Making new friends can be tricky. I consider myself a veteran mover and pretty adept at meeting people after living in three different states and one non-English-speaking country. However, in all those instances, I had a job where I met a few people I really liked and then just wormed my way into their social circles. Additionally, in North Carolina, we went to an amazing church where I genuinely liked every single person I ever met. That’s pretty unusual and if you’re ever near Goldsboro, I highly recommend checking out The Bridge: http://www.bridgechurch.cc
The first several weeks here in England were tough and I was a little worried I had lost my ability to be social. I was horribly homesick for our life in North Carolina plus we were living in temporary lodging on base. The temperature was all of 32 degrees and we were logging a depressing seven hours total of daylight. And by daylight I mean gray… it is, after all, England.
Once we moved into our house, things got a bit better. We bought the stroller and I had access to jackets which meant I no longer had to fear frostbite. So I started walking around our little village. I started noticing bulletin boards all around and began reading some of the posted advertisements – exercise classes, community events and baby yoga. Boom! Baby yoga sounded perfect; I wasn’t really sure what it entailed but I assumed there would be some adults there so I was willing to give it a go.
The first class went great: Lena didn’t throw any major tantrums and everyone seemed really sweet. We got loaded into the car and I proceeded to back out. I should have planned a bit better because I got stuck smack dab in the middle of the parking lot with three cars waiting on me to exit their spaces as well. Crap. I don’t do well with vehicular stress so I thought I’d just pull back into my parking space and wait for everyone else to leave.
Nope. It had snowed and the parking lot was covered in ice. And I was trying to go up a small incline. While trying to get back to my parking spot, I managed to slide backwards, narrowly missing one of the other cars and ultimately getting stuck on a patch of ice. I won’t share what was going through my head but you can trust that it wasn’t appropriate. Plastering on a fake smile, I rolled down my window and asked some of the other moms what to do.
Two of them offered to try and push my car while I hit the gas again. So we did that and it worked. One of the ladies called out, “Don’t stop! You’ll get stuck again. You have to keep moving!” I mumbled something about living in the desert for the past 5 years so I wasn’t used to cold weather and I made my getaway. As I looked in the rearview mirror, I realized I had sprayed my helpers with dirty snow and ice while they so graciously saved me from my own lack of driving skills.
I was a bit hesitant to return to class the next week after making such a rookie mistake. But I decided to just go for it though this time, we took the stroller instead of the car. I apologized for drenching everyone in slush and they just laughed it off then invited me to their playgroup.
A couple months later, I now feel like I actually have some friends here! I’ve been to their houses and vice versa and I’ve even learned to make a proper cup of English tea. While I can’t speak for the entire population, I will say that the people I have met here are incredibly intelligent and very witty. They’re welcoming to newcomers and genuinely happy to help out a friend.
If you’re new to England, here is my best advice: go for a walk. The villages near Lakenheath Air Force Base are beautiful and they all have something unique to offer. Parks, markets, restaurants, events… check out some of the things happening in your community and just smile at somebody. Chances are good that they will strike up a conversation and can tell you what other great things are going on. The village boards are also a great resource for meeting people. Through my baby yoga class, I’ve found a number of other children’s groups, exercise classes and local festivals.
Keep an eye open for free and cheap publications as well; these offer an inside look at the local businesses and offerings. If you’re a foodie, there are great magazines for Suffolk and East Anglia that can be found in your local grocery. Velvet is published here in Newmarket and tells you all about the great shops and fashion weeks in and around Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds and Newmarket.
Since I know we won’t be living here forever, I’m anxious to get as much out of this assignment as possible. I want to have the most authentic English experience possible and hopefully make friends that we’ll keep long after we leave. Military life isn’t always my favorite but I’m really thankful for it as far as this experience is concerned. So get out there, explore your new home, make some new friends, and try not to cover anyone in dirt!