Making friends while abroad on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) can be a challenge. The customs, language, and humour can all be different from yours.

To give you some ideas of how you might go about meeting people and making friends, here are some interviews with current and past working holiday makers around the world.

Even if they’re not in or from the same country as you, they understand what it’s like to be in a foreign land, so many of their experiences and advice will be transferable.

Aiyana, a Brit in Canada

1. Where are you from, and where did you go for your working holiday?

I’m from the UK (just outside of London) and I’m currently in Toronto on my Canadian Working Holiday.

2. How was your experience with making friends there (both with locals and expats)? Which resources and strategies worked, and which ones didn’t?

I’ve found it more difficult to meet people than on my previous WHVs in Australia and New Zealand. It seems like there’s less of a backpacker culture in Canada and, especially with some locals, it feels like they’re making polite conversation but aren’t actually interested in new friends.

I’ve been naturally gravitating more towards expats or Canadians who are new to Toronto, as they’re more likely to want to meet up. Plus, they understand how it feels to have moved somewhere new on your own.

In every WHV I’ve done, I’ve successfully found my friends through Meetup and local FB groups. In Toronto, a lot of the groups are on Instagram instead, but they all work in a similar way (regular scheduled events, group chats, etc.).

I’m also giving Bumble BFF another go. It’s not my favourite app–all the stress of being ghosted, stood up or catfished, just like with the dating version–but I know many travellers have made lasting friendships on Bumble, so I’m willing to try again. I’ll have to report back!

3. Were there moments when you felt alone or isolated? If so, how did you manage those feelings?

Yes, especially in the first few weeks; it takes time to build friendships. I’m an experienced solo traveller but “solo” doesn’t always mean wanting to be alone. I was excited to be in my new city and desperately wanted to explore with someone in-person, not just over FaceTime with loved ones at home.

I managed the feelings by chatting with friends from other WHVs (they can relate!), and I booked trips to visit other parts of Canada, so that I had plans to look forward to.

Also, I forced myself to attend events, even if I didn’t feel like it. Fellow introverts will know the last thing we enjoy is a room full of strangers, but the only way to make connections is to meet people! The more meetups you attend, generally, the more you stop feeling nervous or uncomfortable.

4. Did you notice any cultural differences in interpersonal relationships there?

Yes! I was lucky in my other WHVs to not really experience culture shock–partly because there were other Brits everywhere, and partly because the locals shared a similar sense of humour. British humour is dry and sarcastic–think “taking the piss”–but in North America, locals don’t always realise you’re joking and might take offence. This makes my initial communication more surface-level and probably contributes to the slower pace of making friends in Canada.

I’ve also had to answer a lot of questions about what it’s like to be British and live in Europe. This is a common phenomenon I’ve experienced on holidays in the US, but not on my other WHVs. It’s nice to know someone is interested in learning more about your home, but it’s also a funny experience when you feel like you’re being interviewed or doing a tutorial instead of having a back-and-forth conversation.

5. Do you have any advice or experiences to share with people living somewhere that speaks a different language from their own?

To be honest, I only speak English and have only lived in countries/cities where English is the main language spoken. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to navigate a WHV with the extra challenge of communication on top.

My advice is that you won’t be the only one–I’ve always met people from different countries and backgrounds on a WHV. Find your community/support system, and I’m sure there will be nice people out there to help you practise your language skills!

6. Any final thoughts on friendships abroad?

It can be hard, but it’s also worth the trials and tribulations. Some of my WHV friends have turned into lifelong friends who understand me in a different way to my “home” friends because of our unique, shared experience. And it means you end up with friends around the world that you can visit at any time!

I wouldn’t have done three WHVs in my 20s if I didn’t think the scary moments were worth it. There’s nothing like finding your people and adventuring with them. It’s better than rotting on the couch at home, anyway.

And if anyone reading this is struggling, please do reach out. The pvtistes community knows what it’s like to have a bad day–we’re all WHV makers who have been through this. We’re here to help.

Jackson, a Canadian in France

1. Where are you from, and where did you go for your working holiday?

I’m from Vancouver Canada, and I’m currently in France with a Working Holiday Visa. I live in the Paris region.

2. How was your experience with making friends there (both with locals and expats)? Which resources and strategies worked, and which ones didn’t?

I know that French people have a reputation for being cold and aloof (even many French people would admit this themselves), but I would say my experience has been very positive. 15 months into my stay, I now have a small circle of friends that make me feel at home in Paris. Since I speak French, most of them are locals, but I do have a few fellow expat friends as well. These following strategies are exactly how I tried to make friends; some worked better than others.

