Awhile back, I came across a blog post that was becoming somewhat viral at that moment, particularly among the Indonesian students overseas. It was written by an Indonesian student residing in a European country, who was describing how she always finds that the majority of Indonesians in that country seem to have always been only socializing with their own communities of Indonesians and rarely seem to be engaged with either the locals or the more internationally diverse communities. P.s.: she belonged to the opposite group.
For her, maybe her comfort zone is indeed in the circle of the locals. For others, maybe their comfort zone is people who share the same background, thus easier to pass along the jokes with or relate in any way. While it’s probably cool that someone enjoys being in the company of a diverse group of people just because not many people might even like that idea, it also makes the most sense for someone to be the happiest when surrounded by a rather homogenous society which shares the most similarities with them. Especially when it comes to the cultural or religious background that further defines our core values and general perspectives about life, which really accounts for who do you pick as your comfort friends eventually. Who would enjoy feeling constantly challenged just because they’re surrounded by those who do not see the world the way they do? It is absolutely just easier to live with those whom with we could be at peace together, is it not?
But while I fully get that the most humane thing is probably for people to tend to choose those who could relate to them the most, I am also assured that it might escalate to that unhealthy level where you end up being too scared to be exposed in a situation where you’re not the part of the majority. (Like I, and many other Indonesians apparently did.) At the same time, while I definitely second that it’s important to get out of your comfort zone for your self-growth, forcing yourself to stay away too far from your safe comfort zone might actually harm you in a very bad, dangerous way as well.
But one way that I think we should really consider reflecting about is that: you don’t always befriend someone just because you liked them. You do not hang out with people simply because you wanted to be social. In fact, you do not even avoid people just because they give you anxiety. Indeed, the nature of our desire to build social relationships is built on these naturally occurring needs, but they are not the only reasons.
The equivalently important reason that I’ve come to understand, particularly as we get older, is that you immerse yourself with people also because you need to develop your mindset, broaden your perspectives, and strengthen your inherent values. Even if it feels cringeworthy as heck at the beginning.
Especially when you are given a once in a lifetime opportunity to go explore a country before you must head back to your own innate community, probably for the rest of your remaining life. Or when you are given the chance to work for your dream companies even though their work cultures don’t suit your preference, or in anything, any circumstance, really. Basically, when you’re grown enough to understand the importance of this.
But no, you do not have to end up becoming actual friends with them at the end of the day. You might, which is a good bonus, or you might not. And both are still equally rewarding as long as you were going through the process.
There are people that you surround yourself with because you do like them, and their presence enlightens your mood and supplements your inner energy, and you just naturally gravitate towards their similar frequency with yours; but there should also be people that you surround yourself with because it’s just an essential part of growing yourself up. Colleagues, bosses, anyone that doesn’t seem like they should even be a cameo in this movie of the life of yours; they might belong to this second group. But as much as their presence might irritate you sometimes, be informed that being around them might give you more valuable lessons that you didn’t know you needed before.
The very ideal way to live that is of course to have both of those two circles. One that gives you comfort and contentment and makes you feel like you truly belong; and the other that gives you the “experiences” that you wouldn’t otherwise get from the former group. And the way they both work is that they could even balance each other out, and compensate each other for each own’s positive and negative post-long term exposure effects.
Thankfully, (or not,) in my current circumstance, it is made “easier” because I really do not have many choices anyway. Either I dare myself to befriend those who seem like having nothing in common with me, or I refrain myself from their circles completely and end up feeling so lonely and probably depressed–because it is already a problem to even find a single person who would share a similar background with me. I would agree that I wouldn’t miss so many occasions where I was the only hijab-wearing brown Asian in the room, feeling so very and extremely self-conscious, looking so misplaced among Caucasian faces. But after one and a half year of hardship, I finally believe that they were all necessary. Yes, it was sometimes painful; yes, it does drain out my energy big time; yes, I wish I could be with my family back home instead; but at the end of the road, something is telling me that I needed it.
I had the rights to turn down all the invitations to hang out with those people whenever they ask me to, and sometimes, often times, I did use those wild cards. It did save me and I could crawl back to my deep, dark hole of social fearfulness and feelings of homesickness–which does not even sound like a safer place to be saved into. Some other times I trusted my guts and let my brain win over my shameful introvert-arse heart, and when I got lucky, it ended up being the best regular day of my life.
You do not say yes to social gatherings just because you wanted to have some fun. You do not meet people just because you wanted to make friends. You do, because you wanted to learn and gather some new knowledge as well. About themselves, and then you. Why you are different, or why they are, and why both of you have to be. You want to rediscover yourself by discovering the sides of other people that you might never see before. They might or might not end up being your actual friends, but either way, you still get something that might even be more inherently valuable for your own sake in the long run.
(For me, the very least is that I could improve my English. Or the future chance where I get to tell people stories about “the scariest and most awkward two hours drinking ice tea in a Canadian pub of my life.” The most? An endless possibility.)
But it was never an easy thing to do for me indeed, because, well, introverts. I’ve had days, that turned into weeks, and then months, maybe a year, or more, where I felt misplaced, alienated, isolated, and all their synonyms, you name it. And it does not mean that now I could live in contentment with it. I’m just progressing to constantly be okay with it.
Because sometimes, feeling okay is the best you could get when there’s no possible way you can afford feeling great. Do I love being here? No. Do I hate being here? Also no. I am just grateful, and that’s the utmost level of “okay” that I perfectly need right now.
So yes, pick those that are closer to your heart. But do not disregard those who might not spark your interest to be surrounded with. Heck yes it would absolutely give you heightened anxiety. It would scare the heck out of you. But even in the worst case where things go wrong, it would absolutely not kill you and isn’t whatever that doesn’t kill you always makes you stronger?
Funny thing to think of is that I never really realized how all my best friends in my entire life have always been either West Javanese, especially the folks from the bigger cities, or Jakartans. Or how I’ve only had one Christian best friend thus far. And now that I do, my next question is: why?
I guess that’s how twenty-two years of living as a part of the majority group would make you become, and why exactly I need to be here in Edmonton.