Moving from one country to another can be stressful and sometimes feel isolating, especially if you’re doing it frequently. It’s important to have a strong community around you to give support, offer a helping hand, and simply provide friendship.
No matter where in the world you are, our Foreign Service community can be a great resource to help you get through life at a new post, but plugging in somewhere new is often easier said than done. And once you do get plugged in, life can get in the way of staying connected. So how do you go about getting and staying involved in your community? Here are five tips I’ve used as I’ve moved with my family from one post to the next:
1. Put yourself out there! I totally understand that if you’re shy, actually taking the step to connect to strangers can seem terrifying; but the truth is, so many other people are looking for a friend and sense of community too--they’re just too afraid to make the first move themselves. Start by connecting where you feel comfortable. It can be as simple as complimenting someone in line while picking up your packages, making small talk with someone at your favorite coffee shop, or planning a play date for your kids. Putting yourself out there may be the most challenging step, but it’s also the most rewarding!
2. Make friends with your Community Liaison Officer (CLO). Ask your CLO for the inside scoop on your post’s community. How have people come together in the past? Are there certain activities that really bring the community together? Is there a community chat on WhatsApp or do people prefer communicating on Facebook? You can even try asking what’s missing in the community. Are people craving a book club but no one’s organized one yet? Be willing to step up and fill a void. Your CLO is a tremendous support system; let them you know what to be involved in the community and/or meet new friends, and they’ll probably get the word out and point you in the right direction.
3. Join the community Facebook group. If there isn’t a group set up for your local post then create one! Use it as a forum to talk about what your family is doing. If you’re taking your kids swimming, ask if other parents want to come along. If you just tried a new restaurant, share your thoughts and ask for additional recommendations.
4. Just say YES! Start saying yes to all the invitations that come your way! This isn’t forever, but when you first arrive at a new post, do your best to attend every get-together, party, play date, CLO Coffee, or other invitation extended to you. You’ll meet new people and showing up for stuff will help you keep tabs on all the community goings-on.
5. Throw a party! Better yet, don’t wait for others to invite you to a party—throw your own! Most people are looking for a sense of community too, they’re just too afraid to make the first move. It doesn’t have to be elaborate either. Love wine? Create a wine club. Into board games? Host a family game night! Or simply bring people together for a barbecue or a potluck.
I like the idea of, what I call, Treats in the Streets. It’s a fun twist on trick or treat! Ask few neighbors to serve a treat (like cookies, lemonade, etc.) and the take turns visiting the different treat stations. The “party” possibilities are endless; do whatever makes you feel most comfortable!
Above all else, remember everyone is new to a post at one point. So don’t stress! It might take a little time to find your community, but I’ll happen. If you put yourself out there and share a friendly smile, you’ll ultimately find the circle that’s right for you!
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