Contributed by: Revathi Ramasamy
Most of us at WBFN have moved at least once. Leaving behind everything familiar and starting over can be a challenge.
Once settled and top priority items sorted, a quiet atmosphere dawns on us. We are social beings. We begin to miss our family and friends. We work at keeping these ties going through social media and good old phone calls. Thank goodness for technology that keeps us instantly connected these days albeit with some time difference.
Still, we need some real face to face time with people. It’s time to rebuild our community. Get to know people living in the same environment, who understand the struggles of constant power outages, who can pick your kids from school when we’re running late or who will meet for coffee when we’ve had a bad day or share the joys of discovering a new walking trail or recipe, and laugh at each others’ idiosyncrasies. We need our tribe, people we resonate with, a sense of belonging. Most of us do anyway, sooner or later for our own wellbeing as well as our families’.
So, how does one cultivate a community? What skills and attitudes are needed? Our community could be a big group or just a few good friends based on our personality type and needs. Some of us may be shy and awkward, and others, sociable and exuberant.
Even before moving, we can reach out to people who might know someone or some interest groups. Including the local chapter of WBFN of course! If we’re lucky, there would already be a Whatsapp or Facebook group. Ask to join. Immediately, we’ll plug into the local scene and get access to much information and have many questions answered. Even silly ones! They’ve all been there before and are ready to help a new comer. Also, meet people who have moved back to at HQ or whichever country we are in. Seek and gather information.
Plan to meet a few WBFN members or anyone else during your pre-assignment trip. Meeting them in person will be a great help. In some places, there are also UN spouse groups, expat and local groups.
Ask them about activities you might be interested in. Book clubs, walking groups, quilting, art classes, pilates, anything at all. If we can’t find it, we can create one in time. During my time in Madagascar, 15 years ago, a few of us started our own art class, yoga group and book club. Communing this way was comforting and fun. A few of us are still in touch today.
For those with school going children, the school then becomes your main point to meet other parents. There’s a joke that parents seen smiling a lot during the first week of school must be new and eager to make friends!
In the rare situation where you have a job in the new country, your work place is a great space to foster some friendships. This of course depends on securing the elusive work permit. Not being able to work can be a source of frustration. If nothing else can be done about that, let’s just look for other possibilities.
One of the most humbling and fulfilling experiences is the privilege of contributing our time and effort towards local community needs. Find out about organizations, groups or social impact startups where we can help effectively and regularly. We can volunteer to teach, fundraise, organize events, whatever you enjoy doing, learning that fits the need there. The group we help with and the volunteers there become yet another community.
Like a garden, the community needs nurturing. We get as much if not more than we give. Chip in, help organize and coordinate gatherings. If we enjoy hosting friends at home, offer to do so. We can prepare the refreshments ourselves or buy. It really doesn’t matter. We can keep it simple or prepare a special spread if that’s our thing. Home is a private, and quiet space for gatherings. If we prefer not to meet at home or it’s not conducive, look around for cafes or parks depending on the activity. But invest in this circle, we must.
All this may be possible if we start the move with our best foot forward, set the right intention and attitude for the move. Perhaps look at this as an opportunity or adventure? We don’t know what’s in store. Let’s make it work for us and go with an open mind to learn, grow and enjoy. If things don’t go according to plan, we can always commiserate with others with similar experiences.
When we eventually figure out how to make a difficult relocation joyful, our family benefits as well. We can be their rock during this turbulent time and our precious community in turn will be our support group. As the saying goes, with all things and in all things, we are relatives.