Okay, so anyone who’s known me for even half a second will read the title of this blog post and think to themselves…’But you’re not an introvert, Nim’ True. I’m an extrovert through and through…hubby even tells me I could talk under water if I had to. This post is not about me, though. As many of you know, I often shuttle between India and Australia as guest speaker at several workshops, literary festivals & seminars, talking about creativity, writing and finding your true life purpose. After one of my recent workshops, I was asked by a young woman who had newly migrated to Australia how she could go about building a network. Making new friends was a huge challenge for her because she was a shy person by nature. Her simple question transported me back 20 years when I had first moved to Sydney from Mumbai as a newly-wed bride. In addition to trying to find your first job (with zero local experience), the next biggest challenge for any new migrant is making new friends. So, I thought about how I had gone about it back then. Today, of course, there are lots more options for networking than there were back then but nonetheless, the fundamentals of making new friends are the same. As a new migrant, I signed up for several low-cost courses that would benefit me in my job search. This brought me into contact with people of all ages and from different cultures. One I remember distinctly was a computer skills course. The best way to start making new friends in a new country is to either join a course or put your hand up for volunteering opportunities. My passion has always been creative writing, so I looked up writing courses at community colleges and attended them. After my first child was born, I joined a local mother’s group that was run by the community centre. The lovely 7 women I met that spring morning 17 years ago are still very good friends of mine and we now meet every few months for a ‘girls night out’. (Back then, while our babies were really babies, we’d meet every week in the park.) I’d often go to the library for ‘story time sessions’ and there I’d meet other mums and get talking. Believe me, there is no better place than your local library to make new friends.
There is this misconception that in order to start making friends easily, you have to have the ‘gift of the gab’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, while those who are effortless ‘talkers’ no doubt have it easy when it comes to socialising, the single core requirement for making friends is ‘active listening.’ To those who are shy introverts, this is what I’ll say: When you’re at a dinner party or any other social event and you can’t think of anything interesting to say, ask the other person a question: about them, their line of work, their hobbies. And genuinely ‘listen’ to what they’re saying instead of worrying about what you’re going to say next. Nothing kills a perfectly decent conversation quicker than not tuning in. Sometimes, because we’re too worried about what we’re going to say next, we fail to listen to what is being said. And because we’ve not actually heard what was said, we miss out on wonderful new avenues of taking the conversation forward.
So, don’t worry too much if you’re not naturally talkative. Go out, meet new people and develop the art of asking interesting questions. Then listen and ask a litte more. Before long, you’ll find yourself carried along on the tide of an interesting and sparkling conversation. So, my suggestions to you if you are a new arrival in a foreign country: Look up local community colleges and join a course or two (there are a zillion options from pottery, writing, painting to more technical courses), take up membership at the local library and go along to their events like book club coffee mornings etc. Look up Eventbrite or Meetups and join networking groups in your area. You can sort these meetup groups according to your hobbies and interests which in turn will help you meet other likeminded people. Offer to volunteer with charity groups…they’re always on the lookout for enthusiastic helpers. There are several women’s networking groups available that meet once a month and do charity work. Just google ‘Networking associations and opportunities’ and a whole host of options will pop up.
Making friends really is a painless process. The single and most basic requirement is a genuine interest in other people….and you’ll be on your way 🙂