Three weeks after my college graduation, I moved halfway across the country to a city where I knew nearly no one.
Strangely, I wasn’t nervous—in fact, I was confident that I didn’t need anyone but myself. But I quickly learned that life isn’t nearly as easy (or fun) when you don’t have a network of friends, family, and connections nearby.
So, slowly but surely, I’ve worked to build a local network of people I trust. But, it was more challenging than I expected, and I definitely made some major mistakes along the way. If you’re headed to a brand-new city, too, here are some of the lessons I learned (the hard way) about jumping in, meeting people, and experiencing all your new city has to offer.
Don’t: Be Afraid to Go Out on Your Own
When I first moved to the great state of Texas, I wasn’t sure how to navigate it by myself. After all, I was used to exploring restaurants, concerts, and museums with my friends. But, I quickly learned that if I really wanted to experience my new city, I needed stop waiting for things to happen to me—and make them happen myself.
So, little by little, I started checking out the restaurants I wanted to try (confidently saying “I’ll sit at the bar, thanks” is life-changing), attending special events, walking in the local parks, reading outside, sipping coffee at Starbucks, and other things that got me outside my apartment. It certainly wasn’t easy at first, but it worked. I not only got to really experience my new surroundings, but I also went from being lonely and bored to having a full schedule of things on the calendar.
Looking back, going out and experiencing things on your own is the biggest piece of advice I give to other transplants. I know it’s scary—but remember that it doesn’t make you look nearly as lonely and sad as you think it does. And after doing it a few times, you’ll be comfortable enough in your own skin that you won’t be worrying about it anyway.
Do: Use Your Existing Hobbies and Networks
While your new city might seem like a strange new world, remember that you’re—well, the same person you were before. So, use your hobbies, your interests, and your existing connections and translate them into a new network.
For example, if you love jogging on the weekends, find a running club to join. If you and your friends participate in a charity auction for breast cancer every year, see if there are similar groups you can get involved with in your new city. If you put yourself out there through activities you’re already comfortable with, it will be easy to meet people who may grow into friends.
Similarly, don’t forget to embrace the networks you already have, and consider joining your local alumni group or the local chapter of a professional organization you’re involved with. I met some of my closest girlfriends here through my sorority’s alumni chapter and the parent chapter of one of the organizations I was in as a student.
Do: Meet People Online
I know there’s still a stigma around meeting people online—I wasn’t necessarily on board with the idea, either. But it’s increasingly more common, and it’s a great way to meet like-minded people in a city that seems totally foreign.
After weeks of meeting only a few people organically, I broke down and joined Meetup. I joined several groups that interested me, including a book club, an outdoor adventure crew, and a couple aimed specifically at young women new to the city. I found the groups a little hard to navigate since you need to coordinate with a large number of people, but I did have success connecting personally with people within the groups. I met my closest friend here because she reached out in a private message—she’s a fellow transplant from the Midwest and asked if I wanted to get acquainted.
If you’re single, online dating is another great way to meet more people. I joke with my friends about how I’ve become a serial online dater, but it’s actually fun and I’ve met a ton of awesome guy friends that way. Many times the people you “e-meet” on the free sites are really just looking for the same thing you are—someone to hang out with. And if something more comes out of it, great.
Don’t: Just Hang Out With Other Transplants
You probably chose your particular city for a reason—be it a hot nightlife scene, more of an arts-based vibe, or a down-to-earth feel. Embrace it.
A huge mistake I made when I moved was gravitating toward fellow transplants, rather than immersing myself in the existing culture of the city. By hanging out only with people who had the same mindset I did and going to places that felt familiar to those in my hometown, I wasn’t fully able to grasp all the things my new city had to offer. Yes, it’s tempting to do things that feel safe—but, trust me, not interacting with the locals and hearing about the parts of the city that they love will take away from the overall experience you get.
It wasn’t until I started getting involved in the culture of the city and the people who lived there that I started getting what I came here for—the new experiences that I will take with me throughout my life. My current city may not be my forever city, but it’s a great place for now. And once I stopped comparing it to what I’ve known in the past, I started loving it for what it is.