As a migrant, making friends is a vital step in building your life in the UK
There is no question that moving to a new country is hard. Finding a suitable place to live and work are normally the first priorities but after that initial period, migrants can often feel a sense of loneliness and isolation.
We do not need psychologists to confirm that having a friendship group is important for our social and emotional development. However, when you are trying to make connections in a new country with a different culture to your own, in a language that may not be familiar, and in a period where social distancing, in line with COVID restrictions, is not only the norm but is required, the challenge can seem overwhelming.
Despite these challenges, it is possible to make friends – the key is being persistent. As we get older, it takes longer to make friends but by proactively seeking out opportunities through work, volunteering, faith communities or participating in local community activities, you will make new connections.
Volunteering is a win-win situation. Not only are volunteers supporting a worthy cause but it is a means for people, migrants in particular, to make social and professional connections amongst like-minded people. In fact, the British Heart Foundation recently awarded a young Syrian migrant as their Young Volunteer of the Year. There are plenty of ways to find volunteering opportunities. It can be as simple as talking directly to local charity shops or by checking out various online volunteering databases such as Do-it.org or www.volunteermatch.org and if you are in London, try London Gov UK Volunteering
The key to successful volunteering is to be passionate about the organisation or cause.
- Social Media
As we continue to adhere to COVID restrictions and protect ourselves and others by staying home or maintaining social distance, making new friends is particularly challenging. However, through various social media tools it is possible to engage and connect with people and make virtual friends.
“I joined an online parent group – “mumsnet” – and even now when my son is an adult, I have a group of girlfriends who have been by my virtual side through good and bad times.” Helen
You can also join existing online migrant or nationality specific communities – for example, simply type ‘migrants’ into the search option in Facebook and several migrant based groups will appear and from there you can choose an online community that appeals to you. Or you can create your own online community around something that interests you – a book club, a cooking club or a knitting club, the choices are endless.
It is also worth checking out an organisation called TimePeace, which aims to bridge the social gap between locals and refugees, asylum seekers and all people seeking sanctuary in the UK.
“I joined TimePeace in 2019 and volunteer as an Event Facilitator for their online social events. Through this I’ve learnt new skills which boosted my self-confidence. TimePeace offers many social which always lift my spirit. Last year was hard for everyone, but especially for asylum seekers like myself. With no family here and with everyone in lockdown, I found myself struggling a little with my mental state. But by meeting and talking to other group members, my social skills improved and I’m able to interact more effectively with others. I’ve met really amazing people who have supported, encouraged and made me feel comfortable sharing my feelings and life circumstances. I am extremely blessed to have joined TimePeace because I’ve become empowered, my online participation has helped reduce my level of distress and isolation and I feel like I belong. I feel like an integral member of a wonderful organisation“
- Faith Community
With over 170 recognised faith groups in the UK, connecting with your own faith community is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. A good way to make connections is by going regularly to the same place of worship, and eventually you will see people you recognise and you can start up a conversation. If you find a large group too intimidating, you could volunteer in any faith activities where smaller groups come together to support their beliefs.
“I joined my local church choir within weeks of arriving in the UK from Spain, and immediately found friendly and like-minded people to socialise with.” Marta
- Local Community
And finally, don’t forget your local community. Introduce yourself to your neighbours and even if there is a language barrier, a smile and a wave is one of the best, and friendliest, ways of making contact with others. Visit the same shops, launderettes, libraries, etc., and soon you will start to recognise not only other regular customers but also get to know the staff. And even if you only have a few words of English, practise at every opportunity, most people will be happy that you are trying to learn their language and will be helpful. It is instinctive, as migrants, that we tend to make friends either within our own ethnic group or with other migrants, as we have the shared experience of moving to a new country but there is much to be gained by developing friends of all nationalities, particularly the locals.
Embarking on friendships as an adult can be terrifying but also very rewarding. The key to making friends is by being proactive, consistent, friendly and open-minded. And remember, that as a migrant you have already taken the first brave step in moving to a new country, taking the next steps to making friends and building new connections is easy.