One of the biggest adjustments of moving to a new country (besides, in my case, the adjustment to different weather and having to call it a stop light not a robot) is the pervading sense of ‘rootlessness’. It is hard not to sometimes feel stuck between two worlds and I know I’m not alone in this feeling because I have spoken to other immigrants about this. It is very strange having to rebuild your network and find your place within your new community. It must be stranger still if you can’t speak the language or if you are painfully shy.
What has been interesting for me is realising that it is not just your friends and family that you miss dearly – that immediate and infinitely valuable safety net of nearest and dearest – but your Network with a capital N. This becomes nowhere more apparent than when you are starting your own business, changing careers or hunting for a job. Back home, you might know people. Your people could call my people. I know I would be able to leverage my network (the old school tie so to speak) to find work, hear about different opportunities, scout out different industries – you get the idea. So as much as being in a new place makes you have to adjust to different brands of shampoo, strange pronunciations and a lack of certain types of food items, it also makes you adjust to the fact that you are to all intents and purposes … alone. That network of people you spent building up through school, university, work, is suddenly not there, and you have to start all over again.
It is, therefore, not just having people to hang out with that feels strange, it’s not having People to do business with. What you do tend to find out though, as you begin the slow task of building a Network, that often the two become synonymous – someone you have made a connection with in a business setting can become a friend, and sometimes a friend can lead to business (though I am hesitant to recommend this as I strongly believe certain friends and money don’t mix – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts). It is just weird to think how we take for granted the connections we make just through something like high school or a random job, and how it’s the usual case of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.
I firmly believe that we all thrive when we have a rich community of people – like-minded souls that energise us and motivate us and who push us to be the best we can be. I also think that the more we have social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the more disconnected we can become because we have the illusion of being permanently ‘plugged in’ and connected. Though I won’t knock them for allowing me to keep in touch with the South African Diaspora. There is hope, however.
Although certain places can be really tough when it comes to making friends, there are ways to meet people and create a network. Volunteering is always an option. Personally, I do (quick promo here) – for a society called Wired Woman. This has lead to fantastic networking opportunities and the chance to connect with really interesting people and form new friendships. There are also plenty of other events and networking opportunities for various interest groups and industries, and there’s always MeetUp.com - a great site with a huge variety of different interest groups.
So if you’re feeling lonely and disconnected, remember YOU have to reach out and start trying to build those friendships and that Network. They won’t come to you. It is hard in the beginning, but it’s all easier with practice. It can make such a difference when you start to feel like you belong somewhere and although it’s not easy, it’s worth every awkward moment and overpriced cappuccino.