. In some cities with universities, you may find a group called “Autour du Monde”. They are often the people organizing the language cafés. It’s a group for foreign students and they get together to travel and do different events.
Public Service: The Rotaract Club is an international service organization for people between the ages of 18-30. You may have heard of the Rotary Club, and this is their youth (18-30 year olds) subset. The motto of the club in Nîmes is “friendship through service”. The organization is very globally minded. Of course, there are other public service clubs too and this type of club especially gets you involved in the community.
Religion: If you’re religious or interested in learning more about a certain religion, you can find a group for your faith. Look for posters at your place of worship or ask the minister/ rabbi/ priest/ imam or people at the service. If you’re Catholic, most cities have something called an “aumônerie”. There is often an “aumônerie” for students and/ or for young professionals. Protestants may also find these groups of interest. Usually, the members will share a meal, have a service together, talk about religious subjects, and also have non-religious fun playing games and such. When I studied abroad in Nantes, the student aumônerie was a highlight of my experience and one of the girls there became an extremely good friend who even visited me this summer on her way from France to Canada to study. There is an aumônerie in Nîmes as well. If you are Protestant and are eager to continue attending services abroad, know that Protestantism is much more prominent in the south of France than in the north.
Lessons/ Academics: This doesn’t just mean taking a class at the university, though that could be a good way to get involved. You may be able to find cooking lessons or language lessons as well, or find people who are interested in private English lessons.
Sports: If you play a sport, see if you can find a club. If you’re an assistant, see if you can register through SUAPS at the local university, which will make it cheaper. Dance lessons seems abundant here in Nîmes and there are many places offering them. Gym membership may also include access to yoga lessons and such.
Couch Surfing: Even if you’re not sure you plan to go couch surfing, there are sometimes couch surfing events where you can go meet other couch surfers. These are usually other people who are interested in traveling, languages, and cultures. Sign up for an account on the couch surfing website to see events in your area.
Bars: For those who know me, you know I’m not terribly into bars. That being said, if you find a good bar with a good ambiance, you will probably find many people excited to talk to you.
Now onto more personal things. How have I been getting involved? I’ve joined the Rotaract Club here in Nîmes and they are a wonderfully friendly and enthusiastic group of people. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in their Soirée Latine to raise money for an autism center, meeting with the DJ who is a supporter of the club (and who is a teller at my bank by day! That was a surprise and led to a tu vs. vous crisis. I chose vous since he was at work), helping a little in the planning, going shopping for the supplies, setting up, selling entry tickets, and cleaning up. It was a great experience and as the dance was held in a room at the soccer stadium, I got to take a peek of the stadium. Cool! I’m in the process of helping set up the Nîmes Rotaract and the Gettysburg College Rotaract as sister clubs, which is quite exciting. I’ve also been going to the student aumônerie here. While it’s much smaller than the one in Nantes, the students and the priests are great and I think perhaps may become some good friends. One of the teachers helped me find someone looking for private English lessons and I’m hoping to find more people looking for lessons.
One day, I got a phone call explaining that it was my neighbors to whom my landlady had given my phone number since many students live across the street. They told me to open my window and we carried on the conversation talking across the street. Beauty and the Beast opening scene anyone? They’ve invited me to help plan and attend the neighborhood Christmas party. I’m excited! So far, these opportunities have been really great in allowing me to meet lots of people, get involved, and stay busy. Not to mention lots of opportunities to speak French since I do a lot of English speaking at the school. When you’re not attending a university and seeing people everyday in your classes, it’s really great to find other networks of people. These people and opportunities are so far a very important part of my experience and I’m loving it!