This blog post today comes to you from Springfield, Missouri (pronounced Missour-ah). You may be thinking, “Springfield, like from the Simpsons?”, but no, the Simpsons are allegedly based off of a city in Springfield, Oregon. Although I have yet to run into Marty Byrde (any Ozark fans out there?), I have met some pretty incredible individuals during my 12-week stint living in this new location. The next natural question would certainly be, why are you living there? So, to remove the absolute gut-wrenching suspense you must be feeling in anticipation I will tell you – I am here for my summer practicum.
So, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life you will have to enter into a foreign place and create community. Maybe you already have numerous times, or maybe graduate school will be one of the first major steps outside of your geographical zone of comfort. I would like to put forth my tried-and-true, simple-yet-effective tip for building community in a new place. Also as a disclaimer, *wow, how odd would it have been if I had stated what is to follow even 2 years ago*, but these tips work best when not accompanied by a pandemic. As a testament to the uncertainty of our future, and to ensure this post remains relevant in the years to come I will add, these tips also work best when not accompanied by a meteor strike, alien invasion, or black hole as well.
Okay, so let me establish some credibility with you before I launch in. There is nothing worse than someone giving advice on something they know little to nothing about, amirite? I have traveled both nationally and internationally, totally alone, to places including Atlanta, Georgia; Utila, Honduras; Chemnitz, Germany; Tres Lagoas, Brazil; Deventer, The Netherlands; and now, Springfield, Missouri. Sometimes I travel with others, or meet folks at my destination, but often I am arriving knowing no one. How then does one make friends quickly and sometimes without being fluent in the language?
Here is it, the tip you have all been on the edge of your seats to read: I find a church (or another house of worship) and a gym literally the day after I am settled in.
Why these spaces? First of all, they are universal and it is an easy connection point. These physical locations are outward embodiments of aspects of individuals typically not discussed upon general introductions. I like to stay active and care for my body, just like those around me at the gym. I also like to stay engaged spiritually, just like those around me at the church. BAM! Easy conversation starters. “So, how long have you been coming to this gym/church?”. They respond (and if they’re well versed in social norms will likely ask), “and how about you?”. That’s when you can hit them with the fact that you just arrived in the area.
The second reason I really like this method is that, unlike a restaurant or mall, these places are extremely conducive to conversation. Moreover, folks are not generally under super strict time constraints when venturing into a church or gym. This allows for deeper questions and eventually social media/cell phone number exchanges. I have found that when people discover that you are new to the area they want to help you feel connected.
The last piece to this puzzle is, of course, intentionality on your part. I am a pretty assertive and dominant personality type as is, so I will literally say, “Hey, if you guys hang out outside of this gym/church, please invite me along!”. It can sound pushy, but I am telling you – it works!
I have made many friends in many places with this simple method. It is scary to be vulnerable in new spaces, but if you are a community seeker like myself, you will find way more acceptance than rejection along the way.
I also want to acknowledge, this method works for me, but not everyone may be comfortable or able to join a gym or church. The principle behind community building is not always the exact location, but more so the method for joining new spaces. So, go out there and find community – however you comfortably can!