Saturday, June 16, 2012

New to town? If you BBQ, they will come.

During the summer of 2011 we left Macedonia after a 3 year posting and moved back to the U.S. for 10 months of language training.  Gotta love those short-term hiccups.  What a pain.  My son was just about to enter the 2nd grade in a U.S. school for the first time and my daughter was entering a pre-K program.  They knew no one.  Interestingly, my best friend, who also happens to be in the Foreign Service, and I own townhouses in the same neighborhood in Alexandria.  She and her family were just leaving the U.S. after a year of language.  This always seems to happen to us- the longest overlap we have had was 2 weeks.  This time it was 4 days.

My son, like me, is an introvert.  Lucky us that we live a life that forces us to live outside of our comfort zone.  I no longer really know what exactly my comfort zone is anymore.  Sometimes I feel like it might be a cave in the jungle along the River Quai in Thailand.  Therefore, I was terrified for my son to enter a classroom of 19 kids and not know a single soul.  My daughter, on the other hand, will march into a room of hundreds and announce that she has arrived, as if, of course, everyone has been waiting for her.  Needless to say, I wasn't so nervous for her.  Luckily for my son, my friend has a daughter the same age as he.  While we were still in Macedonia, I asked her if she thought that any of the friends she and her family had made this year would come to a potluck back-to-school BBQ at the park across the street from our house.  My idea was to get my kids to meet some kids before school started so there would be some familiar faces in the sea of new ones at school.  My friend sent out an email to 5 families with kids the same age as ours and asked them about it and cc'd me.  We had a positive response from everyone we contacted, people who I had never met.  I emailed them back with the details.

A week before school started, 6 families with a total of close to 20 kids convened in our park.  While the grown-ups chatted and ate, the kids became knights and kung-fu princesses, playing like they had known each other all their lives.  It was a beautiful site for this fearful mom.

On the first day of school, several of the kids ran up to us as we entered the playground.  My son walked into his classroom with his new friends.  I too had some familiar smiling faces on the playground.  I am forever indebted to these families who eased our transition back to the States.  To you guys out there, "Thank you!"  You know who you are.

So, don't wait for someone to hold a welcome party for you.  Hold your own.  If you know one person in  your new town, ask them to contact 4-6 of their friends for a potluck BBQ or if you have kids, a back-to-school party.  Have it at a park if your lucky to have one close-by (easier prep and clean-up), if not have it at your house.  Make it a potluck; it's so much easier for those of you recovering from a recent move.

Make the first move in making new friends.  Sometimes, you have to make the second, third and fourth move too.  Don't give-up.  Don't get discouraged.  It isn't you.  People are busy.  Life is busy.  If you can create enough shared moments with someone, you'll start to have a common ground.  That's not easy to do when your ground continually moves, but it isn't impossible.  Take it slowly and enjoy the ride.

Spouses, what are some of your get-to-know-you tricks of the trade?  Please share them.  We need all the help we can get.

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