Iiiiiiit’s Friday, which means it’s time to answer another one of your fantastic, mindboggling and incredibly useful Movin’ to Italy questions!
Here at Italy Project 365, I talk a lot about the process of moving to Italy. However, one thing that’s often overlooked by potential Italy expats is the process of living in Italy.
While Italy offers an ABUNDANCE in terms of food, culture, art, events, scenic views and more, one thing that many Italy expats find difficult (myself included) is entering and navigating the social world in Italy. I often get emails from foreigners who have recently moved to Italy wanting to know more about how to meet new people.
So today I’m going to address the commonly asked question:
How can I make friends in Italy?”
Before moving to Italy I had this overgeneralized idea that all Italians were going to welcome me with open arms, give me a big fat kiss on the cheek and insist that I take up a seat at their dinner table. That was not the case at all!
For the first few months that I lived in Italy, the majority of my friends were other young students in my TEFL course, mostly Americans from very similar backgrounds. It was lovely to have that support group in the beginning, but after a month or two we all moved away as we found jobs in various cities throughout Italy and the world. While I did keep in touch with a few of them, none of them lived in Bologna with me.
The next few months were pretty lonely. Sure, I had a few Italian roommates and we hung out occassionally, but they already had their circle of friends and didn’t really want to invite me everywhere with them. We shared some fun moments in the kitchen (sharing food and intrigued by each other’s foreign meals), but there was always this language barrier – my Italian still wasn’t up to fluent standards, so most of our conversations were pretty limited. We just didn’t quite connect the way real friends do!
It was at that point that I realized that making friends in Italy was way harder than I thought it was going to be.
There were two things that saved me from dying from boredom and loneliness, and while they may seem pretty general, I can’t emphasize them enough. For me, the two things you need to make friends in Italy are the following: time and organized social groups.
I hate to state the obvious here, but making friends takes time. You can’t expect to be friends with someone after meeting them for the first time, just like you can’t expect to be somebody’s boyfriend/girlfriend after the first date. You need time to get to know each other. You also need time to spiff up your Italian and get used to Italian social customs!
ORGANIZED SOCIAL GROUPS
Scuse moi for the long scientific-sounding phrase here, but it’s the only possible name I could think of. What exactly do I mean by organized social groups? Basically any group of people that is organized for a specific purpose, connecting people by a common interest or responsibility. Some examples are:
Work. Duh. It’s hard not to be friends with those that you have to spend time with everyday, although there are definitely some unwritten social rules about making friends in the Italian workplace (more to come on this later!). It’s common for work colleagues to have lunch together, go on coffee breaks together, and even go to aperitivo (like a happy hour) after work together.
School/University. If you decide to take a course in Italy, you’ll most likely make friends with your classmates instantly. Need some ideas for courses? Enroll for an Italian Language course, Italian cooking class, painting course, photography workshop, or even a spin class! You can usually attend Italian university courses for free if you don’t want to take the final exam (Italian universities make you pay to take an exam and receive a grade, but anyone can attend or listen in on a course for free). My roommate joined a Persian language course at the University of Bologna and she made a lot of friends!
Expat communities. There are loads of groups dedicated to connecting expats residing in the same city or country. Some great examples:
- Internations – Expat communities in almost every major city throughout the world. All you have to do is make a profile and you’ll be able to see internations events happening in your city! They also have forums and ways to you can safely message other expats in your community.
- International Women’s Forum – I personally have never joined this group, but many women in Bologna have recommended it to me. It seems like a great way for business and networking.
Tandem Language Exchange. Finding a language exchange partner is a great way to not only improve your Italian, but also to meet Italians! I had a friend who did this and her language partner ended up being her current boyfriend! Some sites to help get you started:
Common Interest Groups. – There are loads of other interest groups you can join, usually for free, that allow you to connect with other people who have the same hobby or interest. Naturually, this is an easy way to connect with others instantly by sharing your love for a certain activity.
By the way, here’s another great article by the Local.it about making friends in Italy with tips and advice from Italy expats and bloggers: Italians see foreigners as temporary guests.
For me personally, I made a lot of friends through work. Many of them are native English speakers (fellow teachers), which is something that I think is natural when you are a foreigner residing in a new country. I feel a stronger connection with people who have experienced the process of moving to Italy, but also with those who have lived abroad in general. That’s not to say that I don’t have Italian friends – working at an English school provides many opportunities to meet Italian people every day!
Movin’ to Italy FAQ is weekly blog series. Every Friday, I post common questions from readers about movin’ to Italy. All answers are based on my personal experiences and knowledge.