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My Plan to Make Friends From Scratch In a New Country

I’m moving out of the Bay Area after spending my entire life there to live in Toronto, Canada. This is my plan to make friends from zero.

Tam Pham
Tam Pham
10 min read
My Plan to Make Friends From Scratch In a New Country
Photo by Conor Samuel / Unsplash

I’m moving out of the Bay Area after spending my entire life there to settle down in Toronto, Canada. This is my plan to make friends.

I know a few people in Toronto, but not many. It’s going to feel like moving as a kid and enrolling into a new school. How do I make friends again???

I feel like I’ve been in numerous “new” situations and found great success meeting amazing people. I’ve struggled with building community ever since I dropped out of college at 18 years old but after years of trial and error, I find meeting new people like second-nature for me.

I’d like to share my plan of attack to make friends to help you find new ideas that may help you build your own community. I wrote a book about how to do this in a professional setting but honestly, “networking” and making friends all share the same principles. Let’s dive in.

My BAMBU tribe

Step 1: Know what friends you want to make

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you are looking for in a friend?

We crazy how deeply we can think about what we look in a lover or in a job but completely overlook friendships. Out of those 3 things, your friends will have a higher probability to stay with you throughout your life yet we don’t spend as much time prioritizing our friendships.

I’ve been guilty of this. I would normally meet people through activities and sports. I found myself as a floater in several groups. If I was lucky, I would spend time with 1 or 2 friends outside of the activity and grab lunch/dinner. Despite that I had friends who were happy to see me, I didn’t feel like any of these friendships were particularly strong or special.

I didn’t like how I mostly saw friends only in the context of what we were doing. If there was no basketball game, then my friends and I would be less likely to hang out.

I also didn’t like how none of my friends knew each other because the different groups never overlapped. Everyone was quite different and if anyone randomly sat next to each other on an airplane, I would bet they would not even say “hi” to each other.

I didn’t know exactly what I wanted but I knew it was not exclusively that.

Fast forward 5 years later, I feel like I found the best tribe in the world.

These are the friends that I’ve called in my room to let me cry on their shoulder after a heartbreak. Friends where we can be vulnerable with each other and feel comfortable to share things that may make us seem weak. Friends that have driven me to the airport more times than my parents have, including several trips at 4 am in the morning, without me ever having to ask. Friends that self-organize weekend retreats full of fun activities and quality time with each other.

Friends that I talk to via group chat every day. Friends that give long hugs and thoughtful gifts. Friends that actively follow up with me to see how I’m doing on my goals. Friends that aggressively offer to lend me money to support my transition period because they know that I’m not normally the one to ask for help.

Friends that make me feel safe, seen, supported, and loved. Friends that share the same values of kindness, personal growth, and social impact.

You can find the full story on my previous article of how we support each other but in short, this is the tribe that I always wanted but never knew was possible. These deep bonds took several years of trial and error, a LOT of intention, and lots of love.

Spending even 10 minutes writing down qualities of what you think you might want in your friendships can save you hundreds of hours… so you don’t “waste” your time with friends who you’ll never form deep relationships with.

Write down what you’re looking for first BEFORE you go make friends.

For me, I prefer to have a tight-knit group of friends that are all close to one another. In addition, I also like to have friends who I see often in the activities that I do and not feel like I need to combine them with my actual tribe, but rather keep them separate. In reality, this looks like (1) my tight-knit group of friends aka my tribe (2) dance friends (3) badminton friends (4) entrepreneur friends (5) chess friends, etc.

This satisfies my needs for deep connection while also having a range of friends in different groups so that I am never in a little bubble.

What does friendship look like for you?

morning Sunday hike

Step 2: Go find those people

Here’s what I plan to do in priority:

Tap into my existing network

My current friends already love me. If I chose my friends well, they would be happy to introduce me to cool people that I should meet in Toronto if I asked them. So step (1) is to ask my friends for introductions. This is the simplest, easiest, and most effective way to make new friends.

The medium is not important. You can ask through text, post a Facebook status, or create an Instagram story.

The key is that you make the ask. Asking is something I struggled with early in my life. Here are some things that I would say in my head that would stop me from asking:

  • They have so many things going on in their life. They wouldn’t even have time to help me.
  • I don’t want to be a burden on my friend.
  • I can make friends on my own. I don’t need their help.

All of these reasons are excuses you say to yourself to not make the ask. If your friend is busy, they will tell you, and you both will move on with your life. If your friend asked you for help, would you help them? If the answer is an instant yes, then why don’t you feel the immense and imaginary burden that you think your request will cause? And yes, you can make friends on your own… but it will be more difficult and less effective. Why eat soup with a fork when you don’t have to?

Ask your friends if they know any friends they can connect you within the city you’re moving to.

At least a few people will know someone and will be enthusiastic to make the introduction. Thank you to my friends Kat and Davis for offering to make introductions before I even asked.

The Choose Yourself meetup group that I started and ran for 1 year while I still had braces

Join existing communities

Building communities have been one of my biggest skill sets and literally one of the reasons why I’m moving to Toronto. But I would rather join an existing community first than trying to create something from scratch.

I’ve been getting more into bachata (still a major beginner), yoga, and badminton,

The first thing I’m going to do is take bachata classes at a few studios to see what teachers I enjoy and observe the different types of communities. Since I am so new to bachata, I would prefer to be in a community where everyone is supportive, accepting, and there wanting to have fun.