  • Tried an app – Bumble is mostly known to be a dating app, but it does have a mode for making friends, called Bumble BFF. Through this feature, I met with three people, but only ended up continuing a friendship with one of them. He was the first real friend that I made in France. Since our first hangout, I’ve met a few of his friends too and in a few weeks we are all planning to drive to the North of France to spend a weekend together! I stopped using the app because people were often very unresponsive.
  • Reached out to alumni – Before coming to Paris, I had also reconnected with someone from my high school (back in Vancouver) who had since moved to Paris. It was great to rekindle and deepen our friendship and meet some of her friends too. In about a month, we are going to be spending a week in the South of France with her partner at his family’s home. If you have school alumni living in your destination, definitely reach out to them. I had also joined the Facebook group for alumni from my university, but after several failed attempts to reach the organizer and to even host events myself, I concluded that the group was very dead.
  • Lived with roommates – I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to live with local roommates. There were a few simple reasons: 1) rent is cheaper 2) I could have more chances to practice French and 3) it’s another chance at potential friendships. Now I live with two great roommates with whom I host parties, eat at restaurants, and watch Netflix shows together. I’ve also met their friends, and some have become my own friends too.
  • Joined a sports club – I’m not an athletic person at all, but I remembered that I used to love playing volleyball in middle school. So when I moved to Paris, I decided to join an intramural volleyball league. It’s completely casual and a great way to get some exercise. I haven’t become close friends with anyone yet, but it certainly has been a new experience in stepping outside of my comfort zone. There’s no better time to pick up new and old hobbies than when you move to a new city.
  • Found a Meetup group – Meetup is a website and app for interest-based hangouts and language exchanges. I found a group that I was interested in and gave it a try. They host events pretty regularly and now I go at least once a month. It takes time to build friendships on Meetup since people come and go, but if you’re willing to show up consistently, you’ll discover who the regular attendees are.
  • Joined a fan club – I have been a long time viewer of a Youtube channel called Yes Theory. When I learned that there was a Telegram channel for fans in Paris, I joined without hesitation. I had the spontaneous idea to host a dinner with strangers (other members of the group) at a restaurant on New Years Eve 2023. Though no friendships came out of the encounter, it was a memorable experience nonetheless. If you follow something that has a fan base community, there are likely such groups in your city too.

3. Were there moments when you felt alone or isolated? If so, how did you manage those feelings?

Yes definitely. I think we all have those things from time to time, even back home. My 28th birthday was two weeks after my arrival in Paris. Unluckily for me, I caught covid and so I spent my birthday quarantined by myself in my Airbnb room, literally thousands of miles from everything and everyone that I knew. There are moments like that where I felt isolated (figuratively and literally), but it never lasted more than a day or two. And so when those feelings come up, I just let myself feel what I feel and remind myself that in a couple of days (or maybe even the very next day) I’ll be totally fine again. Don’t let yourself believe that bouts of loneliness are any more than what they are: bouts!

4. Do you have any advice or experiences to share with people living somewhere that speaks a different language from their own?

I would say don’t have unrealistic expectations for yourself. If you are introverted, you won’t suddenly become extroverted. If you never liked bars, you won’t suddenly like bars. Similarly, your language skills are not going to become perfect overnight either. And unless you are already fluent in the language, most of your friends will be other expats. Don’t be down on yourself if you’re not living like the locals, making local friends, and talking like locals right away. Even though I strongly recommend making efforts to learn the local language, the most important thing is still to find a community that makes you feel welcome and supported in the foreign land. And if that happens to be in an expat bubble, then embrace that. You will have more opportunities to integrate yourself into the local culture later on.

Also, don’t have unrealistic expectations for others. You might feel like everything is exotic and interesting, but (not to sound harsh) the truth is most locals won’t find you exotic or interesting for being a foreigner. You will be just another person walking in the streets, as they are busy with their own lives. No one will be rushing to become your BFF or cultural guide just for your foreignness, because that’s simply not how friendships work (not back home, and not here). People might be keen to practice their English with you for a few minutes, but that’s not the same thing. The bottom line is, people there aren’t waiting around for a foreigner to show up, so manage your expectations accordingly.

