It ain’t easy being the new kid in town. I’ve done it a few times now though, and have a few key things I always try to do when I’m at settling in level 2. You know, arrived, unpacked, started work/uni, and starting to get integrated into the community…
1) Smile at absolutely everyone all the time. But not like a crackhead. Like a friendly approachable person. Don’t dazzle everyone you meet with a huge grin, just acknowledge people you make eye contact with, and don’t avoid eye contact if it happens naturally. As my students deciding the criteria for a presentation said yesterday ‘a smile makes a difference.’ In a good way. When you smile at people, they tend to smile back. You can also make notes on who doesn’t return a smile from a stranger.
2) Accept every invitation. Unless the invitor is openly leering physically or mentally, always says yes. It takes a fair amount of courage for someone to invite a person to hang out. If someone is willing to spend non-obligatory time with you when you’re the new foreign person, take it as a huge compliment and don’t throw it back in their face by saying no. It’s more than likely that it won’t come again. This advice was offered to me before I departed for South East Asia and in my experience, ne’er a truer word was spoken. Well, except…
3) Trust no bugger. (Int. English = Trust no one) This oft-repeated catchphrase of my auntie’s was also doled out in all seriousness. Seemingly contradictory, it works in perfect tandem with you accepting invites from every corner from which they come. Under those circumstances, you’re not relying heavily on the goodwill of the person who’s extending the invite. I’m always delighted when I return home safe and sound from a random outing with a person I barely knew. But I also never embark on such an adventure without leaving a name/phone/number/brief description/anticipated location to be visited/estimated return time with a person I trust be it landlady/boss/housemate. And never return past an estimated return time without giving forewarning. Think the boy who cried wolf.
4) Enjoy your own company. If the invitations don’t come often enough, or at all, take matters into your own hands. Find a meetup group near you, or if like me you found that there wasn’t one within 25 miles of your location, get involved with what’s going on locally. Go for things which already interest you; there may be a different but captivating take on live music in your new locale.
5) Enjoy your celebrity status. If you’re from a bustling city like I am, it can be quite unnerving to meet people who have already ‘heard about’ you. It took me a while to realise they didn’t know about some naked pics of me on the internet that I was unaware of, but that they know there’s a foreigner in town and they’ve (correctly) guessed it’s you. This happens x 100 if you’re teaching. The bus driver’s kid might well be in your class, as might the vegetable-seller’s in the marketplace. Bear in mind, if they recognise you, their kid has probably said nice things about you (took me a while to work that out too).
6) Take your time and make real friends. Particularly if you’re planning to be in the new place longer than 3 months. Tempting as it is, in my experience, the worst thing you can do is stick like glue to the first person who’s nice to you. It’s a bit like taking the first job offered to you when you’re unemployed; it’s a short-term solution if you’re career-minded and the job is in no way related to your chosen path. And like with a job, people you barely know will judge you based on what you choose to spend your time doing.
It’s not a long list, but whenever I’ve had the good fortune to be someplace new and exciting, and wanted to build a happy life for myself, bearing these things in mind has worked for me.