Immigrating: Making New Friends

by Helen Grant

Helen Grant is a freelance writer and journalist, based in Scotland but a frequent visitor to Canada.

It’s never easy, shifting to a new place. You’re leaving behind everything you know, sometimes friends and family. Cities offer lots of challenges and rural locations offer pretty surroundings but the excitement of a new challenge can wear off if friendships don’t appear as quickly as you’d hoped. Friends help make our lives enjoyable and meaningful – something many of us take for granted. Leaving behind the comfort and support of close friendships can be scary. For some, especially those who are single, the loss may mean lack of good company and social activities. Others, even those who are married or in relationships, may feel sad at the loss of close communication and emotional support. These are normal reactions.

For newcomers who have employment, the workplace is one of the best ways of meeting people. Joining in work activities and clubs is a great way to bond with co-workers, many of whom will be potential friends. A lot depends on your own attitude and willingness to invest time and energy in building friendships. Being new to town has its advantages. For starters, it’s a great opening line when introducing yourself to people. If the person turns out to be a potential friend, they’ll no doubt have their own established social circle that you will, hopefully, be introduced to. As money attracts money and opportunity attracts opportunity, friendship attracts friendship.

For families, one of the easiest ways to meet new people is through your children – striking up conversations with other parents at the school gates, getting involved with after-school activities and introducing yourself to other parents in the neighbourhood. Volunteering for school fundraising events, getting involved with soccer schedules and school trips are all good ways to meet people. You could host a backyard barbecue or a party for your kids’ school friends and their parents – another great way to introduce yourself. But don’t get upset if your guests don’t return the offer – most people lead busy lives. Unfortunately, there are people who – faced with an unfamiliar situation like settling into a new location – display signs of unfriendliness by clinging too much to the past. This can send out the wrong signal – that they’re not interested in socializing or participating in activities. Keep in touch with old friends by all means, but remember to save time and energy for making new ones. Establishing friendships takes a lot of effort and if you cling too much to the past, you’ll be less likely to have the energy needed to get out there and socialize.

“I’m an outgoing person and find it easy to talk to people I don’t know,” says Jo, who moved to Toronto from Britain when her husband changed jobs. “In London, I had a close-knit group of friends, people I’d known since school. I had no reason to find new ones. Suddenly, I was in a strange place with only my husband and children for company. For the first few months, I rang my old friends every day. Then it dawned on me that I was clinging to them so much, I was stopping myself making new friends.”

Kerry, a mum of two who left Vancouver for a university course, was full of excitement upon arrival in Toronto. She payed the deposit on an apartment, registered her kids at a local school and was looking forward to making friends at university.

“I thought it’d be that easy,” she says. “Educational establishments are full of like-minded souls, aren’t they? Well, I was in for a rude awakening. Most of the people on my course were twenty years younger. There were two other mature students – one wasn’t my type and the other commuted from over 60 miles away.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement.”

A strong support network of friends can make all the difference to how quickly you settle in a new city. But how do you go about hooking up with a new crew? Most people, unless they’re super-confident, find the idea of approaching strangers scary.

“When I was dating, I waited for people to approach me, so why should making friends be any different?” asks Jo. “When we’re growing up we’re told not to talk to strangers and yet, as adults, it’s the only way to avoid a lonely existence.”

If you are new to a city and on your own, it makes sense to go to social events alone – otherwise you’ll never get any further than the TV screen or moping on the phone to friends left behind. Introducing yourself as a newcomer is a great way to start conversations and you are likely to be made to feel welcome – Canadians are friendly folk! The Yellow Pages is a ready source of organizations that host dinners and parties for single people. Friendship agencies, many of which now have websites, are also worth a call.

The Internet has made it possible for busy folk to search for friendship online without leaving the comfort of their home. There are numerous web sites catering for people seeking friendship. Search engines like Google and cdnbusiness.com are good places to start.

If the thought of walking into a bar or club on your own makes you feel uncomfortable, then don’t. It might help if you approach the organizers of an event beforehand. Tell them you are nervous about arriving alone and, more often than not, you’ll receive a warm welcome and an introduction to a few people to help you along.

It’s all too easy for couples without dependent children to fall into the trap of relying on each other for company and miss out on opportunities to meet people. Joining clubs and activity groups is a good way to meet like-minded couples that could become friends.

Finally, CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) has a host program designed to help newcomers adjust to their new life – providing support and friendship in the form of a Canadian volunteer. Your host will help you practise English or French, register your children at a local school, shop for groceries or use public transit. Whether you need help understanding the telephone or utilities systems, finding out about social or recreational activities or just want someone to talk to, having a friendly person on hand can make your first months in Canada easier – and who knows? Perhaps they’ll turn out to be a really good friend!

Start Making Friends Now

  • Force yourself to say hello to people at work, in shops and at the school gates. Smile. Remember – your oldest friends were strangers once. You won’t meet anyone sitting at home moping. Get out there, even if it’s just a walk in the park or a trip to the cinema.
  • If you’re sports mad, join a team. If you like helping others, try volunteering. Night school is also a good way to meet people (and learn new skills).
  • Keep up your interests. That way, when you meet people, you’ll have lots to talk about.
  • When meeting someone for the first time, relax and smile, introduce yourself early in the conversation, listen to their answers and build on them with more questions. Ask open-ended questions that allow the conversation to flow.
  • If you hit it off with someone, offer your phone number or email address. If they give you theirs, use it! Invite them for a coffee. But don’t rush into giving anyone your home address.

Useful Contacts

For info on the CIC host program,
call 1-888-242-2100 or visit
http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/newcomer/host%2Dfs1.html

CNM