Throughout my life, I have been The New Kid. My family moved roughly every 3-4 years until I started 8th grade. I think the first song that I was ever taught went something like this: "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold." I think that little jingle was supposed to comfort me while subtly revealing the fact that I would be leaving all of my current friends, moving somewhere else, and would be required to make new friends once arriving. As a kid, I hated it. As an adult, I am so thankful for those difficult times and the lessons learned through them.
One of the most important things I learned through our many moves was the ability to create community in a short period of time. (Elementary age Tyler would have substituted the word "community" for "friends"). Being the new kid at a new school is scary. And frankly, being the new adults in a new city is scary too. But the ability to cultivate community when you are the new kid/adult/couple is a skill that can actually be learned. Here are some pieces of advice that both 7-year-old Tyler and 27-year-old Tyler have learned over the years:
Just Say Hello - When I was 10 years old, my best friend in California was Nate Wyatt. Want to know how we became best friends? I was walking my dog down the street after we had finished unpacking the moving van when I saw Nate across the street. He looked about my age and so I waved at him. He said "Nice dog!", and thus began a life long friendship. It's as simple as a friendly wave or hello that opens the door to friendship and community. Dogs can help too.
Invite People - When you are a new person in a community, you secretly long for people to invite you to hang out with them. But guess what? They probably won't. Why? Because most people suck at recognizing the new person and they suck even more at inviting the new person to hang out. So, this is where you have to stick your neck out a bit. Since Linda and I moved to Anchorage just over a month ago, we have already had 4 or 5 different people or couples over for dinner. I'm sure some of those people would have had us over for dinner eventually, but we wanted to show and share our desire for community as soon as we could.
No Excuses - "But I am so introverted/shy/scared and could never put myself out there like that." I totally understand the fear of offering yourself and your friendship at the risk of being denied. And frankly? Your fears are legit, and you probably won't be successful 100% of the time. I can think of people by name from elementary school(!) that turned my friendship down. I probably came home and cried about no one liking me and how much I hated my new school. But there was one thing that was more powerful than the feeling of rejection: my desire for friendship and community. And so I went back to school the next day and tried again. If you let your fear of rejection (and even rejection itself) overpower your desire for community, it will isolate you. Be brave. Realize that everyone else is seeking the same thing you are: community and a sense of belonging. It doesn't matter if you are new, the desire for community is shared among all people.
Smile - It's a simple fact: people are much more likely to want to get to know you if you don't look like you want to kill them. So smile! I'm not telling you to be this creepy person who walks around with a smile plastered on your face all day. But certainly think about how you are presenting yourself to people who don't know you. There are all sorts of statistics and cute anecdotes about smiling and the wonders that it does for your social life and well-being. But I'll just say from my own personal experience of being the new kid/student/adult my entire life, a smile opens the doors to an entire world of community.
Obviously there are plenty of other pieces of advice that remain unmentioned here as well as entire books written on the subject. All I have is my experience and the many wonderful communities I have experienced across different countries and states. I'm thrilled about the community that has already begun to form around us here in Alaska. And I am so thankful for the many moving vans, rejections, smiles, and even songs that helped to teach me the importance of having that community in our life.
photo at top: Excuse the cheesy line but: the road of life is better walked together, in community. We chose to join a church as soon as we arrived here because we felt it was the best place to connect quickly at this stage in our lives. We are thankful that they have welcomed us with open arms, inviting us to tag along on events like the backpacking trip pictured above.
We're Tyler and Linda, a newly married couple recording all the ordinary days that make up this extraordinary life we share. We love making things-- from food to furniture-- and experiencing new places and cultures. We are starting a three year journey around the world and are so glad you're here to join in! Expect to read reports on the mundane to the remarkable :)
Visit the introduction to the Koinonia series to know how you can write about community, participation, and fellowship.