How to Make Friends When You Move to a New Country
I miss my friends. Especially my writer friends — the nights when we’d bust each other’s bubbles with banter and dream of the next generation of African Literature. Although we connect through the internet now, there is something about face to face connection that cannot be replaced. Especially in times like the ones we’re living.
Even before we all had to stay home, I moved to the US and had to start from scratch. It’s a feeling that cannot be explained, only lived: starting over, creating new connections and reinventing yourself.
Friendships have always been a huge part of my life and for the past 2 years, I’ve had to reconsider what it meant and how I made friends.
When I look now to the friends I can call when my car breaks down, the people who happily pay me to work with them, and others who pray for me, I see a few threads that allowed this introverted book lover to make friends in this new land.
Are you struggling to make friends?
Are you having a hard time meeting people with shared interests who could eventually grow into more?
I’ve got you covered with these three steps t— now that we’re all stuck home, you can even do it from the comfort of your pajamas.
1. Become Curious About What Other People Care About
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day” — Albert Einstein
“Become curious” — easy to say huh?
We naturally gravitate towards people who care about the things we care about. Of course, depending on the setting, you will coin your questions differently. Meeting someone for the first time and asking about their choice of haircut may not be quite endearing. What has worked for me so far, is paying attention to what they say and asking more questions for them to open up.
I must let you know there that I am not a big talker. So, this works great if you’re like me. Pay attention, listen and ask more questions.
Social Media has allowed everyone to broadcast their thoughts, and when you’re able to pay attention to others, you join the few who actually aren’t self-absorbed all the time.
This works in chat, in real-time and even in Zoom meetings.
When you find yourself with someone you may want to connect with, dig into their interests. This requires upfront work from you and people can smell malice from miles away.
It’s okay to feel awkward. In fact, you have no idea that telling someone that you’re uncomfortable asking questions but really want to know more about their interests could be what makes them feel that connection with you.
We’re all scared of what people think about us — being upfront puts you ahead of many.
2. Attend Free Events
“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” — Jodi Picoult
Free events are found in nearly every city. Even back in Cameroon, when I worked at IYA, we offered free drinks for people to attend poetry events.
Now, there are webinars, masterclasses and other ways to connect.
An Instagram live? Free event.
Someone you follow is talking to their community, you leave a comment ( or request to be a part of the live) and provide value. Not only do you make yourself now a valuable member of their community, but you start a conversation with them which, as you’ve seen above, is a way to connect with others by talking about their interests.
When you’re new in town or trying to break into a scene or industry, this is a great way to connect. Not to share business cards, no; to be present, listen and connect.
Eventually, you’ll get to a point when you’ll have the luxury of choice.
In order to make friends, you’ll have to be a human being — and because many people at those events only come to take something, you’ll stand out by providing value.
That’s how you build long-lasting and mutually awesome relationships.
3. Accept Invitations to Hangout — And Show-Up!
“I’m sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.” — J.D. Salinger
After you’ve shown interest at this free event, you’d be surprised that someone would actually what to have coffee with you. Trust me, I didn’t think I was that interesting either.
You’ll be tempted to turn it down at the last minute.
You’re worried about this person. Worried that they’ll think you’re fake, that you have nothing to offer. Take a breath.
Remember: we all walk around like we’ve figured out the universe — yet, we all know we’re all human. We all use the bathroom the same way.
Except for some strange internet trolls.
If someone invites you for coffee, they’re saying they are interested in knowing more about you too. It may not turn out into the next startup company — it may even be the last time you meet.
You’re in a new town, in a new country — this is a chance for you to increase your experience of the world you inhabit.
I remember the bus trips I made to hang out with my friend Femi Nassi -Femiche and how those once every few weeks face to face meetings meant so much more. Or my writing group in Aurora where I got to connect with other creatives — especially when I felt terribly lonely during those first few months.
You already have a lot of what you need — you come from a different background, you have your experience and your expertise. You just have to take those first steps.
Be curious about others, and present in conversations. The book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” By Dale Carnegie will give you a headstart.
Attend any and all events you can find on Meetup or Facebook. Go out and see people (after the quarantine is over, of course). Or connect to Zoom conferences. It’s good for your soul. Plus, you get to practice what you learn in the book.
When you get the chance to hangout out one on one, take it. Give yourself the chance to connect with another human. They could provide a perspective you’d never have had about something you don’t even know you needed.
There are people waiting for you just as you are right now. They’re all scared and worried you may not like them either. You’re not alone.
You might as well take the first step.