Think back to how you first met and became friends with your best friend. Can you remember? Sometimes growing a friendship or a community of friends can happen effortlessly, but when we move to a new location, we may find ourselves at a loss when trying to form those same deep connections. Here are a few ideas Becky (GRC's Spiritual Director) gave when asked how to go about building a community after moving to a new place.
1. Don’t limit connections to your team - connect with the nationals outside of your team. It can be easy to stay in our comfort zone and talk with those on our team or our co-workers whom we already have some connection with, instead of reaching out to those around us. Sometimes we envision and crave the closeness and friendliness within a community but forget that even our closest friends were all strangers to us at one time. Growing a new community is not always convenient or comfortable. Growing a new community can feel like work at the beginning, because to form those deep friendships our hearts desire we first have to introduce ourselves to strangers. Growing deep friendships takes time, appropriate vulnerability, and a willingness to go outside our comfort zone to initiate conversations with people we do not know yet.
2. Realize that work and being social may happen simultaneously and are not exclusive. Sometimes when we work we develop tunnel vision or feel like we could accomplish more faster if we just isolate ourselves and work on our own. While working without distractions is helpful on some projects, continually choosing to work alone often means we will hang out after work - alone. Our goal when we work can not only be to finish a task, but also to connect with others we are working with as we work. Everytime we work around other people we have the opportunity to take small moments to connect with them throughout the day. We may need to be intentional about connecting and initiating those conversations, but it is those first conversations that can lead to deeper conversations and friendships even after a task is done.
3. “Be willing to feel foolish.” The quicker we realize that we will make mistakes both linguistically and culturally, the quicker we can get over our fear of making mistakes and get to the part of making the friends we long for. Making mistakes is part of the journey to creating those friendships where love and forgiveness abounds even when we mess up. Also, when we make those mistakes it can give those around us an opportunity to show us grace and help them to feel more like approaching us as well, because they can see that we do not have it all together.
4. Find bridge people - those who will be patient enough to help teach you to bridge the cultural gap. People often want to help each other, and there will be those that will want to help you grow in your understanding of the culture and connection with people. People often want to help - but we have to remember to humble ourselves, and ask for help. This is another place to build relationships with nationals who will likely be more than happy to help you understand their culture. At the same time you can introduce them to parts of your home cultural and grow community in the process.
5. Approach each situation as a learner, not as an expert or teacher. We each have experiences and knowledge that is valuable, but this time is meant to be a time of learning and not necessarily teaching. By exercising patience with ourselves and others and approaching daily situations as a learner, we give others the courtesy of teaching us. This grows community first, and lays a foundation for outreach opportunities down the road.