Arriving in a new city without knowing very many people can be daunting. If you are anything like me, you may have only known a handful of people upon arriving in enchanting Barcelona. If you are lucky enough to come as part of a study abroad program, you’ve got a head start. But even for students or newly-relocated young and sophisticated professionals, making friends with similar interests, and social networking here in Barcelona can be a surprisingly complicated process to figure out.
I should also add that this was the approach that I used with great success. My focus is learning to use resources, mostly online, effectively. If you are a bit gauche, and I doubt that you are, you may have to work a tad harder on refining your personal social graces and tact.
Tip 1: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone & Meet the Locals
You’ve taken a huge step by moving to a new city on your own. That certainly takes courage. Now, keep that momentum going. When you first arrive, it truly is important to connect with any and all contacts that you may have. This isn’t the time to be radically selective about the company you want to keep. You need to let people know who you are, why you are here, and that you are looking to make new friends, meet new people, play sports, advance professionally or what have you.
Embrace as many opportunities as you can to meet that “friend of a friend” for a cafecito or cervecita. In my case, I met with fellow Cornellians, professors and past travel buddies. Make sure to ask these people about clubs or networks that they are members of. It is through these initial contacts that you will most probably make many of your primary contacts and friends. More than anything, your initial contacts and friends are invaluable sources of experience and information. Again, ask questions, listen carefully and take notes if necessary.
Never underestimate the power of word of mouth and the opinions of friends to let you know which clubs, groups and events are actually most worth your time. In the end, you can decide for yourself, but it’s good to gather feedback from the start. Finally, don’t be shy or afraid to go out on your own! It’s always nice to have a wingman (or lady), but occasionally, you’ll have to suck it up and go out solo. I’m not saying you should go to bars and clubs on your own all the time, but rather, to learn to be comfortable in your own skin. Sign up for classes, events or things to do on your own if you can’t find a partner. You’ll meet people there.
Tip 2: Get Informed By Reading Local Media
There are literally hundreds of publications in English, Spanish and Catalan, which aim to keep Barcelona denizens in the know about everything that is happening around town. Make sure to get cozy with Google for a few days to explore some of these vital sources. Peruse various sites and get into the habit of checking them regularly. Remember to like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and to subscribe to any relevant email newsletters, as well. This will guarantee that information lands at your fingertips.
Barcelona Metropolitan, Time Out Barcelona, and SuiteLife Barcelona are just a few of the online magazines that are bursting with information about city life. Remember, don’t just sit there and read about what’s going on, get out there and become a part of it all!
Tip 3: Join Clubs, Groups or Teams
So you have met with a few contacts, looked up information online and attended a few events, but you’re still feeling a tad lonely or out of the loop? Well, don’t give up just yet! Join a few more specialized groups. Meetup, for example, is a great online resource that aims to bring like-minded people– interested in anything from brunch to yoga to hiking to personal development– together. I actually joined several groups, but didn’t really attend too many events. Still, it’s always good to keep an eye out on these types of social and recreational possibilities.
Joining groups and events put on by such groups need not be expensive (though some do charge) and can add a sense of regularity or routine to your new life in this fabulous Catalan town. Also, people are usually members of various groups, so through these, you can learn about still more groups or teams to join. If you are really into sports, join a local team. El Corte Ingles hosts groups that train to run marathons together, for example. There are also opportunities for group rollerblading (Patinadores de Barcelona), volleyball (Associacion Ikaria) and capoeira. I hope to try all of these in Barcelona, if I can.
Keep in mind that sometimes groups can get quite specific, say for Americans (American Society of Barcelona), or women entrepreneurs (Red de Emprendedoras), or even for aspiring theatre and circus people. Even if you don’t exactly fit into a certain classification, consider joining them. They aren’t usually that exclusive and are still a great way to make more contacts. Furthermore, many people in Barcelona, like me and perhaps you, wear many hats and attendance in groups overlaps greatly. Eventually, you’ll definitely start to see familiar faces at various events. Barcelona really isn’t that big. Oh and again, make sure you look up the pages for these groups on Facebook.