5. Did you notice any cultural differences in interpersonal relationships there?

Yes. This might come as a surprise, but I find French people to be warmer and more generous than people in Canada and the US. In Paris, it’s true that strangers don’t really smile at one another or make small talk, but once a first step is taken towards friendship, they are very open. They will quickly invite you to their house for a dinner party or apéro and introduce you to their other friends. In North America it’s kind of the opposite: people are super friendly to strangers and everyone is always smiling, but it’s not easy to get past that superficial niceness. For example, back home, I have good friends of many years whose addresses I don’t even know, because the home is considered such a private place and people don’t usually invite others over.

6. Any final thoughts and friendships abroad?

There are many ways of making new friends. Some of them will work for you, while others won’t. Luck and timing are also factors. Making friends requires intentional investment on your part, and the thing about investments is they don’t always pay off (otherwise we wouldn’t call them investments). So be patient, keep investing, and eventually you will come across someone who is on the same wavelength as you. One friend is all it takes for a wonderful snowball effect to start happening in your life and it will all be worth it.

Morgane, French in Australia

1. Where are you from, and where did you go for your working holiday?

I’m from the South of France, not far from Aix-en-Provence. I went on a working holiday in Australia.

2. How was your experience with making friends there (both with locals and expats)? Which resources and strategies worked, and which ones didn’t?

It’s funny because in the beginning, I was sure that I wouldn’t meet people. I thought “I’m going to Australia to travel”. I didn’t think that I could meet new people, especially because I was planning to tour the country in my van. And yet…

Little by little, things happened quite naturally. The first friendship was born from two shared meals (pasta!) in a youth hostel. The next ones were thanks to a hike, a camping excursion, a barbecue session, a sports training, and a job on a farm.

While on a working holiday, you quickly realise that any and all methods can be good for making friends, both local and foreign.

Some encounters don’t last very long, while others stay with us for life. Within a few months, my perspective on friendships during travel had changed a lot. I, who used to not believe in such friendships or even think much about them, found myself crying when I had to say goodbye to my newfound friends on a remote farm in Western Australia and when I had to leave the Australian family who had offered us work near Perth…

I know that social media, especially Facebook groups, also work very well for making new friends, but I never tried it. I met people in more organic and spontaneous ways.

3. Were there moments when you felt alone or isolated? If so, how did you manage those feelings?

The good thing is that I went to Australia with my partner. However, there were moments when I needed my own breath of fresh air. It has to be said that even if you love someone, spending 24/7 together in a van for several months is no picnic. So meeting new people, talking about new and random things, can be very beneficial.

Even as a couple, there were times when I felt alone. When you’re on the opposite side of the planet as your family and friends, you miss out on important moments and that can be hard. In those moments, let yourself share these feelings without holding back, even with people that you just met, as long as you feel comfortable.

After all, even though the WHV was our own decision, we still have the right to experience moments of difficulty!

4. Did you notice any cultural differences in interpersonal relationships there?

Totally. Australians are very open people, very nice and agreeable. Sometimes it surprised me to see the extent to which they are sociable and simple in their relationships, even professional ones.

That being said, in my experience, I feel like it can be hard to go any deeper than that. Australians already have their own life, family, and friends, so they can also be “inaccessible”. In my case, since I only stayed one year, it was hard to build long term friendships.

5. Do you have any advice or experiences to share with people living somewhere that speaks a different language from their own?

When in Australia, dare to be bold! Australians are very nice and friendly. They will always do their best to make themselves understood and to take the time to communicate with someone in need.

Personally, English is not my strong suit, but they were still able to make me feel comfortable. I was able to grow thanks to their patience.

I told myself that the worst that can happen is I gain a funny story to tell!

6. Any final thoughts on friendships abroad?

I would say to let yourself be guided by encounters, let fate do its job. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and looking back on my adventures, I realise that each of my encounters left an important and positive impact on my WHV experience.

When I was in Australia, I often had the tendency to prefer other working holiday makers who shared the same adventure as me. Some might say that this isn’t the best strategy, especially for improving in the local language, but I couldn’t pass up these wonderful friendships that last even to this day. We still meet up, we follow one another, we share life updates, and above all, we understand one another. A working holiday is an experience unlike others. Those who have the chance embark on one understand the risks, the joys, and the challenges. So make the most of your experience, your friendships, and your encounters. You will leave with beautiful memories!

Pamela, a Belgian in New Zealand

1. Where are you from, and where did you go for your working holiday?

Kia ora! My name is Pamela and I am originally from Belgium. I started traveling 12 years ago, alternating life abroad with university life in Belgium. I lived in the USA for about 4 years (on and off) and in the Bahamas for 6 months. I’ve now been living in New Zealand for 5 years where it all started with a WHV!

2. How was your experience with making friends there (both with locals and expats)? Which resources and strategies worked, and which ones didn’t?

