We tend to cling to ideas, concepts, faces, and groups that we are familiar with to help us cope and connect. As a new FJV of five months, I find this particularly true when thinking about processing my JV year. If you’ve stayed at your placement or are living in a major city in the US, processing may happen by way of FJV meetups and associated social justice groups. However, if you’re like me and live in a place where the word ‘Jesuit’ is foreign and using language like ‘similar to AmeriCorps’ is out of the question, processing a year of intense change can feel extremely daunting and often isolating.
I currently live in Leeds, England. It’s nowhere close to London, and it’s considered to be the academic hub of the North. While I felt that I was called to move here, I had many larger ethical and moral concerns in my transition from a teen crisis shelter in Tucson to a considerably posh metropolitan English city to study literature and creative writing. The gap between these two lives and vocations felt immense. Trying to remain aware of this, I headed into my transition with intention to form community.
Making friends in a new place certainly comes with challenges. However, I am even more interested in the idea of forming community. From scratch. In the midst of verbal processing and lots of intentional downtime, it occurred to me that the pillar of community was the first thing I started reaching for when my life away from JVC felt intimidating, isolated, and obsolete. While I was fortunate enough to have a few friends who would listen to me unconditionally and without judgment, I’m sure most FJVs will agree that having good friends, or even housemates, does not suffice for having the same kind of intentional community.
While I hesitated with using electronics and social media for community building during my JV year, I feel slightly different now. As I am constantly disconnected from both JV/Jesuit communities and faith groups in general, I felt the simplest way to throw myself into the community in Leeds was to plunge into different social media outlets to look for people, places, and things that felt intentional, wholesome, challenging, and safe. While I am still apprehensive about the infiltration of screens in my life, I have found some ways in which electronics and social media have been helpful in my search for community.
My growing list of internet resources for building community from scratch includes:
The not-so-simple ‘Google’
It goes without saying that ‘Googling’ can be easy enough. However, in order to get the results you want, you need to know what you want. Even then, hierarchies of algorithms and advertisements can make finding what you want quite difficult. Just like an authentic international hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the good stuff is the best kept secret, and is often difficult to find. However, if you are looking for something specific, search engines can be helpful starting points. When I first moved to Leeds, I knew I was looking for an inclusive faith community, so that is what I searched for. I found All Hallows Church, and while the website was not up to date, what I did find seemed inclusive and justice-focused enough to try it out for a Sunday worship service. I now go every week. Through my Google search, I was able to find a spiritual home that was not only a great place for for spirituality, but was rooted in faith and social justice initiatives in the greater Leeds community, which made it easier for me to plug back into the values of JVC, and into issues and conversations beyond spirituality. Google is not always the best tool, but can be a great first step to point you in the right direction.
Facebook’s events function makes finding events near you easier to locate. With the ability to sort by location and date, it can feel like a collective city calendar of everything (and I mean, everything). If you open the Facebook app and hit the line horizontal lines on the top right, you can scroll to ‘Events’. With the ‘Explore’ option, you can search for anything, including things that are happening that day around your location. I have spent many mornings scrolling through events, and hitting ‘interested’ on most things so that Facebook would remind me to show up. However, as wonderful as this function may seem, it can be somewhat misleading. Because it shows all public events, attendees may miss the social implications of group dynamics. If you decide to show up to a local event, you may find that it may feel exclusive or established, because unless you already know other people who are going, it could be a tough space to create new community. However, if you are looking for a less serious social outings, like salsa dancing nights, improv comedy, or free film screenings, Facebook events may be the right venue for you.
Meetup is an app and a website that essentially works like the Facebook Events tab, only more specific and inclusive. By hitting the ‘Explore’ tab, you can search by date, location, and general interests. Meetup also has a search option to search for friends with more specific interests. Once you build your search history, the app will suggest more events that seem relevant to your life and location. What I have found positive about Meetup is that for most events, you must first join the Meetup group for that event, and then RSVP. Typically, you will get an email from the administrator of the group, (which can be both intimidating and inviting.) Meetup brings together people around common interests, so can be perfect for finding events, even if you usually feel uncomfortable showing up to events alone. Groups can be as general as ’20s and 30s Social Meetup’ or as specific as region-focused Enneagram enthusiast groups.
This app uses your address and location to virtually connect you to a neighborhood forum where you can post and read about events in the neighborhood. In my limited experience, this app seems to be used primarily for house repair suggestions and neighborly garden advice. Nextdoor doesn’t seem to be as popular in Leeds as it is in some major US cities, but I think it has the potential to be a great source for a community exchange of knowledge and information. I imagine, in its prime, the app can help facilitate community events for people in a very specific location. After all, a large part of community is knowing your neighbors.
In casual conversation, many of my friends will reference their ‘Instagram communities’. This sounded somewhat contradictory until I looked into it more. By following certain people, or groups of people on Instagram, you can see what the different groups are up to, and what events they may be sponsoring or endorsing near you. Instagram can become extremely addicting and commercial, so I tend to shy away from this method of social interaction. However, the ability to follow my local queer-friendly dry cafe and vegan donut shop (two separate places, although it would be amazing if they were combined) has made this a worthwhile internet investment. For me, Instagram is better for an internal sense of belonging. I find that by following positive, encouraging people, I can feel that even when I am alone, I can access a sense of universal understanding through the people that I choose to follow. This being said, Instagram can very quickly lead you to uncharted waters. Tread carefully.
People certainly have mixed feelings about apps like Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge. Bumble has a setting called ‘Bumble Friends’ that supposedly works to connect you with other people on the grounds of friendship only. In my experience, this doesn’t always seem to work. I had found that people I had connected with did not want to commit to meeting as friends, or did not commit to meeting at all. I have heard of people making friends and creating communities through the regular dating functions of these apps, however, for me, there tends to be a very fine line there. In terms of friendship, these spaces can often be misleading, confusing, and superficial. I think these apps have the potential to be formative (especially for those of us in the LGBTQ + community), but they aren’t always the safest and most comforting of the initial internet go-to options.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list, and only represents things I’ve tried as first steps. I welcome any other ideas or suggestions (in fact, I would definitely appreciate it). As much as I wish that meeting people in coffee shops is reliable and consistent, I’ve faced my fear of the internet to tackle new age community formation. While I recognize that graduate students may have student groups, jobs, and regular volunteering social outlets, sometimes these spaces can be distant and disconnected. While I am actively pushing myself to make new in-person contacts, I suppose my review of social media is that it is helpful, given you meet it halfway. Finding the people and resources requires the courage to show up, both through the internet and in person. No matter where you are in life, transition can be hard and requires bravery. To my fellow FJVS: be brave! And if you ever find yourself on my side of the pond, don’t hesitate to reach out.