You’re smashed in an industrial van, four rows deep, with two more people in the vehicle than there are seats. The driver is nearing 120 kilometers/hour and prefers to drive on the wrong side of the road at every sharp turn that occurs every 200 meters or so. It’s a method of maintaining his high speed.
Let’s just say you get to know your neighbor intimately. And when there are only a few others around who speak your language fluently, you instantly make friends. It’s the exchanges of glances of terror, snickers about the Russian snoring loudly in the third row, and the general bonding over how we all ended up in this van together.
But let me rewind, to our first day in Manila, our first day in Asia, the very first day of our highly anticipated trip. Timid is not a word most people would use to describe me, but that first morning meeting our first batch of fellow travelers, I was quiet. S immediately dove in, saying hello, asking where they were traveling. I munched on my free hostel breakfast observing the interaction, contributing the occasional nod, smile, and tiny input of our tentative itinerary.
In reflection, I think I had yet to feel that I had something to contribute, and I was taking the opportunity to digest the norms of hostel interactions (as I digested my fried egg and overly processed white bread). It had been awhile since I had last been wandering around foreign countries!
The conversation quickly progressed to an outpouring of recommendations, tips, and cautionary tales. I was warming up to the situation, and I looked forward to being a few weeks in to the trip and having my own advice to offer new friends.
Through this experience, I became aware of a key aspect of communities: onboarding the newcomer. We can all relate to the “first day” experience, whether it’s the first day of a new job, the first meeting of a club, etc. No one likes a hot shot rolling in with their big personality and big ideas, ignoring and potentially disrespecting the social norms of a community that are often a long time in the making. The socially conscious newbie will restrain, watch, and take mental notes, letting their personality unfold as rapport is established.
You might be thinking, “What ever happened to just be yourself??” and that’s fair. In many communities, that would be preferable. I realized it’s essential for the environment to allow for it, and leaders needs to facilitate that environment. Maybe the newcomer receives a newsletter that portrays information as well as culture, or it could even be a silly first day tradition to break the ice.
A community that grows and thrives must be conscious of its newbies.
To be continued…
Post by K
Photo: Panorama of new friends (El Nido, Philippines)