How to Make Friends in a New City
Nearly two years ago, I packed my bags and traveled to the other side of the world.
This meant putting some 12764 kilometres between me and my many circles of friends, my warm family, and girls I had known since childhood.
Somehow, I had imagined that as soon as I stepped foot in the USA, friends would simply flock to me.
Little did I know, I was in for a major reality check.
After the initial excitement of being in a new place died down, the homesickness settled in. Week after week passed by, and I found myself sorely missing my friends and family back in Australia. I love being social, making friends, and spending quality time with loved ones so going from a hundred to one was a shock to the system.
To make matters worse, I wasn't allowed to work (due to visa restrictions) during my first few months in America, so I couldn't even depend on the normal human interactions and friend making opportunities I would otherwise be exposed to if I was in a workplace.
Two years on, I am relieved to say that I no longer spend my days looking out the window and walking the streets, in want of a friend! Since coming to the USA, I've learnt a lot about the art of making friends and developing close relationships. I'm definitely not swamped by friends every weekend but I have made unique friendships and met people I'm grateful for. Here's how:
1.) Start volounteering.
Find organisations that are doing something you are deeply passionate about. The great thing about volounteering for such an organisation, is that you are bound to meet people you will have heaps in common with.
When I started volunteering, I got to know many like-minded people and ended up spending most of my weekdays at the volunteer centre (since I was jobless). This drastically changed things for me, making me feel so much more purposeful and just a generally happier person. Plus, it even helped me land my first job, teaching a youth a group at the organisation!
2.) Don't be picky.
Drop all preconceived notions of what kind of people are compatible with you, of who your ideal friend type is. And that begins with dropping all notions who you think you are! Don't ever think you're not intelligent enough, mature enough, or funny enough to be a friend to someone.
I remember when I was a teen in school, being friends with someone even two grade levels higher than me was a huge deal. They seemed so much smarter, so much more sophisticated - how would we ever find things to talk about?
Then, when I was in university, I found I mostly hung around my other university pals, especially those in my own course. I didn't invest in spending time with people who were not in my current phase of life. But why couldn't I, as a university student, be friends with a stay at home mother or the cashier from the grocery store?
This is something that happens to all us. Out of convenience, we stick to people who are like us, doing the same things we are. But we don't realise how much we are missing by doing this.
In my hunt for friends, I let go of whatever I thought my ideal friend was and opened myself to everyone, experiencing the sweetness of unique friendships!
As a Muslim girl in her twenties, here are some examples of unique friends I made:
- A Jewish Rabbi who helped coordinate interfaith sessions with my youth group.
- An actress who helped keep me in check with my own career goals.
- A woman in her fifties, who dreamed of authoring her family story.
- A mother of a toddler who was having immense difficulty conceiving another child. And when she did finally become pregnant, I was the first person she told!
3.) Don't underestimate the randoms.
Uber drivers, store clerks, receptionists - all the people we may interact with on a daily basis but rarely put in the effort to have a proper conversation with. Admittedly, these encounters rarely do lead to strong friendships but a positive interaction can go a long way in brightening up both of your days.
There have been many times where I've been so surprised by a deep conversation I have with someone who, had I just chosen to see them for the service they were providing, I would not have connected with in such a way. I remember meeting an Uber driver who was also a Youtuber, and a secretary who taught me a basic crochet.
Being a visible Muslim woman, I also value these encounters with strangers to change, ever so slightly, their perception of other Muslim women like me. And the same goes for myself, when I speak to people who seem different from me. Don't waste an opportunity to speak to someone who shares little in common with you, you'll both likely learn a lot from the interaction!
4.) Follow up.
While it's nice to go about having interesting conversations with people, that's all it will amount to be if you don't take action. When you find someone you click with, get their contact details and message them a day or two later. Meet up for coffee or chat online, just make sure you keep in contact somehow!
When I was working as a receptionist at a school, I had an amazingly deep conversation with a mother who was on her way to pick up her kids. Our conversation stuck with me for awhile but I didn't have her contact details and couldn't even remember her name! On top of that, I had moved on to a different job shortly after we met! In my desperation to keep in contact with her, I ended up logging back into the school administration system (after I had left!), locating the child of that mother, and from there, found their mother's name and email (a little stalk-ery, I admit). Interestingly, when I did contact the mother, she too had wanted to follow up with me but didn't know how and really appreciated me reaching out to her.
So if you are moving to a new city, or simply want to make new friends wherever you are, take a deep breath, smile and get out there!