Dear Kiki: I want to meet people from other backgrounds. How do I diversify my network?

In this month’s advice column, a reader asks for ways to broaden their social horizons and meet a more diverse group of people.

Dear Kiki,

As an Asian, I meet a lot of other Asians, but would like to meet people from other backgrounds. Of course, Asians aren’t a monolith, but there are other folks too.

Any advice for meeting a more diverse group of people?

— Seeking Diversity

Man speaking with friends at a restaurant
Photo Credit: Cottonbro on Pexels

Dear Seeking Diversity,

I applaud you for making a thoughtful and conscious effort to diversify your networks. It requires a great deal of self-awareness and humility to realize the limitations of your own lived experiences and world-views, and to be open to other perspectives that may differ from your own.

Amid all that is happening in the world today, it is especially important for each of us to take stock of the people we choose to surround ourselves with, and ask: Do they all think like me, or do they challenge me to look at the world from a different lens?

I’d like to share my own experience meeting more diverse individuals. Growing up, I lived in a predominantly-Asian neighbourhood and went to a high school attended by many Asians. Our school even had a shop adjacent to the cafeteria dedicated to selling mostly Asian snacks. While I took comfort in the “sameness”, I can definitely relate to feeling curious about the people beyond this familiar bubble.

When I went to college, though, I was able to truly broaden my social horizons, and open doors to a plethora of new possibilities and individuals outside my regular circle.

Despite not knowing anyone, I decided to branch out and sign up for new clubs and volunteer roles. After a few rejections and awkward meetups, I found my place in a group of twenty student leaders responsible for welcoming new students on their first day of school. The group was intentionally selected to represent our multicultural campus, and consisted of individuals from all areas of studies, ages, and cultural backgrounds. Through this program, I met students from Bangladesh, Croatia, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Trinidad, as well as other parts of North America.

The experience opened my eyes to vibrant cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles. It allowed me to eliminate the stereotypes and generalizations that I had, and also foster an acceptance of others, including myself.

In order to meet new and different people, you will need to venture out bravely into unfamiliar places, and be ready to accept what other people have to offer with open arms. 

In the spirit of diversifying, I have invited our editorial team to share their tips and experiences meeting people from different backgrounds:

Join a group that you share a hobby or interest with

“Play in sports leagues, join church groups, business network, [and] volunteer.”

“Pre-pandemic, I attended vegan meetups at restaurants and met a very diverse set of people there, from students to seniors, business professionals, and LGBTQ+-identifying people. [W]e all shared an interest in plant-based food.”

“I joined a triathlon club and have met so many people from all walks of life — engineers, designers, teachers, and so on. More importantly, I’ve been able to bring perspective as an Asian American and recruit more diverse members as a long-time member.”

Start by looking for groups based on shared interests that are broad and inclusive. Join them on a regular basis so you get to know people on a deeper level. As in-person gatherings move to virtual spaces during the pandemic, there are plenty of ways to meet people both locally and beyond your geographical locations. 

Leave your comfort zone (and your friends)

“Join a group or attend a public event by yourself (scary, I know!). Be brave, go on your own, and see who you can connect with. Make it a goal to meet at least three new people.”

“In the past, I’ve met so many people from different backgrounds and experiences by deliberately leaving my comfortable circle of close friends. I met new people by signing up for community-based activities of things I was interested in — a vegan meal prep e-class, a book club, a guided art tour. I always found myself in the company of new, dynamic individuals that I would have never met if I stuck with my familiar circle of friends.”

Our friends act as our safety net. However, as individuals, we all need our own room to grow. Going solo to events and activities will force you to make new, diverse connections and allow you to be fully present in the experience.

Take the time to make meaningful connections

“Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know and see where the conversation goes. Don’t ask them questions like ‘What do you do for a living?’ Go deeper than that and follow up with a coffee or something afterward!”

“I reach out to people without much thought and have been able to make connections on Twitter and Instagram. I rarely go into it [thinking], ‘I want to meet a different person from me.’ It’s usually because we both love talking about something. I’m always very conscious of my possible stereotyping and spend extra attention to listen and learn.”

Remember that it’s not enough to just meet people; take the time to get to know them — especially what makes them actually diverse and nuanced. People don’t divulge their life story in the first five minutes of the conversation. You will need to build trust and rapport, and that comes from actively listening and asking thoughtful questions. 

Group of multicultural friends sit together outdoors
Photo Credit: Gabby K on Pexels

Diversity comes in many shapes and forms. It transcends what we see on the surface, including religious beliefs, family structure, sexual orientation, and life experiences. It also emerges from the internal values we grew up with, the struggles we have endured, and the challenges we overcome.

When you take the leap of faith and meet new people outside of your bubble, I challenge you to take it to the next level. Lead with a curious mind and open heart. Create a space of acceptance and understanding, where people can be their true selves. Play an active role in building a community where our individualities are celebrated, and our differences do not divide us but unite us. 

Always here for you,

Kiki


Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. You can also follow along for the latest column in our newsletter.

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