Whether you are moving to a new town, state, district or country because of work, school, or family there is always adjusting that needs to be done. Apart from becoming familiar with your new environment, one needs to take time to find people to hang out with and associate it so that it doesn’t seem like your social life is on hold. It also helps you get over the feeling of being alone especially when you may be away from a lot of family and close friends.
This PhD started and I was ready to try and have some sort of life. I am a bit of a workaholic, not really because I love working (I do want to do deliver good and quality work though so that might have something to do with it) as such but because I prefer to use work as an excuse for not having to deal with people. I just find work easier to deal with. Sounds a bit harsh (especially when I’m not a perfect person myself) when I state things that way but as an introvert that believed she could do life all by herself a while back, I do struggle now and again to be around others or at least make time for socializing.
It hurts and it is has been a very serious wake-up call having to be an international student because the experience HUMBLES you. You realize that you cannot do life alone and that really did piss me off in the beginning and make me quite scared as well because I know now for a fact that I do need people in my life. In spite of this, it does still take time to unlearn all the solitary habits, behaviours and mindsets that I have had for a while.
My Master’s degree taught me things. I think I have become way better at trying to make friends or just being a bit more open and friendly to people that have not known me my entire life. Sometimes it feels draining and so tasking and some days I have to fight ti choose people over work. At the end of the day, the work that I am using to distract me from all other life matters (particularly social matters) will not be there to hug me at night, celebrate my birthday, bail me out of a terrible situation, hold my hand or pick me up from the airport. So basically what I am saying is that people are important.
The process of having to immerse yourself into other peoples’ worlds is also a task in itself. As someone who feels like she holds the crown for being SUPER awkward around people especially new people in public spaces plus gatherings especially, things like small talk kill me and 85% of the time I just want to say no when people invite me for things. I do not know if some of you reading this may be in a similar situation. If you are, I just really want to caution you to fight that feeling and just show up anyway.
During the first semester of my Master’s program, I had to fight against so much awkwardness in order to finally find people I could hang with but also give people the chance to know me and be there for me. God kept on telling me to persevere and things did get better eventually. I stopped feeling like the newbie that had to constantly introduce herself as the Ugandan girl. Soon I was just Vanessa and that was it.
Since this is not my first rodeo in regards to making a move by myself, I think I have become a bit better at finding ways to find my tribe AKA like-minded people to be around. I am going to elaborate on some things that can help.
The first step would obviously be to look for people or groups that are involved in activities that you like for example your hobbies. I like to sing, take photos, bake and write. These four things are not just hobbies but things that I find really therapeutic. I am working on finding people to sing with or spaces where I can do that freely. I auditioned to be part of the worship team at my Church a while back. Waiting to see what they say post-lockdown.
When it comes to writing, I have a set of virtual communities that I follow and contribute to when I can that is; the Uganda Blogging Community as well as Afrobloggers . I am looking forward to being actively involved in what the Bloggers in East Africa do as well.
I am part of a WhatsApp group for a number of postgraduate Ugandan students in Cape Town. I found someone that bakes a lot at home. After the lockdown, we will be meeting up so that I can have lessons on making really bomb cookies (I have to perfect the art of making chocolate chip cookies!!!). I am hoping to find more enthusiastic and gifted bakers as time goes on.
During the time where many of us are in lockdown indoors, some of you may not be at home or in a place that you may find very conducive which can still bring up the feeling of being by yourself. That is where all these online meetings platforms and your virtual online communities come in handy.
UNIVERSITY GROUPS AND SOCIETIES
Before I even made it to Cape Town I looked through all their societies, groups, etc. I do not think this is standard practice for most graduate students or even PhD students in particular but this was my attempt to try and fight to have some sort of social life ( a whole separate post about that will be coming soon).
I had a friend of high school that did her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT). She used to post a lot about the East African Society on Instagram and I knew that I had to look out for them when I made it here. These societies are bound to have mostly undergrads so I might feel terribly old and out of place but the most important thing is to find what you can contribute to while you are there and of course learn survival skills from people that have been in Cape Town longer than you. I like organizing events so I thought it would be good for me to join the team that is in charge of that and make use of my expertise in that area 🙂 . Mentorship is really close to my heart and so I was really excited to hear that the society has a mentorship program. I decided to volunteer to be a mentor. Going through the training process was really amazing.
I follow the Postgraduate Health Sciences Students Council at UCT. I could not believe how many PhD students are actually part of it. It was SUPER encouraging and really challenged me. I would never have heard about it if I did not show up for an orientation event they had at the beginning of the semester for postgrads. When people make an effort to see postgrads get through life in an awesome way, I am all for it. It was great to be there for the event but also meet and chill with some people afterwards (by the way we have a really cool hang out place on the medical campus. I think every university needs to invest in spaces like those).
EVENTS, EVENTS, EVENTS
Go and attend as many as you can and whatever you can find. Whether it is work-related, school-related, church-related or just organized by some people that live in the same area code as you.
My first instinct is to say no when people invite to stuff. It is like my default setting but I as I said, I fight hard against that feeling and make an effort to try and show up and actually engage in conversations (did I mention that small talk kills me. I seriously want to enrol in a professional course on how to strike up banter because yoh……. It is a mission for me on so many fronts).
You just never know who you will meet when you are there. You never know who your next friend will be or what significant role that person could play in your life later on. So just JUMP ON (hoping to actively exercise all of this after the lockdown so that I do not come off as a hypocrite).
Even if someone has not invited you for an event but you have found out about one, tell others about it and see who they can bring along. I actively seek out events. It is so interesting but I do that a lot on Instagram and Facebook. Following certain people, groups and organizations really helps me find out certain information. It is because events may not always knock on your day so you do have to put in some effort to find them and remind other people to invite you for some really cool things that they might participate in.
Right now I stay in a flat complex and it has been LOVELY to be in a space with other people and just meet up in the backyard to eat together and play some games. I am meeting new people, getting to know more about the people that stay around me but also spend some time in the lockdown having fun. We will DEFINITELY be hanging out more after the lockdown!!
Cheers to finding your tribe!!! PS: Finding your people takes TIME so be patient and remain adventurous throughout the process. Never be afraid to start your own community from scratch. That can help so many other people like you.