Part two in my gratuitous “advice” series, in which I discuss what it’s like to “start over” in a new city as a young adult, and evaluate different ways to approach the transition! I hope you’ll share your thoughts, too, especially since many of you are more knowledgeable than I!
I am a young twenty-something (are we tired of this term? Not yet? Okay, then.) who graduated from college last year, and I am in the midst of a few post-graduation changes. One of the biggest anxiety-inducing adjustment post-college for many grads, including myself, is the challenge of moving to a new city! In my experience, it’s not so much the new city that’s the challenge, but rather the interesting phenomenon of going from having lots of friends, and a familiar social situation, to potentially having none.
For most people, going to college is the first taste of this kind of complete social upheaval. But I went to school at the “obvious” (yet still competitive and prestigious, mind you) choice, an in-state public university where 30 of my high school classmates also enrolled. I was also lucky enough to live with a high school friend for all four years! So moving away after college is an even bigger adjustment, especially given that many of my best college friends are still living near where we went to school, and I find myself living quite far away and quite on my own.
I had a relocation “trial run” when I studied abroad during college, so I was able to learn a few of the hardest lessons of young adulthood while I still had the safety net of my familiar Forty Acres to fall back on. Now that I’ve relocated to Dresden, and am anticipating a move to Madison later this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what in particular I’ve found challenging, as well as what has been the most rewarding, about striking out on my own in a new place!
So without further ado, here is some unsolicited advice from my own trial and error!
Challenge 1: Maintaining a sense of self in a new place.
It can be tempting to throw “the old you” out the window as soon as you land in a new city. But as far as I’m concerned, dealing with an identity crisis on top of all the changes that are about to happen just sounds like a recipe for disaster. Your life story–your family, personality, preferences, strengths, weaknesses–have a place in your new home, too! For me, it has been really important that I continue to place the same emphasis on my faith as I did at home. Going to Mass every week has been a huge anchor for me… no matter what other crazy changes are going on in my life, the Church is a constant, week in and week out. I can imagine that, if I were a runner or a soccer player, continuing to participate in that aspect of my life in a new place would also be an important stabilizer in a time of instability.
Challenge 2: Structuring your life is harder when your surroundings are unfamiliar.
But it might be the most important thing you can do. Without structure, your free time quickly becomes a black hole of watching Netflix and eating chocolate. (That’s a universal phenomenon, right? No?) For me, this problem is multi-faceted.
A new location can mess up your day-to-day life simply because you don’t know where things are. For instance, it was not a big deal in college if I was out for the day and hadn’t packed a lunch or cooked anything at home, because I knew all the best places to get a cheap/healthy/on-the-go meal. I don’t necessarily know that yet for any given place in my new city. Even after several months here, I find myself running back and forth and wasting a lot of time because I don’t know the best or most convenient place to eat, make copies, get internet access, etc.
The beginning of your time in a new city actually provides a solution to this exact problem, though, because you have a tourist agenda for the first few weeks or months. Make it your job to see all the sights your city has to offer, even if you’re doing some of it alone. It will give you something to do, and at the same time you’ll become more familiar with your new city. Make it your assignment to learn as much as you can about the neighborhoods where you spend most of your time. Find out whether the café near the university has free wifi, and scope out the scene: would it be weird if you camped out there with your laptop for a few hours to get some work done? Try out the take-out restaurants… are they worth a repeat visit?
Once you have some idea about the landscape of your daily existence, establish a routine for yourself. What day should you go for a morning run? There’s a sushi special down the street on Wednesday evenings, so maybe that could be a ritual. The café has longer hours on week nights, so that could be a potential productivity area after work. Creating a routine is also helpful when it comes to scheduling social events, and that’s important because…
Challenge 3: It takes a long time to build a support group of friends.
This is really the hardest part, in my experience. I have had the added burden of a language/cultural barrier both times I’ve “moved away,” but based on the experiences of friends within the U.S., making friends is the hardest part of post-college life in general, especially after moving somewhere new. I learned from my mistake in Freiburg and decided not to live alone in Dresden, which has been a huge blessing. But even with a fantastic roommate whose friends have also kind of adopted me, it has been difficult to establish friendships. I’m not a full-time student with a cohort of classmates, and it’s hard to break into pre-established social circles. Not everyone is always going to be as invested as you are in making friends, and it’s rough sometimes when you’re open to being buddies with someone and they clearly aren’t interested (no matter what language you happen to be speaking).
In my understanding, there are two groups of people you want to be looking for: like-minded people, and people in a similar situation to you. Like-minded people will have similar interests to you, and as I mentioned in Challenge 1, you have to know what your interests are before you can find them! I’ve had success finding like-minded people at church groups, and have also heard that sports classes are great for this (I’m finally taking my own advice next semester and taking a sports class!). Establishing that you and your new acquaintances have something in common is not only a gateway to meeting them in the first place, but also provides conversation topics and possible activities to do together once you become friends!
Finding people who have a similar situation to you, whatever that may mean, is important because you will have a mutual understanding right away. For instance, find an alumni association from your University, or a bar that shows your hometown’s football team’s games, or reach out to the other new coworker who recently moved to town. This time around, it’s been much easier for me to befriend other international students and young people living in Dresden: they’re away from home, I’m away from home, we’re all trying to get by with our sorry German skills… instant connection! Felicitas and I got close really quickly because we are both dealing with the limbo state of DAAD-scholarship life. I’ve also found that the Germans who are most willing to make the extra effort with new people from abroad are those who have studied abroad themselves. They know what it’s like!
One important thing is to be open and to put yourself in situations where you will be able to meet people. This is the hardest thing for an introvert like me (and it’s especially hard when I’m not speaking my native language), but if you are confident enough to brave a new situation, you might be lucky enough to meet kind, generous people who are willing to befriend you!
Of course, sometimes it’s not so easy, and like I mentioned above, sometimes other people just aren’t willing to put forth the effort to become friends. That sucks; it does. But part of being an adult is realizing that maybe not everyone wants to be your friend, and you shouldn’t waste your time on those people anymore. Concentrate your dazzling conversational skills on somebody who seems friendly! (Obviously, I am not the master of any of this advice yet, but we’re in this together! Let’s encourage each other, young adults of the internet!)
Of course, the last key element is time (and patience!). You probably didn’t become best friends with your best friends the first time you met them; building relationships is a long process! Be patient with it. (Again, hard advice! I’m sorry!)
Challenge 4: Incorporating your old life into your new one.
I suppose this goes along with #1. Just because you’re living in a new city and/or country doesn’t mean that you leave the rest of your life behind or forget everyone who’s ever been important to you. However, the challenge is that you can’t just live a carbon copy of your “old life” in a new city by constantly talking to your college friends or trying to re-live the glory days.
I haven’t fully figured out how to balance the two, and living abroad has its own challenges, but it helps when your friends and family are invested in you, and you are invested in them. I love hearing from my friends and finding out what exciting things the’ve been up to! I am a fan of sporadic Skype dates with my friends, every month or 2, to catch up. I’ve also loved sending postcards when I travel. I would also love to add a pen pal or two.
Sending mail doesn’t have the instant gratification of online communication, which also means it isn’t as all-consuming. Taking the time to write a nice letter to a friend or family member, and then waiting for their reply, is a communication mode that is very forgiving of the fact that you are busy living your new life!
I haven’t fully figured out how to do this, because it’s a total work in progress. Really, isn’t the integration of relationships, places, and experience the work of an entire lifetime? We have lots of time to practice and hopefully eventually get it right.
Any more advice that I missed? I don’t know what it’s like to enter the workforce after college, so I don’t quite have that perspective… an