Unfreezing My “Seattle Freeze”

Guest Post By: Vincent Ung, a Junior studying Finance and Information Systems. He is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and he studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, during Spring Semester 2023.

Growing up in Seattle, I’ve always heard people use the term “Seattle Freeze” to describe the culture. However, I never really understood what it meant until going abroad.

“Seattle Freeze” refers to the phenomenon that it’s difficult to meet new people in Seattle. It’s the idea that Seattleites already have established friend/family circles and it’s hard for outsiders to join those circles. It’s also the idea that people can be very focused and individualistic and aren’t as open to meeting new people. There are many ways people describe what the Seattle Freeze is, but those are just a few of what I understand it to be.

Having lived in Seattle my whole life, I never felt that Seattle had this “freeze”. This may be because I already had friends and family in the city and never felt I had to force myself or go out of my way to meet new people. However, going abroad, I felt the difference in Seattle and Australia’s culture almost immediately. On one of my first train rides in the city, I was just sitting, looking out the window when out of nowhere a local sitting nearby just started having a conversation with me. They asked about my day, talked about where they’re from, asked where I’m from, and gave recommendations on things to do. Variations of this same interaction happened throughout my exchange—another time when I was sitting at a park table and another time on the bus. While at first, I thought it was weird and uncomfortable, I learned to appreciate those moment. It made me realize that chatting with strangers is a completely normal thing in other cities and may be what the Seattle Freeze is defining as I had never had similar interactions in Seattle before.

These interactions helped me get a sense of Australia’s vibrant culture and allowed me to understand it in comparison to Seattle’s. Although not everyone I met exhibited what I described, the overwhelming majority of locals were always friendly and made me feel welcomed. Reflecting back, small moments such as chatting with locals were some of the most memorable moments that changed my perspective. I’ve learned and grown a lot from Australian culture, and it inspired me to try to be more open and spontaneous. I hope to help spread what I’ve experienced in Australia back home in Seattle to help “unfreeze” what I can.