Time to find our community
It’s 2pm and I’ve just picked up Estel from daycare at La Mandarina, the nature daycare tucked away in the vineyards of Sant Pere de Ribes. We set off for our leisurely drive up the hill to our new home in Olivella. I put on the Coffee Table Jazz playlist from Spotify because it (in combination with the movement of the car) always puts Estel to sleep, and because it makes me really happy. Something about driving through the wine country listening to jazz makes me feel incredibly grown up. It’s a fleeting feeling but at least I try to tap into it during this time each day.
We arrive at home and I do my best to unload the sleeping toddler- gingerly manoeuvring one arm at a time out of the car seat straps. Success! A small sense of accomplishment as we head into the house. My husband is deep in concentration messing with something on the kitchen counter top. He looks over his shoulder to acknowledge our entrance and gives a grin from cheek to cheek.
He must have made a new friend.
He had been out fishing all morning on our family boat. It’s his therapy, and mine since he always comes home so serene. He usually ventures out alone or he takes me and Estel if his patience is exceptionally high. But this time he made the effort to invite an acquaintance. The toothy grin I met in the kitchen confirmed that that acquaintance has indeed become a friend. And that thing he was messing with on the kitchen counter was a fresh-caught fish he was cleaning for lunch.
I’ve come to realise that when you relocate to a new city or country you can divide the whole experience into 2 phases. The “setting up your basic needs” phase like finding a home, getting the kids into school, daycare, etc. and hopefully getting food in the fridge on a consistent basis. Then there is the “time to find our community” phase which actually is of equal importance. The day-to-day of your own family life can certainly keep you busy but we must also make the effort to grow our social circles. Even if your spouse is your best best friend and you can’t imagine taking time away from your amazing children, you will settle into your new life sooner if you have access to more support, resources and invites for fun-time.
This is something we truly believe in as we have experienced the endless benefits of a close community of friends when we lived in San Diego. It was one of the hardest things to leave behind and a big priority for us to cultivate as soon as our basic needs were met in our new Spanish life. Usually over dinner we would check-in with each other about how our efforts to make friends were going. There was usually nothing new to share, just a few sad stories of our efforts going absolutely nowhere. We would usually laugh at each other, give a high-five and hope for something to manifest next time.
I was pretty determined from the get-go. Since the day I arrived in Spain I would pack up Estel in her stroller and head over to the nearest park and strategically place ourselves near parents and their kids that looked nice enough to befriend us. It was a nice attempt and for months I had so many awkward conversations at the playground with other parents only to find the conversation would reach a dead-end, goodbyes would be said and I would go home with no new friends to report. It was a bit discouraging but I kept at it. I tried speaking Castellano, Catalan and even a bit of English to any English speaking parents on the playground that day. Still no numbers were swapped and no invites were given for a coffee date.
I was starting to get homesick which, for those of you who have experienced homesickness, is totally worse than the flu.
So I phoned a good friend in San Diego who had relocated there from Poland. She suggested I change my approach and join a non-profit or some fun group activity. She explained that by consequence of being with others in such groups, friends are made more naturally. She also reminded me to be patient because making friends really does take a lot of time and effort. Feeling a bit more empowered and accepting of the process I spent some time online researching local non-profits and creative groups. Quickly I had found the two groups that I am currently a member of, the Barcelona Women’s Network and the CCC Inc. Sitges Entrepreneurial Women’s Group and well, let’s just say, now I have a lot more friends!
And it felt really good. Not only because I could finally cease those awkward attempts at making friends at playgrounds, but also because I could share my experience of newly arriving in Spain with so many other women who had similar stories. I no longer feel isolated nor worried about where to find things or get information because of my new abundant network. I even quickly found clients for my design work which was a bonus I had not planned on.
I suppose we all have our own timing when it comes to wanting to make friends. We even have our own methods as well. I feel that every effort, no matter how awkward or small is a good effort in the right direction. Had I not been so persistent I would not have the friendships that I treasure today and I look forward to see how our community grows the longer we stay in Spain.
So far, so good!
See Diane’s latest creative projects, collaborations and events by following her Instagram @dianeserra or by visiting her website at www.dianeserradesigner.com