Johannesburg - Are you moving to a new home, a new job or a new city in the new year? Does the prospect of this change feel daunting? Relax, it is entirely normal to feel a range of emotions, from apprehension and stress to excitement and impatience.
The most important part of moving, according to people who have done it, is preparation. If you’ve covered the groundwork – registered your new services, located the local school, clinic, supermarket and vet – you’re on the right track. But once you’ve got the logistics tackled, you also need to integrate into your new community and make new friends. And that’s where it gets tricky for the more introverted among us.
Godfrey Madanhire, a motivational speaker and life coach who himself relocated 10 years ago from Zimbabwe to South Africa, says making new friends is about being willing to network and kickstart conversations yourself. “Don’t wait for people to talk to you. Greet people. Step out of your comfort zone. It shows you are keen to interact with the new strangers in your life,” he says.
That doesn’t mean you do all the talking, though. The rule of thumb is ask questions.
“I made the assumption when I first came to South Africa that people wanted to know everything about Zimbabwe. Some people were interested, but at times people were put off because they rather wanted to talk about things relevant to them,” he says.
First-year university students have a natural advantage here: “You can talk about challenges and opportunities you share.”
But whatever the situation, be respectful and not confrontational, advises Madanhire. “You might think that playing devil’s advocate will get people talking, but it is not a sustainable strategy if you are new in town. Rather, steer the conversation to what you have in common,” he says.
Joining a club, society or association that interests you is a good idea, of course, but Madanhire cautions that it needs to fit in with what you want to do or achieve. “Join a reading club if reading interests you, or a choir if you like singing. Don’t join a club for the sole purpose of meeting new people,” he advises.
To get a sense of how other people experienced relocation, Verve garnered these three stories:
KAREN DUBOIS, AN ARTIST WHO MOVED TO BRADFORD IN THE UK YEARS AGO
“If I was 10 to 15 years younger when I moved countries, I’d have been much more proactive about working my way into the community. But at the stage of life I am now, it’s not about how many people I meet, but the type of people they are. I’ve sought out people I really connect with.
“Recently, I started an art studio and workshop. It has brought all manner of wonderful, eclectic and interesting people out of the woodwork from the surrounding hills and villages. I have been invited to their houses and taken around their neighbourhood to see their views.
“Through my art classes, I’ve got to know the local hospital chaplain, his friend, the autistic young adult from across the river, the elderly lady in the midst of chemotherapy, kids who pass by the window every day and now are part of my studio art class community with their parents.
“It’s important to find the things that resonate with you. You don’t have to involve yourself in everything. I’ve chosen an acoustic folk music circuit, and the local greengrocer shop.
“To cement friendships and connections, I’ve offered my marketing skills if people are starting up something, then attended their events and launches.”
BERILYN TEELING, A CREDIT CONTROLLER WHO RELOCATED WITH HER FAMILY TO IRELAND
“My son, Rees, was only five when my husband and I decided to relocate. Being so young, he integrated well at school. It helped, too, that Robbie and I had been to Ireland before, so we had an idea of what to expect. We consciously went with a positive attitude, and found the best way to get to know people was through the school and meeting other parents with kids the same age.
“We did try the local rugby club but they seem to be quite cliquey, not like South Africa where the sports clubs are generally welcoming.
“Obviously work is also a way to get to know people, but I wouldn’t expect any strong friendships from colleagues. Initially, you suss out the situation and try not to be too ‘out there’, but eventually it becomes ‘take it or leave it’. And I soon realised that just because you meet South Africans away from home doesn’t mean you’ll become life-long friends.
“Still, you have to be prepared to do the hard work. Locals have no real reason to go out of their way to be friendly. It’s the new kid on the block who has to make the effort. I have started making more South African dishes if we have people over, to share a bit of ourselves.
“The worst mistake you can make is constantly comparing where you are to where you came from. People get tired of it and probably wonder why you moved! You need to know and accept that things are going to be different.
“If it’s a permanent move, you need to adapt and make the most of it. After all, it’s an adventure, and it opens your mind to new people and places.”
TRACEY NAUGHTON, AN AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING EXPERT WHO HAS RELOCATED SEVERAL TIMES IN AFRICA
“I reckon it takes 18 months to gather a small tribe of your kind of people and to feel a sense of place and home, especially if you are in a completely new place far from your last base, like another country.
“For me, more important than joining groups is to engage with everyone who crossed my daily routines. Of course, you still have your old friends. Bring them with you via Skype, visits or any other channel. But in your new space, have gatherings, and invite new people whom you like.
“Be brave. Congratulate yourself for every integration step you make. Suspend expectations and judgement. Trust people and the way life unfolds in your new place. Appreciate, enjoy and savour your new environment.”
TIPS FOR BREAKING THE ICE
Godfrey Madanhire advises:
* Put your phone away. Show respect by not texting or talking on your phone.
* Crack a joke, but be careful you don’t offend the local culture.
* Wear something extraordinary… like a flower, it attracts people to you. I wear a pink jacket sometimes.
* Watch your body language. The way you carry yourself tells a lot about you.
* Behave as though you are comfortable even if you’re a bit nervous.
* Avoid using standard ice breakers like ‘What is your name?’ or ‘Where do you come from?’ Be creative and come up with a conversation opener. Introductions can come later.
* Ask people to dinner if you feel comfortable. But if you suggest a restaurant, make sure you understand the local payment convention. Some people expect you to pay if you asked them out to a meal. Or if they ask you to a meal, you may be expected to pay.
* Don’t just mix with expats. This will isolate you and prevent you from getting to know the locals.
FINDING FRIENDS AT UNIVERSITY
It is daunting to leave your high school friends and family to start an independent life at a place where you probably know no one. But they say the friendships you make at varsity last a lifetime. Here are some tips for forging friendships:
* Be present for Orientation Week, which is designed to introduce you to the campus, its clubs and societies and to one another.
* Staying in residence gives you greater opportunities to make friends. Everyone is in the same boat as you and aren’t hurrying home after lectures.
* Join a club or society that revolves around something in which you are interested. If you join just to meet other people, the interest may become tedious. There are groupings on culture, faith, politics and special interests.
* Volunteer. You will make friends by joining organisations that reach out and help others. These initiatives provide great bonding experiences with your peers.
* Initiate conversations. Whether at the library or coffee shop, be brave and break the ice. Remember, most people are just as apprehensive as you and are also keen to make friends.
* Stay public. You’ll be more liable to find friends in communal areas, so study in the library rather than in your room or at home and eat on campus, rather than off campus.
* It’s hard to get chatting to someone in a crowded lecture hall. Up your chances by arriving for lectures a few minutes earlier and sitting in the middle of the room. Then look around for a pretext to strike up a conversation.
* Be nice – make the effort by making tea, coffee or meals for people on the same floor at res; pay compliments to others and be positive and enthusiastic. No one likes a drag.
* Connect on social media. Your university is likely to have accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; they are avenues for connecting with other students.