The spotlight.  She was standing in the spotlight.  A crowded room of young adults turned immediately claustrophobic as the shaft of light illuminated only her wide-eyed panic.  Twenty-five pairs of eyes reflected outside that ring of light, and there wasn’t so much as a twinkling kindness among them. Everyone stared in contempt at her makeup…or her shoe choice…or maybe her stray hair…or maybe, well, just her.  At least, that’s how it felt.   Being the new girl feels just that miserable:  in the spotlight, unkempt and judged.

Being the new girl means embracing that miserable spotlight and jumping in, building community, and finding a new normal.  It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Eventually.

1. Jump in.

Jump in, yes, but give yourself lots of time. Lots of it. The newness of everything can be (and will be!) overwhelming, disconcerting, exhausting.  Depending on the extent of your move, you could be dealing with new roads, new grocery stores, new library, new church, new house, new cultural idiosyncrasies.  See?  That’s a lot of newness!  With that much “new”,  there’s nothing comfortable about everyday routine, and that’s just exhausting.  Some days, it’s completely legitimate to sit on the couch with a cup of tea and a Bach CD.  And if that’s all the energy available, that’s okay.

(Note:  this is different than wallowing. Wallowing in self pity is distinctly not okay. Resting in the little comforts amidst all the newness? Completely okay.)

3 Tips When You're the New Girl

Go ahead, jump in while the energy is there, do what you can, and then rest when the reservoir of energy is depleted.   Small and manageable bites of newness is your friend.  It will be more beneficial, overall, to pick one newness to tackle at a time rather than trying to jump in over your head and embracing every single new thing all at once. Drowning in newness is not good. Return to tea-and-Bach.  Again and again, as necessary.

2. Find a place to start building community.

Sometimes that’s church, sometimes that’s a Mommy group, sometimes that’s a work environment.  After my cross-country move, I found a women’s Bible Study to participate in and a homeschool co-op that needed a weekly babysitter.  As you pick a place to just show up at, then you’re in the place to meet people, build relationships, and eventually make friends.  Sometimes it’s painful,  sometimes you won’t have the energy to do more than just show up, but at least you’re doing it.

Focus on finding one person you can relate to and connect with.  Manageable bites, remember?  You don’t need to be friends with everyone — just be friendly with everyone you meet and pursue relationships one at a time. A caution: as you start to build those relationships, don’t compare new relationships to seasoned relationships.  It just won’t work. I promise.  That BFF that you left behind on the other side of the continent was a friendship melded and formed through many life experiences, late night conversations, and gigglefests at Starbucks.  You can’t build that type of relationship in one coffee date, but neither should you let the comparison game poison your new and budding friendship.

3. Find something to be your “thing”.

Find an activity that can start building into your new normal. When I moved into my new country and community, I made a list of activities I wanted to try to participate in.  It included book club, Bible study, and exercise classes. I never did find a book club (yet!), but the Bible study  turned into one of the biggest blessings of my new life.  At first, it was painful to go to yet another new thing with still more new faces adding to that never ending flood of newness. But consistency eventually won. Even when the move was overwhelming, even when the newness was stifling, even when showing up meant arriving late and leaving early, I plodded on.  It took a year, but one day I realized that it was no longer an act of duty, but a delight of my week; that these faces were not strange stares, but new friends.

But, most of all, as the new girl, you must embrace that it’s hard.  Give yourself lots of grace.  Request lots of grace.  Drink lots of tea. As you meet people who care for you and welcome you with kindness and love, be real and honest.  Admit your weaknesses and inabilities; let them in to the huge challenge of adjustment. Sadly, you will face critics who will scoff at your challenges and scorn your transparency, but eventually you will find a champion and a friend.  A friend who understands, relates, encourages, loves.  And then you won’t be the new girl anymore. Promise.