Because I’ve been in New Zealand for so long, I feel like I went through multiple “friendship phases”.

(Oct 2019) When I started my WHV, I volunteered and lived with a Maori family. I was super excited to be somewhere new, somewhere far, and in a country I didn’t know much about. The family treated me as one of their own. It was an amazing way to start my NZ adventure, spend some time with locals and slowly learn about the Kiwi culture.

(Nov 2019 – May 2021) I then lived in the same backpacker (in NZ this also means hostel) for about a year (5 months the first time, 7 months the second). Living in a backpacker was both amazing and hard.

  • It was amazing because there were people around all the time. It was easy to meet people from all over the world, to make friends and to do many different things together. I was lucky enough to have a private room so I could go in there if I needed some alone time.
  • But it was also hard because, although there were some other people living there long term, their long term was nearly not as long as me. So, this meant that I had to say goodbye to friends quite often. Also, you can’t get along with everyone and sometimes people move in and create a strange atmosphere or subgroups within the backpacker. This can feel weird when you’ve been living in a place for so long, almost as if they’re invading your space. Both of these things became harder and harder over time which is why I decided not to live in a backpacker anymore.
  • (July-November 2021) After 2 years in New Zealand, I struggled a bit friendship wise (see next question).

    (January 2022 – May 2023) After this struggling phase, I started enjoying my life in New Zealand more like an expat than a backpacker. I went back to the job I had lost during covid and got all of my colleagues back. I sincerely think of them as my New Zealand family. I also started feeling like I belonged, I had built habits, the barista at my favorite café knew my order, random people in the streets greeted me as they could see I had been living there for a while now. All of this felt pretty good. I also felt really happy and comfortable in my new friendships. Sure I didn’t have loads of friends but the ones that I had were amazing, supportive and everything that I could have wanted in a friend. Year 3 and 4 were definitely my prime friendship years in New Zealand !

    (November 2023 – May 2024) I then decided to move to a new place for 4 months before living on the road. This, once again, came to challenge me friendship wise. As I said before, I felt very happy with the friendships I had built the previous years. I had also reconnected with friends back home after the borders opened and tried to take care of these friendships that I had. So, when I moved to Queenstown, I felt a bit “lazy” to make new friends. I knew I was only there for 4 months so why bother ? Additionally, I think the vanlife made it a bit harder to meet people. We parked far from town and had long work days so we didn’t really feel like driving late at night to meet other people. Sometimes, this laziness made me a bit sad so I tried meeting other people but the small talk felt fake and uncomfortable.

    I was lucky to have one really good friend (who I have known for years) living in Queenstown though. I also decided to get a personal trainer and I quickly felt like I had known her for years. She was amazing and empathetic and she became a dear friend of mine. Lastly, I ended up meeting really nice people towards the end of my stay (which was a bit of a shame!). So, although I wasn’t proactive and didn’t try to make friends, I ended up meeting some really cool people (and more people to miss, yay lol).

    3. Were there moments when you felt alone or isolated? If so, how did you manage those feelings?

    After 2 years in New Zealand, I started struggling a little bit. Living in a backpacker made me tired of having to start over again and again when it comes to meeting new people. Most of the close friends I had made had left New Zealand or were somewhere far. It became harder and harder to say goodbye to the people I had really connected with. So I had moments when I kind of stopped engaging with other people (they were leaving x weeks later so why bother?). I was also feeling like my friendships with other New-Zealanders were a bit shallow and although I enjoyed their company, I missed the depth of relationships that I found back home. To top it up, I was also missing my friends and family from home. They were having a hard time with the pandemic so I felt like my own problems weren’t valid (I was living in the country with the most freedom at the time, so why complain?). I was also lacking this sense of belonging and community. Even though I had been living in the same town for almost 2 years, people still treated me as a foreigner and that wasn’t always easy.

    I think I was a bit ambivalent as to how I dealt with that situation.

    • On the one hand, I was accepting more opportunities to socialize. I went to more parties, more events, more birthdays. But again, I found that all of these ways of socializing were shallow. People were mostly getting drunk and that wasn’t really my thing. I found that it took too much effort and energy to entertain these relationships and so, although I was (and am) always happy to bump into those people, I distanced myself from them.
    • On the other hand, I think I isolated myself a little bit to focus on my own projects and my own well-being. I started a new online course, practiced more yoga, read more books… I started creating little routines like going to the same café twice a week to work on my course. Taking care of myself felt good and I think it also helped me validate everything I was feeling at the time.
    • And because life has its own ways of always working out, I met 3 people whom I really connected with within a few months after that time. These people (2 Kiwis, 1 Canadian) were living long term in that area and to this day but I had never met them before. To this day, I still consider them my best friends in New Zealand.

