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I can’t remember the last time I felt so physically terrified. My heart was ready to beat straight out of my chest, my phone poised to slip free of my sweaty palms. It took everything I had to not back out, to not walk right past my destination.

That’s how I knew this experience would be worth something. Isn’t that the way it goes? Truly, my tried and true mantra was resonating in my mind, battling the rush of my heart.

While I’m grateful to have a solid group of Americans to hang out with while abroad, I knew from the start I wanted to meet Spaniards. I’m here for a cultural experience, and the people are a huge part of that! After a couple months of just waiting around for my new friendships to magically apparate, I took matters into my own hands. Here’s how you can do the same:

1. Realize You’re in a Rut

You see the same people, at the same events, at the same time every week. You do this because they’re your friends, and you enjoy spending time with them. But you want more. You want new people and new experiences. You want variety.

2. Initiate the Risk

Join Meetup.com. It’s a site that allows people to come together based on shared interests, and has events in most cities. There are groups for running, reading, cooking, dancing, knitting – just about anything you can think of. Rake through the various groups. Join the ones that interest you most. I signed up for some of the dance ones, and nearly all of the socializing and language exchange ones here in Madrid.

3. Tread Water

Read the emails you get from the groups you’ve joined. Check out the recent events pages. Read the comments about how much fun members had meeting each other. Browse through the pictures of real people, just like you! Question whether they really attended, or whether the photos are some sort of ruse. Notice how the people in the pictures look like they’ve known each other for years. Get freaked out about not fitting in. Repeat this step several times a week.

4. RSVP

You’ll do this a few times. At first, you’ll always RSVP with a +1, or +2 or +5. Plan to bring your current friends into these strange new worlds with you, because that significantly diminishes the risk. Then, don’t actually show up to any of these events because it never works out that someone can go with you.

5. Commit

You’re fed up. You’re craving something new. You want a rush. RSVP to an upcoming event. Plan to go alone because now, that’s part of the rush. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Message the event organizer about your RSVP and your concerns, but play it cool.

6. Plan for the Worst 

Call up your best friend. Talk through everything that could possibly go wrong: Nobody will show up except for you. People will be leaving just as you arrive. Everyone there will already be best friends and not give you the time of day.

Listen to your friend when she replies with the logical answer you’re too preoccupied to come up with, “Then just leave.” Tell your best friend you might get killed… Listen to the silence and then answer your own morbid thoughts, “Well, at least it’s a daring way to go.” Continue to cycle through these scenarios up until the moment you enter the event.

7. Hope for the Best

These people are in the same boat as you. They want to meet new people. If nothing else, this will make for a great story. Look at the picture of the cute guy who also RSVPed. Now, there’s added incentive.

8. Just Do It

Leave your safety net and go to the event. Maybe have one friend ensure you get off at the right stop on the Metro instead of trying to miss it. Walk to the event locale. Gasp for air despite your fiercely pounding heart. Arrive and walk right in so it’s too late to chicken out.

9. Make New Friends

You’ve made it! Find your group and push through a couple more minutes of awkwardness. Bond with someone over the fear you felt over arriving alone. Learn that this night is a first for many in attendance. Mingle – it’s your favorite thing to do. It’s why you’re here. Smile in welcome at the newcomers who arrive after you. Laugh freely. Ask questions. Mentally pat yourself on the back for actually making it here, by yourself with all these new people. Pose for one of those infamous pictures that will later be posted on the Meetup website. Realize that you’ve got guts.

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10. Maintain Friendships

Now, you’ll start getting calls and texts from your new friends. Go out again, even if it’s not through Meetup. Go to other Meetup events. Even though you’ve done it once, you’ll probably repeat similar steps. At least this time you’ll know it’ll likely be worth it.

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