I was walking around my neighborhood one sunny Saturday a few weeks ago when it hit me: I’ve built up a pretty good life here in D.C. I’m living in a city full of intelligent, motivated young people, I’m getting to produce original work for one of the best news organizations in the country, I have an active social life, and I have access to so many free art museums! For the first time since I’ve graduated college, I feel like I have found a home.
So you might be surprised to learn that I’m moving. Exactly one week from today, in fact. For the next month, my life will be in a state of flux — finishing up my job at NPR, saying goodbye to friends, schlepping my stuff from one city to another, visiting family in Illinois and Texas, meeting with journalism professors, hanging out with my 96-year-old grandmother — before I finally settle down in middle Tennessee, where I’ll be an on-air enterprise reporter at Nashville Public Radio.
I’m thrilled to start working as a full-time reporter at a fantastic station. But despite my professional excitement, I’m personally slightly terrified. Because starting over is hard. I’ve done it four times now in the past two years, so I can say that as a fact. It’s hard going to a place where you have no close friends, or no friends at all. It’s hard adapting to a new culture, whether it’s on a different continent or a different part of this vast country. It’s hard getting lost all the time, taking wrong turns because the GPS didn’t update in time, walking down streets that suddenly feel unsafe. There are the days when you say, Yes, I feel incredibly lucky to be having adventures, but I really just want a) a hug and b) to find my way home.
But after four major moves, I can also say as fact that these discomforts pass. Little by little, you do, miraculously, meet people. You move from culture shock to appreciation. You develop a mental map of your route to work. You find a regular coffee shop and you know what you order. Maybe, it starts to feel like home. Or maybe you move before it does. But the next place you live, you adapt to it all a little bit faster.
In an effort to both remind myself how to adapt to a new city and encourage my friends who are doing the same thing around the country and world, here’s what I’ve determined are the five steps for survival when moving to a new place.
[Edit 3/17: After pondering it more overnight, I would add one more at the top of this list, although it’s kind of woven into all of them: Be patient with yourself. You may not feel completely comfortable within a week or month or even six months, but that’s OK.]
1. Use a map. Every time you get lost, look up where you were and which direction you were going on Google Maps or, better yet, the paper kind from the tourism office. It will help you develop a mental map faster.
2. Commission friends of friends. The last time I lived in D.C., I thought it would be awkward to meet up with people I didn’t already know — and as a result, I was pretty lonely. So this time around, I asked my friends to put me in touch with their friends in D.C., even if we only had that one mutual friend. I also met up with acquaintances I hadn’t seen since high school and people I knew but had never spoken to in college. Be proactive about contacting people, and don’t be shy about it. The likelihood is, they’re looking for friends, too.
3. Explore. This is probably the simplest, most beneficial but hardest step — because it requires you to get out of your house. When you have no other plans, wander. Or, if wandering isn’t your thing, roll up your sleeves and do some research. Find events you want to go to and put them on your calendar. Try for two or three nights a week.
4. Find a built-in community. I realized when I was in Los Angeles that I was much more comfortable going to a Jewish event where I didn’t know anyone than a random event on Meetup.com. So when I moved to D.C., I researched those kinds of events first. Having a niche — whether it’s an identity or a hobby — is a good starting point.
5. When you start to feel lost, call up your constants. There are many people who you’ll miss when you’re living in a brand-new place. They’re the ones who remind you who you are. The good news? They’re only a phone call away.