Finding Friends From Your Home Country
by Ruby Bayan
Just before I left the Philippines, I gathered the addresses and phone numbers of friends, relatives, and colleagues living in the USA. I imagined that I wouldn’t have to be so alone in a foreign land. But when I finally set foot on the US, I realized that my friends were scattered across the vast American continent, and the only person I knew in the state I was going to live in was the man I was going to live with.
Fortunately, finding friends, contacts, and people from one’s home country has become relatively easy nowadays, not only because of the natural bonding among fellow nationals, especially when away from their homeland, but because of the intricate network that the internet has afforded the world’s population.
Here are some tips on how to find old and new friends, both offline and online, so you won’t feel so alone in your new American home.
Fellow Migrants in Your Community
According to estimates done by the US Census Bureau, almost 10 percent of the 1999 US population are foreign-born; and according to the latest INS Immigration Fact Sheet, there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants spread among the major US states and counties. It would, therefore, be highly improbable to live in a major metropolis and not encounter at least a couple of families originally from your home country.
How do you find them?
- Check the Yellow Pages. The first thing you should look for when you settle in a new community is the nearest restaurant and specialty store that cater to folks from your home country. Not just to relish your favorite native dishes and ingredients, but also to connect with the restaurant managers and storeowners who will have been long-time residents of the state and should know many fellow migrants in the community.
When you need assistance like medical, legal, dental, or mechanical services, go over the directory ads and see if you can detect names and establishments associated with folks from your homeland. You could even haggle for special discounts.
- Get involved in church and religious activities. Religion and spiritual inclinations are strong bonds among peoples. You can start networking with folks from your home country by taking part in parish congregation activities. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you will make new friends and find links to old ones.
- Pick up community magazines and newspapers. Many migrant communities have disseminated their own news and magazine publications, often presented in bilingual format (English and native language), in the major cities of the US. You’ll get a good grasp of who’s who and where they are, the latest local and homeland news tidbits, and the activities you may want to explore to connect with folks from your hometown. The advertisements alone are a good source of contacts. Publications are mostly available in newsstands, at local stores, and in restaurants.
- Join community associations and organizations. Almost all migrant communities have organized US chapters of associations founded in their native countries. Cultural foundations, clubs, chambers of commerce, societies, and various associations tied up with American counterparts are core communities where migrants and minority populations share common interests. Be a member or join in the activities – it’s where networking starts, and where you can participate in celebrations, gatherings, and worthwhile endeavors closely associated with your roots.
- Talk to strangers. Not just any stranger, that is. People who look like they’re from your home country most probably are, and you’ll meet them everywhere. Supermarket clerks, club attendants, store managers, taxi drivers and food servers are the best “strangers” to start a conversation with. Don’t be afraid to say “Hi!” because like you, they could be interested in making friends with people from their home country, too.
The next best strategy to finding friends from your home country is to tap the power of the Internet. Here’s how:
Whitepages.com and Telephone Directories on the Web (available in five languages) are search sites that help online users find people and businesses in the US. They are good venues to search for long lost friends, relatives, and peers, because they even have message boards for missing persons.
- Do a search on your home country. Hop on your favorite search engine and type up the name of your home country. You’ll discover links to websites and online communities where people who speak your native tongue mingle and share interests, no matter where they are in the world. From there you can join forums and discussions, and get acquainted with folks living in or near your own vicinity. You may even re-discover some long lost friends.
- Explore mailing lists. E-mail groups like egroups.com and topica.com are now being used extensively for online interaction among people with similar interests. You can start by looking up the open-to-the-public groups listed under your home country (in the Regional or International category), and subscribing to those you find interesting.
- Stay in touch through e-mail. With messages traveling as fast as electrons can carry them, you can communicate with everyone in your e-mail address book as frequently as you want. And with the rampant forwarding of e-mail among friends and relatives, it won’t take long for someone to let you know that an old friend is just an e-mail away. Keep in touch and find friends who speak your native tongue.
- Look for long lost friends. If you want to look for people who have been in the US for a while, but whose addresses or phone numbers are unknown to you, consult the Internet – there are sites specifically designed to help you.
Finding New Friends
Migrating to a new home across the seas can be a shocking experience; and not being around your usual circle of friends can often be depressing. But no matter where you are, new friends can always be found, and new friendships nurtured as well. You can start by getting in touch with people from your home country, but who knows, your next-door all-American neighbor can very well be your next best friend.
[First published at New2USA.com, 2000]