Strangers No More
Women Building Cross-Cultural Friendships
“Strangers No More — Women Building Cross-Cultural Friendships” was designed as a multi-phase initiative to bring together a diverse and inclusive group of women—whether US or foreign born—to build relationships and ultimately to help amplify the voices of all women in our community. The first event, on March 28, 2019, truly lived up to its name.
Some 49 women participated in the program, held at the Beatley Central Library, which generously co-sponsored the event. By all accounts, it was a huge success.
The diversity of this first highly energetic and enthusiastic group was remarkable. It included women from some 30 different cultural backgrounds, from varied lifestyles, and from a wide range of ages—teenagers to octogenarians. Married, single, widowed, and divorced women participated. Some talked of raising young children, some of raising teenagers, and some of enjoying grand motherhood. Some of the participants were students, others were working inside or outside the home, and still others were enjoying retirement. Despite these differences, they clearly found common ground and enjoyed rich conversations about their cultural backgrounds and friendships—current and future.
All participated in this event’s “speed meeting” activity, which was patterned on “speed dating.” In response to the question of how they would describe the experience in a word or phrase, we heard “joyous,” “exciting,” “interesting,” “informative,” among many other positive responses. We ended the evening in small group discussions about how we could turn acquaintances into friends.
Some six months later, we held a second event to which 23 women came to a lovely outdoor venue to celebrate a variety of different cultures through their cuisines. We were treated to a wide array of delicious and interesting food, reflecting many foreign and American regional cultures and traditions. After introducing ourselves, each participant described the food she brought and its meaning for her. We then engaged as small groups to discuss how we could further interest women in our city from different cultural backgrounds to come together to build new friendships. The groups were also asked to discuss what we could do to get to know one another better during our next gathering. A variety of ideas were tabled, which led to our third public event in December 2019.
At the third gathering, held at Beatley Central Library, 26 women joined us to continue building friendships across cultures. It was a diverse group that readily shared their experiences of winter celebrations, our theme, including from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Japan, and Puerto Rico. Twelve of the participants were new to the group but, through the good will of past participants, reported that they felt most welcome. As with the first two programs, we ended the evening by discussing in small groups the future of “Women Building Cross-Cultural Friendships.” Based on these ideas and all those we had culled from the previous events, we created a Diversity Book Group as the next phase of the initiative.
The Diversity Book Group, born in January 2020, is comprised of women who share an interest in learning about cultures and backgrounds different from their own—again, whether US or foreign—both by reading about them and listening to the experiences of others. The monthly gathering of a more intimate group of women who come together regularly over a period of time affords us the opportunity to build friendships that might ultimately lead to working together to help amplify the voices of all women in our community. In the meantime, the group—with some 30 members on our email list—averages about a 10 at each of our meetings to date. At our first gathering, the group as a whole selected the books for the next 12 months, drawing heavily on female authors and people of color. Partnering with the Ellen Coolidge Burke Library, we held our first three meetings there until the Covid19 pandemic forced us to meet virtually via “Zoom.” Despite the disruption, we’ve adjusted well and look forward to reading each book and getting to know each other better. For more information about our Book Group, please see the tab “Interest Groups” at the top of the home page.
Bonnie Hershberg, Chair
April 24, 2020
Photos from the initial event: