Friendship is something you build, not something you find. Whether you are starting at Penn or moving to a new location this summer, we are all faced with the same question: how do you build your community from the ground up?
After my struggle with friendship at Penn, I worried about how I would make friends after graduation without the structure of classes and clubs. I decided to convert my worried energy into proactive action.
Weeks before moving to Washington, I started my research into how I can build a postgrad social life there.
In the Notes app, I typed a simple question: what are new hobbies that I can try? I brainstormed ideas, including how I could get involved in the Jewish community and local theatre scene. I checked organizations’ websites, Facebook Events, and Eventbrite.
I also thought about what activities helped me thrive during undergrad. For me, finding familiarity in new experiences motivated me to branch out to new people.
For example, I loved singing with Penn Hillel’s Reform Jewish Community (RJC), so I wanted to find something similar in Washington. In my research, I discovered Sixth & I synagogue, which offered services that reminded me of RJC. I’ve also built friendships through Moishe House, which offers Jewish events organized by and for young professionals.
Once you meet someone whose company you enjoy, try practicing a regular ritual with them. For instance, I reached out to a long-time Penn friend and a new Washington friend to go to see a show together at Arena Stage. Since that first request, we’ve built a habit of seeing shows together.
I continued this approach by focusing my energy on building friendships through repeated encounters with the same people in similar settings.
I regularly attended Sixth & I services, and I began to notice a recurring cast of characters. I focused my attention on these people and it led to me getting to know them better.
However, making that first step to find friends in a new city can be tough. Be prepared to ask and respond to the same questions: “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do for work?”
Rather than ask people what they do, I recommend asking them about what they are interested in. By inquiring about how others spend their free time, you can quickly figure out if you share common passions or hobbies.
Of course, not every activity will result in close friendships. Last fall, I joined an intramural kickball league at the National Mall. Despite building team spirit and camaraderie, I did not stay in touch with my teammates after the season ended, which felt discouraging.
To maximize the chances of keeping a relationship alive, it is helpful to see people in multiple, consistent contexts. No matter how many one-off happy hours I attended, I learned the important lesson that it takes time and persistence to nurture lasting friendships.
While it is enriching to meet a wide array of new people, connecting with those you have history with or people you have an affiliation with can help get you started.
During my final semester at Penn, I started a list and wrote out who I knew would be living in Washington and elsewhere.
Creating this “where people are living” list has served as a constant reminder that I am not alone. The list led me to reconnect with a high school friend who mentored me during my transition to Washington.
If you are graduating soon and looking to meet Penn folks in your area, I recommend checking out if there is a regional alumni club near you, which are meant to connect alumni through social events.
I joined the Penn Club of D.C., which has been a nice outlet to meet local alumni. I’ve organized a young alumni happy hour and a visit to Planet Word Museum, and I’ve enjoyed big events like our Potomac River boat ride!
If there is one thing you take away from this column, I recommend connecting with people and researching organizations who can help you build community.
Wherever your journey takes you next, community will be key to thriving.
JADEN CLOOBECK is a 2022 College graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is a former staff columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He works at the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream in Washington. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org