Being new in the U.S., immigrants such as me often find it difficult to discover social activities that suit us. In the summer of 2012, the unbearable heat wave in the Midwest made me reluctant to step out of my air-conditioned house. Moreover, I knew that I would stay in the U.S. for only two months so it was not necessary to make any new friends or socialize. I remembered I went to the public library and saw a lot of information about social activities on the notice board. However, as a passer-by, I did not want to bother those organizations at that time. I ended up spending most of the time in the kitchen that summer. Life in the U.S. seemed dull and tasteless, despite the desserts and muffins that I made.
When I came back to the U.S. in the winter of 2013, I decided it was high time for a change in order to spice up my life in the U.S. Before I finished unpacking my boxes from Hong Kong, I had chosen to join the local activities and make some new friends. And my first step of socializing started in the public library! When most people think of a library, they think of borrowing books, magazines, CDs or DVDs. Different from the libraries in the mainland China, libraries in the U.S. have different activities every day. Thus, the library is a good place to start socializing.
Unlike for most people in Hong Kong, reading is a big part of life for Americans. People of different ages and education levels enjoy reading books, joining activities and organizing activities in the library. They can find three main categories of activities, namely library activities, club activities and community activities in the library.
(Announcement board in the library)
I often visit the Monroe County Public Library, which is not far from where I live. The library staff organize a rich variety of activities. Author night, movie night, knitting class, reading program, book club, homework help, Downloadable Day (e-book help) and English conversation class, to mention but a few. In December, I was glad to join a Christmas tea gathering of the library book club and met a group of book lovers. It was held in the format of small groups and there were also some new comers to town, as well as to the book club. Book club members welcomed the new comers and asked us to help ourselves with the refreshments on the table.
Most of the book club members are women who have retired. Honestly, I was afraid that I might not be able to blend in well. My worry proved to be unnecessary after only a few minutes as they were so friendly to me. They were interested in the Chinese culture and asked me a lot of questions about Hong Kong. One woman even told me that her dream was to be a writer and publish a novel. We all had a great time and spent a wonderful afternoon together. It was in this gathering where I met the mother-in-law of the founder of You May, and that was how I joined this organization. And surprisingly, I discovered the best coffee in town was the free one offered by the book club in the library!
Next, I joined the English conversation class in the library in January. As the saying goes, “many kiss the baby for the nurse’s sake”, my intention to join the class was to make Asian friends and experience English learning in America. Whether a teenager, a housewife, a white-collar or a blue-collar worker, all are eligible to take part in the English conversation class as long as they are not native speakers of English. The class is free and lasts for one hour and a half. My classmates come from all over the world, e.g. Hong Kong, the Middle East, Mongolia, Brazil and Korea.
The teacher made good use of interesting games to arouse our interest in English speaking. She says America is such a multiracial country; it will be beneficial for us to get used to different English accents. In fact, the Mongolian in class is a visiting history scholar who speaks fluent Mongolian, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. The teacher says he comes to the English class in the library almost every day and raises questions after class. Although he can speak only simple English phrases or sentences, his determination to learn English is obvious to all of us.
There are also regular English courses and English writing courses for enrollment. Library users can also borrow English learning resources and word games to facilitate their self-learning. These classes not only teach English but also the customs and cultures of different countries. The classmates are keen on helping each other; valuable friendship is thus built.
In addition to the library activities, there are many activities or meetings organized by local clubs. In January, I attended the gathering of the Friendship Force Club of Southern Indiana in the library. We shared our travel stories and talked about the scenic spots of Southern Indiana. Originally, I had thought only westerners would join this kind of activity. But I was wrong. I met two Taiwanese women, and one invited me to have Taiwanese beef noodles together afterwards. As I was full from the brownies offered in the gathering, we exchanged contact information for meet up next time.
The library offers endless possibilities for new comers in the town to explore. It is surely a good starting point to socialize and make friends. No matter the city, I believe there is a public library nearby. Its nice and cozy environment makes it perfect for both freezing winter and sweaty summer. It is also suitable to go with family. The library staff are patient, friendly and accepting to people from all races. They can offer a helping hand for any questions. People will definitely get more than they can imagine if they make good use of this public resource. Frequently Asked Questions Francesca Received:
Q: How do I find library activities?
A: Almost all the activities information can be found on the library website. The ‘events’ or ‘calendar’ page on the website lists the first-hand information of the activities. Many of the library activities do not need pre-registration or even a library card. All you need to do is to drop in at the activity room on time.
However, some activities may have a quota on participants, in which pre-registration is necessary. For any questions, library staff answer questions by phone or email. Going to the library is even better for you to find out more.
Q: What activities can I also find in the library?
A: The notice board in the library has all kinds of notices about community activities such as cultural events, festivals, carnivals and interest classes. Many community centers distribute their promotional booklets in the library. If there is a Spanish or Pan Asian section in the library, there might be a specific notice board of interest classes and activities for immigrants.
Q: What should I do when I attend the first meeting of a local club?
A: To avoid being rude or inappropriately joining a meeting, I suggest you first email the club or do a self introduction when attending the first meeting.
Americans are friendly and welcoming. Every time I say I am new to the town, they usually say “Welcome to Bloomington!” or they even say “Nihao” or “Xiexie” (meaning “hello” and “thank you” in Mandarin). For those not confident with their English, Google Translate can help with the self introduction.