      4. Did you notice any cultural differences in interpersonal relationships there?

      I sure did! It’s really easy to meet people in New Zealand. Kiwis are very welcoming and are easy to talk to. Whether it’s strangers at a café or the checkout lady, people are always happy to have a quick chat with you.

      However, I find it much harder to create deep connections with people. It is difficult to turn small talks into proper conversations here. Kiwis are not confrontational. Everything is always fine and there is nothing to worry about (“she’ll be right”). This probably explains why it’s harder to debate, share ideas or even feelings with them.

      Moreover, I feel like alcohol is quite prominent in NZ culture. So, when you meet someone, they’re quick to invite you to a party or to a bar which could be great opportunities to meet new people. But unfortunately, as (a lot) of alcohol is almost always involved, I find those environments too loud, too full of people, and not really appropriate for qualitative conversations. Now if you bump into someone you’ve met at a party days later, they’ll surely acknowledge you and invite you to the next one which is nice. But, to be honest, I often wonder how people connect on a deeper level in those environments.

      5. Do you have any advice or experiences to share with people living somewhere that speaks a different language from their own?

      When talking to other francophones (mostly French people), many have told me that they find it easier to connect with someone who speaks their language. As someone who comes from a trilingual country, I feel like what they mean is that it’s easier to start a relationship with people who have a similar cultural background. And I agree, it’s definitely easier to relate to people with similar cultural references.

      Additionally, speaking the same language makes people feel comfortable which makes it easier to create relationships. Learning a new language surely is tiring, but getting to know people can also be tiring in itself sometimes. So it is no surprise that people tend to get closer to people who speak the same language. Also, Kiwi English is quite different from the English we learn at school or the one we hear on TV. So I can surely understand why people struggle with it and why some even give up trying to understand. To be honest, they don’t always understand each other themselves sometimes.

      However, I personally think it’s important to remind ourselves of the reasons why we started traveling. Most people will say that they 1. wanted to get to know a new culture and 2. learn the language. So although it can be hard sometimes, here are my advice :

      • Find common interests with people : it’s not just about the cartoon you grew up with or bread or a particularly famous singer. It can be about music in general, games you can teach and play, food you can share. Find these little things. I think you’ll be happy to share your culture with others and to learn from other’s cultures.
      • Connect with other travelers : if you find it difficult to fit in with the locals, start with other travelers. Some of them may also be learning the local language, others could have just arrived and want to grab a coffee with someone. So, next time you want to post “Who wants to grab a drink tonight?” in the “Francophone in NZ” Facebook group, think twice and post it in the “New Zealand Backpackers” group 🙂
      • Accept the fact that friendship may look different in your new country : this one is hard. No one forces you to adhere to the small talks if it’s not your thing but you can still learn from it, get to know people and define what friendship looks like to you. It’s a beautiful way to learn about yourself too.
      • Speak the local language (even with people who speak the same language as you) : we can’t learn the language if we don’t speak it. And if we start our trip by speaking our own language, it becomes really difficult to make the switch. So, I really recommend you to try and speak the local language from the start, even with people from your home country. Not only will it help you improve your skills, but speaking the country’s language is inviting everyone to take part in the conversation. This way, no one feels left out and there are more friendship opportunities !
      • 6. Any final thoughts on friendships abroad?

        Friendships abroad can be challenging. I read an analogy not long ago that travelers make friends like a 5 year old. You connect quickly, you live all these crazy adventures and when it’s time to go, you promise each other you’ll be best friends forever. And I don’t think that’s entirely wrong.

        When traveling, you can create deep connections really quickly. You can have intense experiences (or even mundane ones !) with someone that no one back home could possibly understand. You can be homesick together, miss the same thing. I think that sometimes, when you travel, you forget some social norms that seem a bit absurd and you go straight to what feels meaningful

        But when traveling you can also feel alone. You can feel like you don’t belong or feel like the friends you’ve made were just temporary. I think some friendships are meant to only last for a short period of time, but others will last a lifetime.

        The hard thing is that we don’t know what friends will become once they leave but the beautiful thing about friendships abroad is that, no matter what, you will always be happy to see each other again.

Jackson

In February 2023 I moved from Vancouver to Paris. Adventures await.
En février 2023 j’ai déménagé de Vancouver à Paris. Des aventures m’attendent.

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