Let's Get to Know Our Towns and Neighbors

by Bea Echeverria   |   February 28, 2018

Bea Captura De Pantalla 2018 03 01 A Las 21 43 05

I don’t know anybody here!

That's the first thing I thought as I found myself alone in a new country, a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new culture. My husband had left for work at his new job in Chicago, and our kids had left for their new schools (where they didn’t know anybody, either).

We had recently moved to the U.S. Midwest from Spain, and I had prepared myself for this moment. But it didn’t turn out as I had imagined it.

For the first few months, I had planned to leave our apartment every day as if I had a part-time job, which I did: I would go to the public library, work on my website, and design my business cards. I was determined to make a living as a life coach in the U.S., just like I'd done in Barcelona.

I also did something that I hadn't planned: since I was at the library a lot and had vast shelves of books at my disposal, I started reading new stuff. At first, I tried to keep it within my professional interests, but, very quickly, I developed new interests, triggered in part by my new environment and circumstances.

I attended as many events as I could fit into my agenda. As I walked around town posting flyers about my coaching practice on bulletin boards and local forums, I came across information about all kinds of things going on in my community. Equity meetings led by our school district, book presentations at the local library, volunteering opportunities, parks and recreation activities...

At first, I had to push myself to attend these events, because I felt awkward going by myself. But I was fascinated by what I was learning and by the amazing opportunities that were available to me, from learning how to start my own business with SCORE to attending zero waste workshops, helping out at a local garden, and starting sustainability initiatives at my daughter’s school. As I met new people, they would introduce me to other people and invite me to subsequent events and activities. Little by little, I was building a small network of acquaintances—a community.

At the same time, I was learning about lifestyle trends such as voluntary simplicity, zero waste, and radical homemaking, things I had been consciously practicing in my own life but didn’t know they had a name and whole movements backing them.  

I wanted to share these ideas with other people. I was learning about the connections between the actions we take as individuals and the impacts on our wider community; about the importance of sharing, reaching out, and connecting with others to make our lives better and our planet more sustainable; and about the need to strengthen our communities in order to create better safety nets for those who need them most.

"I was learning about the connections between the actions we take as individuals and the impacts on our wider community; about the importance of sharing, reaching out, and connecting with others..."

In my (admittedly) short time here, I've found that the U.S. is a great place to live if you believe that one person can make a difference. I feel fortunate that my circumstances afford me the time and flexibility to dive deeply into building community in my new home country. 

Below are some of my tips for finding community if you're new to the U.S., or even just new to a region, city, or neighborhood. Maybe you won't be able to try them all, but you might find a few that work for you:

Bea Img 8841
Bea volunteering at a local café that trains at-risk youth—helping the baker prepare scones, cookies, and pies.

Tips for Finding Community

  • Give yourself time to understand your new community. Visit new areas and imbue yourself with the culture and energy of the people and places that surround you.
  • Sign up for the city’s newsletter and browse community bulletin boards to learn about current events.
  • Keep a diary to see what strikes you as good and bad, and what you’d like to see change.
  • Take advantage of being new, and start afresh by being or doing what you've always dreamed of. Be bold—get out of your comfort zone. 
  • Do NOT stay at home. Find a way to put on your clothes and go out!
  • Do things with the intention of meeting new people and learning new things—especially people who are different from you and things that you've never thought of doing before.
  • Volunteer, and go to events and workshops.
  • If you are religious, join a congregation. Maybe try a couple of places and get a feel for the differences.
  • If you have children and your schedule permits, try to be there to drop them off and pick them up from school and other events, so you can meet their friends and their friends' parents.
  • Volunteer at the school doing something you really like, or start something new that interests you and that you think would benefit the students.

Want to do more to build community? Check out our Community In Action Challenge: "Build Connections" for a series of challenges that you can take to help you strengthen your communities and better love your neighbors.