Two other interesting networks (groups) that come to mind are: WebBar, for all you Social media enthusiasts. This was started by two awesome friends of mine, Bjoern & Jan, and meets monthly. They recently had their one year anniversary. And, Eurocircle Barcelona, whose events have a casual, yet chic, singles and B2B slant! It’s well organized. The last event was at Barcelo Raval, a fantastic lounge & venue. You have to check out the rooftop terrace!
Tip 4: Get an Internship or Volunteer
Still not satisfied with your social network? Depending on your work or study situation, this tip may or may not apply to you, but if you don’t already have a job or if you aren’t studying in Barcelona, find a way to either volunteer or get an internship! For me, getting an internship was a critical way to make friends and to expand my network, both socially and professionally.
Again, use resources like Loquo and Barcelona Metropolitan and send your CV out to a as many places as you can. The commitment need not be full-time, and will also, most likely, not be paid. But, if you’ve got the time, taking on a small job like this could be a wise move. You’ll be keeping your CV updated, while also interacting and expanding your social network.
Just to differentiate, internships are quite easy to come by here. In fact, Barcelona has a bit of a reputation for attracting young students to intern on the cheap. Similarly, though Barcelona is not exactly the mecca for nonprofit work or activities, this is a sector that appears to be growing slowly, so this may be an interesting area to look into. Some examples of (large) non-profits that operate in Barcelona are Oxfam, Humana (I actually have a friend that works at Humana) and WWF.
Tip 5: Squeeze Everything You Can Out of Social Media & Follow Up
Did I mention Facebook yet?? Big brother is watching you! You may not be a big fan of Facebook or Twitter for that matter, but the fact is that they are ubiquitous. If you learn how to use Facebook and Twitter as tools, you can truly get tons and tons of information out of them. Almost all social networking groups have a presence on Facebook. Again, remember to like their pages or join groups on Facebook to get information coming to your news feed. Like with your email, you may need to adjust the settings so as to prevent information overload and spam.
Oh and of course, make sure to FOLLOW UP with people who you’ve met when out and about, and add them as friends if you think you might get along. If you become Facebook friends, you can look at some of their groups and the pages they like to get some ideas about what else you can do in Barcelona. A little stalking can actually be productive sometimes. I should also add that there is a social networking site called Tuenti that is apparently very popular here in Spain, but I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never been on it.
If you go out for drinks or dancing, a classic way to have fun and meet people in all of Spain, make sure to look up the venues, bars or clubs you are attending online and like them on Facebook, too. These are also great sources of information about other upcoming events. Eventually, you’ll start getting invited to more parties and events than you can ever dream of attending. Finally, use Linkedin as well, especially to network with local professionals in your field here in BCN.
Tip 6: Register For & Attend Special Events
Barcelona is arguably an events person’s ideal city to reside or work in. Aside from regular monthly or weekly events, there are also special events that occur annually that deal with art, music, etc. There are book fairs, mobile conferences (World Mobile Congress), entrepreneurial events, and newer events such as Barcelona Twestival. Learn about these and fit them into your calendars if you think they align with your interests or are important for your goals. You never know who you might meet at these, and the commitment is minimal! Note: These may charge or require pre-registration.
Tip 7: Woah, Feeling Event Overload? Get More Selective
After a few weeks or months, if you’ve followed my advice, you may actually start to wonder if you are spending too much time socializing and attending events. Again, it depends on your situation and personality, but to truly maximize your efforts, this may be a good time to regroup and think about which clubs, activities and events are the most interesting and useful for you given your interests, and social or professional goals. Now may be the time for you to become a bit more selective.
Remember, always ask friends for their opinions. Also, some groups such as Meetup allow for member feedback. Have a quick look at what others are saying. Try to stick with a group for a while before leaving it, but learn to attend events that you think may help you deepen or expand your most important connections.
I hope you’ve found these tips to be useful. Like I said, this was my approach and it has worked for me thus far. I am outgoing, social media savvy, and love to explore and try new things. At the same time, through this experience, I have also learned to be a bit more selective when attending events and signing up for activities.
Take what you can from these tips and tweak them to fit your life, goals and personality, hence creating your own approach. Needless to say, you can also use some of these strategies in other cities, too.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written, or suggestions or feedback, please let me know.
Good luck…Buena suerte….Bona sort!
Note: This blog post was initially published on the SuiteLife Barcelona blog.