However in badminton, I would prefer to be in a competitive community where we are sparring against each other, doing drills for fun, and sweating through two t-shirts by the end of our workout. In yoga, I prefer Vinyasa classes that strike the right balance between physical rigor and mindfulness in a studio that feels warm and cozy.

All these different communities will attract very different people… and that’s the point. Once I start going to these activities on a regular basis, I am going to see the regulars often, and the familiarity will make friendships much easier.

I don’t want to get tactical in this post, as I have already covered how to have great conversation, but a common thing I like to do in these specific situations is saying hi to the people I meet and having small talk. Once we are more familiar with each other, I would ask if they want to exchange numbers or add each other on Facebook (I don’t use IG or Snapchat). Sometimes I would even ask them to grab lunch/dinner right after the activity at a nearby restaurant.

I find it harder to make friends when you do solo sports like working out at the gym, climbing indoors, or swimming. People usually have their headphones in and often keep to themselves. While it’s great that you enjoy solo exercise, I recommend you choose activities where you are forced to be more social. Joining an improv class makes you interact with other people. Dancing salsa forces you to dance with many people in a single night. You get my point.

On the professional side, I’ll be working in Toronto and definitely want to find a good community to meet like-minded entrepreneurs or curious people in tech. I plan to prioritize to join a co-working space who has a strong emphasis on community (unlike a generic WeWork where most people don’t know each other). I want to go to events like Toronto’s famous Tech Talks and meet other guests who are attending. Lucky for me, my whole job is to meet amazing entrepreneurs and find ways to support them… so a lot of my community building will be baked into my working hours.

If you want to read my book on business networking, you can check out my shameless plug here.

Build strong friends 1-on-1

I’m a big fan of “being the hub” when it comes to making friends which is an expression for being the person to bring people together. If you are the one hosting dinners, events, hikes, extra practice time for bachata, stretch and share Saturday’s, book clubs, or whatever it is… people will naturally gravitate towards you. You will also get invited to many of the events that your friends host since you are so generous with your invitations.

However, in order to be a hub, you need to build relationships with people 1-on-1. If you hosted a dinner of 8 people where you barely knew the 7 other guests you invited, things can go south, esp. when you don’t know the true personalities of every person and what the group dynamics may look like.

So get to know the other person. Meet up with them on a consistent basis for a longer period of time. You don’t have to see them every Wednesday morning for a coffee standup meeting… but have a genuine conversation with them over delicious Thai food. Send them articles through text that they might like to read, then talk about the article together to share your opinions.

I often send badminton videos to my badminton friends. I once sent a video of me doing a yoga post (Crow) for the first time to my new friend in yoga. Invite them to an event you plan to go to. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It just has to be something to stay connected to the other person with a natural cadence.

Only after you get to know each other better is when you can invite them to dinner. Once they like and trust you, it will be easier to get an enthusiastic yes!

Entrepreneur dinner with author Nir Eyal as our special guest!

Host dinners/events to bring existing friends together

Now we get to the part where you can “be the hub” and bring your friends together. Not only will you be seen as the leader, but your friends will also meet your other friends, and the strength of their relationships will elevate the strength of your relationship with each friend. What does that actually mean?

Imagine I introduce my friend Maddie to my other friend Audrey and they hit it off. They end up sharing the same interests in volleyball and Maddie invites Audrey to join their Intramural league. They bond closer through there and end up becoming best friends where they share many beautiful experiences together. Who connected them? You did.

They may or may not formally thank you for introducing each other but they will never forget that you helped facilitate their friendship. Other people might ask them how they met and they will think of you. You will be top of mind.

So not only are you introducing amazing people together but they naturally feel even more grateful for you and will be more willing to reciprocate introductions back to you. That’s the beauty of being the hub.

Now again, the medium is not important. You can have a dinner party if your friends share a love for deep conversations. You can host UFC night for your friends who love combat sports. You can host a book club to debrief on the latest chapters of Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Think about what your friends will like to experience, then go make that happen.

If your first thoughts right now are logistical ones like, “I don’t have space at my place for a dinner party”, or, “I don’t have the right channel to watch UFC” then you are missing the point.

  • If you don’t have space in your home to host people, go to an actual restaurant.
  • If you don’t have the channel to watch UFC, find a local bar, and have the party there.
  • If you don’t know the answer, put on your problem-solving hat, and find the solution.

The best book that I’ve read on hosting amazing dinners is called Mastermind Dinners by Jayson Gaignard. Full disclosure: I just started working with Jayson (hence why I’m moving to Canada) but I read this book several years ago and have used it to host dozens of my own gatherings. It’s legit and a very brief, straight-forward read.

Hosting my 2nd writing retreat. This is us exploring nature after 7 hours of writing!

Co-host dinners/events to bring existing friends and new friends together

My last plan of attack is to co-host dinners/events with people I trust.

Hosting events consistently can take a lot up a lot of energy. What I recently started doing more of was co-hosting events where if we were to have a dinner party, for example, I would invite 2 friends and the co-host will invite 2 of their friends.

This way, both the hosts get to meet new people and reduce the amount of work needed to do everything themselves.

I first got this idea from my friend Nat Eliason who is an entrepreneur and writer that wrote a fantastic piece called: Second-Degree Dinners: The Best Way to Meet Cool People in Your City.

I’ve done a few Second-Degree dinners with great success and I’m excited to do more of it once I build community in Toronto.

That is my plan! I welcome all feedback and suggestions on how you would do things differently in the responses below. If you live in Toronto, please say hi!


Tam Pham Twitter

I'm a writer and bachata dancer currently bouncing around Latin America. Trying to make the most out of my one wild and precious life.

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