8 Comments

  1. Frieda Browning says:

    Fantastic article, Jennifer! I’ve saved it in my files as a resource for others who are struggling. I feel bad that I did not realize your adjustment was so difficult–an unthinking and insensitive response. However, you covered it up really well on Facebook! It’s been a long time since I was the new person in any major way. We tend to forget what it’s like. Thank you for being honest with us. So glad you’ve found some good ways to get to know people, and hope you are feeling more at home.

  2. Oh, my, so encouraging. When I transferred colleges, I felt like the new girl for much longer than I had anticipated. I wish I knew this stuff back then!! So grateful for your sharing your experience and advice, Jennifer!

  3. Cindi Altman says:

    Thank you for this post today. I’m going through depression, there I said it. We moved to a new community a few months ago and left friends behind. I have not been able to meet anyone in our area and have sunk into depression.
    I’ve tried several churches and have yet to find other churchgoers friendly. This is especially difficult because the church I left behind meant the world to me. We were a very close church family and I was involved in several ministries there.
    I’m going to try your suggestions and see if maybe they will help. I’m a bit of an introvert so it’s going to be difficult.

    Thanks again for today’s inspiration. (I may not comment here often, but I do read and take to heart what is written)

    1. Jennifer van Leeuwen says:

      [hugs] to you, Cindi. As I continue to battle the depression associated with a new city, I feel keenly your challenge and hope and pray that you are able to find a friendly face in the midst of the transition. A kind smile and compassionate ear makes SUCH a difference. I pray that for you.

    2. Frieda Browning says:

      Hi Cindi,
      I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you, and am very sorry that you haven’t found churchgoers friendly and welcoming. I do hope that you don’t give up on a particular church after just one visit. As a pastor’s wife, I know that sometimes it’s difficult to interpret a visitor’s needs. It’s hard to know how much to reach out without making a visitor feel pressured.

      If you have time, you might consider volunteering somewhere, even just an hour or two every now and then. For several months I volunteered for the ESL classes at our community college. The students were from several different countries, and were so appreciative of any kindness or attention. You may meet someone who is just as lonely and in need of friends as you are–besides being in a foreign culture.

      Will be praying that the Lord will encourage and bless you during this difficult time and will lift the depression you are struggling with.

  4. As a cross-cultural traveler, I totally agree! And I would also add:

    1) Give the fruit time to appear! In all of these little baby steps you are making progress, and in a few months you will look back and wonder how you and these new friends could have been strangers. Sometimes it DOES just take one coffee date to bond with someone, but it can be hard to find opportunities to really talk one-on-one with people as you’re attending group events.

    2) Don’t assume that the others are NOT new. I’ve often placed myself in the position of visitor (or clueless foreign) and waited for others to introduce themselves…only to realize that the people on either side of me were new, too. Or even more timid than I was. Sometimes you are in a position to extend hospitality even as the “new girl.”

    1. Jennifer van Leeuwen says:

      SUCH good thoughts, Elizabeth! Thanks for pointing out such truths. Especially the “don’t assume others are NOT new” . . .doesn’t C.S. Lewis say something along the lines of “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”” Being in similar circumstances can be just such a bond. =)

      1. Michelle Phagan says:

        Hi Jennifer,
        I made a major life-changing move this past summer and I know how you feel! I had been living in Europe for the past 11 years as a single missionary. I met my husband through a very good friend and I moved back to the States this past summer, got married a week after my return and then moved another 800 miles away from my parents to a little, bitty town in Oklahoma. I started a new job the next month and well, that’s kind of where I’m at, as they say. My husband actually found your blog and sent it to me and I was very encouraged by what you wrote. It has been a huge whirlwind and it has been hard. I left behind probably the best friend I’ve ever had, outside of the Lord, of course, and came where I didn’t know anyone and had no friends. My husband has been incredibly patient and sweet through all of this and I love him even more for it. I have thought back to your blog several times over the past 5 months or so and it has helped me immensely. Thank you for being so candid and honest with your blog!

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