There’s nothing quite like moving to a whole new country. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to do so, and one I don’t take lightly in this day and age. Immigration is so demonised and for some places, especially America, a move like that requires money, connections and a lot of paperwork. I’m lucky, everyone I know who has had this opportunity to move to a new country is lucky and I hope none of us take this for granted. Moving country and uprooting your whole life is amazing for sure, but it comes with a lot of challenges that knock you down. One of those is having to make friends again. I know right? That sounds a little weird, but the process of making friends, establishing friendship groups and not feeling lonely when you’ve come into a place in your thirties is daunting. You have gone from a place where you’ve cultivated a life, you have a good knit of friends who you can count on, you may be near your family and you feel safe. For some of us we have friendships going back to primary school and younger, and trying to find that again, having to build it all over again, can feel like an uphill struggle.
I’ve been in Chicago for three years now, and whilst I had family here and a small group of friends to start with it’s still been a learning process when it comes to making new friends. Yes, we are always making friends, but think about how many entirely new friends you’ve made once you hit your thirties or late twenties. You meet new people through people you know, or work friends. You’re not making new best friends regularly anymore, and it can be slightly awkward trying to hang out with new people. I am here with some tips to make this process a little easier. I see you my immigrant friends and I’ve got you.
1. FIND A HOBBY. IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE, GO OUT AND TRY THINGS TILL YOU FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE.
You are going to have to get used to doing things alone to start with. But if you can go to things you love by yourself it’s much easier to strike up a conversation with new people. I love punk music, so it was pretty natural that I was going to go to punk shows and once at a show talking to people was easy. Some of the first friends I made in Chicago was because I was interviewing a band, who then asked me to come have dinner with them and then a party. Using a hobby as an entry point into conversation is great because you probably already know loads about what you’re passionate in and hopefully conversation flows a little more easily between you and any new people you meet. Trying new things means you are putting yourself out there in situations where you will meet new people, but try and commit to something you will do regularly.
2. FIND SOMEWHERE LOCAL TO HANG OUT IN.
Quenchers was my hangout spot for a long time. Once I’d moved house into my second Chicago apartment it wasn’t actually that close to me anymore but it was still where I would go to hang out at all points of the day. I don’t know how much this point counts in other countries but in America if you find a good coffee shop or bar where you feel comfortable and make some regular trips there during the week to have a drink and read a book, you will end up talking to people. I became friends with all of the staff at Quenchers, I made friends just hanging out there at the bar and talking to people who also just came in all the time to have a drink, watch some sport on the TV and chill out.
3. ADD PEOPLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. NOT IN A CREEPY WAY, BUT IF YOU HAVE TALKED TO THEM ELSEWHERE IN PERSON FIRST.
I used to feel a little weird about this one, when I would meet people via friends at shows and we’d have a little chat I never knew what the etiquette was regarding if I can add these people on social media. Most of the time they would find and add me first, which saved me a lot of anxiety. But this is a situation where social media helps. I have such a love/hate relationship with Facebook and Twitter, but if you only see people at shows but they are posting links to things they are interested in outside of music online, or you see some cool opinions on something you’re super passionate about it’s again a gateway to talk. Recently I’ve got over my fear of not messaging people I think are cool and want to hang out with because I’m worried they’ll think I’m a bit lame trying to make friends, and it turns out in a lot of these cases the wanting to be better friends feeling is mutual and everyone is happy we’re hanging out more.
4. TRY NOT TO BE AFRAID TO ASK PEOPLE TO HANG OUT.
This is the one where I guess there is a fine line between trying to make friends and trying to date? I don’t know what that line is because I am awful at dating and flirting and do not do a lot of either of these things in life. But the way I would make friends in the UK was that I would ask them out to get a drink or see a movie or something along those lines, I did a lot of one on one hangouts with friends. When I moved that became a little harder because I felt a little awkward making friends like I did in the UK. So there were a lot of group hangouts because when you know you’re making friends you suddenly become aware of how weird it can be. It took me a long time to just be like “YO DO YOU WANT TO GET A DRINK?” or “YO I SEE YOU GO HIKING LIKE ALL THE TIME. CAN I COME HIKING WITH YOU?” which I probably have sent in caps just like that to people. In the last 6 months of so I’ve learnt to just be me again with no walls or guard up and it’s really nice. It’s helping to make me more comfortable around new people. What you realise is that it’s never weird, you aren’t coming across as some lonely, needy person, you are just being friendly and that is okay! On the same lines, you gotta be okay with people who don’t want to be your friend. Don’t take it personally, not everyone will like you. That is life, and you gotta try to not let it knock you down.
5. YOU ARE NOT A LOSER.
I am adding this in because I mean no-one thinks about this really. I think making friends is meant to be a natural part of life, we are social beings after all. But if you don’t get into a situation where you have to start over later in life you never realise just how hard it is to forget the skills to make entirely new friends and build over again. You feel like you’re intruding on peoples lives, because the people you meet will have lifelong friends here and their own groups and it’s hard to not feel like you’re pushing in sometimes when you’re definitely not being like that. If you are a naturally anxious person anyway then paranoia is so easily pushed to it’s limits when meeting new people and making new friends. I don’t know if I should blame media and social construct here but you do feel like a loser at times and it can get so very lonely, especially when you first move. If you know someone is new in your scene or your city try and reach out to them and ask them to hang out, because I can bet you they want to hang out and are just feeling scared to ask you themselves.
6. SOMETIMES IT HELPS TO HAVE SOME SMALL TALK ALL READY TO GO.
This one makes me think of Pride and Prejudice and the stupid vicar dude called Mr Collins who has compliments written down and prepared so he can use them in company when the time calls for it. I mean you’re not going to be creepy like him, but if you aren’t good at just talking spontaneously it does help to have a few subjects you can just bring up or turn to when you’re new. When I first moved it was always just something to do with the UK, honestly sometimes it still is the UK. But it can be something from the news, a movie you’ve seen lately or a book you’ve read or even something like food. I’ve used food a bunch of times. I always ask a lot of questions, but I have a lot of questions about American culture so that one comes easily to me. But it will help you to get too in your head if you have some stuff to say that will then help you feel comfortable enough that conversation can flow naturally.
Those are the best tips I can give right now. If you are new to a city and you’re feeling overwhelmed and lonely you can email (firstname.lastname@example.org) me! I’ll help you as much as I can. You’ve made this huge, scary change in your life and yes it’s daunting and difficult at times as well as an exciting adventure. But you’ve got this, you have totally got this and you will make new friends. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and keep trying and it will get easier. This is coming from someone who is pretty good in social situations and doesn’t have trouble making small talk but hated to make small talk, someone who has anxiety and had a very hard time adjusting to my move. I met my best friend at a show in 2015 on 420 (hah!) and she came up to talk to me because I looked a little out of place, we then hung out after the show and I don’t think we’ve ever looked back from then. Sometimes you will meet people and instantly become great friends, sometimes you will meet people and it will take a while, sometimes people just won’t like you, you just gotta keep trying and keep believing in yourself!