So, making friends…
And it’s also really, really crucial.
- I’m in a new place, about which I know next to nothing.
- I don’t speak the language.
- All the friends I’ve made over the past 22 years are thousands of miles away.
- I have a bunch of new co-workers with whom I have to exist peacefully for the next year.
Yesterday I was having a major bout of homesickness, because for the first time I realized that I don’t yet have a friend group here. The other English teachers, the ones who have little interest in Kurdish immersion (language, customs, exploring Suli and the rest of Kurdistan, etc) had started to, well, shun me. And what if I never got on with them? What if I was on the outs for the whole year?
They haven’t been inviting me to go out with them after work or to eat lunch with them. They only hang out with their pre-existing friend group, occasionally adding other English-speakers, and never Kurds. It’s like some “good old boys” club, where the requirement is to stay as English-y as possible. You may dip into Kurdish culture, but only if you come back to English straightaway.
It’s disheartening, especially since they’re the only people I don’t struggle to communicate with verbally. I really like the other Kurdish and Arabic teachers, but we have to communicate in simple English or really, really simple Kurdish. Plus, most of the Kurdish teaching assistants are women with children who have to go back home to their families right after work. It’s expected that the women cook and clean, so it’s not as if their husbands are willing to take the kids for a few hours while we go sip tea and chat.
It was really lonely.
I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, this oh no black sort of feeling. I was quite worried that it would turn into a bout of depression, which is what happened when I was in Scotland and I felt isolated from everyone. For nearly a month at St. Andrews I felt so, totally alone – I was sleeping 10 hours per night, didn’t want to go out or talk to anyone, just wanted to get back to the PNW where everything made sense and people smiled at you on the street.
So I really tried to nip this oh no feeling in the bud. I skyped with my friend Clara as well as my mom, and it really helped to have a lifeline out of the pit. I remembered that I have some awesome people in my life, and lots of love. I have to remind myself that it’s not a sign of weakness to seek a connection with home.
They reminded me that making friends is haaaaard. No matter how many times I find myself having to make new friends, I still have this Disney picture in my head: we’ll start chatting and realize that, I dunno, we have the same favorite TV show, and suddenly be besties for life.
Yeah, nope. NEVER works that way.
Friend-making is often like having extra homework. It’s social networking – having people over for dinner, going out for tea, shopping with new girlfriends, hanging out at someone else’s apartment. All of these activities sound very fun, but it can be a real uphill struggle if the people with whom you’re doing them are near-strangers. You don’t have any inside jokes yet, you might have very little in common, you might find that they’re actually a very unpleasant person to be around but you have to stick out the rest of the afternoon with them anyway because they’re the one with the car.
And there are a few people with whom I’m working that I really dislike. Two of the English teachers, certainly. And my TA is already on my supervisor’s watch-list for cutting out on her work. But I have to work closely with them until June.
So my policy, I’ve decided, is be a yes-woman. If someone asks if I want to hang out, say yes. If I want to go to the bazaar, yes. If I want to go to Arbil this weekend, yes. Bring snacks in to work, offer to help them make teaching aids – show these people that they don’t have a reason to shun me. Be smiley, polite, eager to learn, and don’t hold grudges or talk behind people’s backs. Don’t burn bridges with anyone. Don’t miss out on opportunities to socialize.
And the more Kurdish I learn, the less I’ll have to rely on the English-speaking crowd as my primary social group. We’ll see how this goes.