Starting fresh in a new place can be intimidating. Everyone you meet seemingly has the cheat codes for navigating the area because they have been living there at least a year longer than you. It’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle the first few times you venture out on an errand; especially if you haven’t lived in a large city before. On the one hand, going out can be exhilarating. More often, venturing outside is a more formidable task.
The good news is that every day you look outward to understand your adopted surroundings better, the more confident you’ll feel and familiar it will become. I’ve compiled some tactics that have been working pretty well for me, which I’m sure can serve you well whether you’re settling into a new city, country or planet (hey, we may be doing that sooner than we think if the U.S. goes through with that whole space force thing IRL).
- Do some social media sleuthing. Even before moving day, look for influencers talking about topics of interest (e.g., family-friendly activities) or businesses in your neighborhood that you might want to scope out. Think of this as a loose itinerary for your first weeks. It’s better than when you go on vacation because you don’t have the typical time constraints. You will also quickly learn about upcoming community events to start immersing yourself. When we arrived in Bangkok, I found this awesome playgroup called Little Pea BKK and heard about a holiday fair all from following the BKK kids blog’s excellent Instagram account.
- Join groups. Every city has got them: Facebook expat groups for single people, moms (twins even!) and affinity groups galore. Use it to ask for recommendations on where to find teething gel and birthday cakes or to gather for an Oscars viewing party over breakfast. Regardless, the groups are worth the membership.
- Strike up a friendly conversation. Perhaps in your travels, you keep seeing the same person coming in as you’re going or sipping an espresso when you walk into a café. SAY HELLO. As a New Yorker and an introvert, this runs counter to all of my inclinations, but just push yourself to do what you can until it feels less awkward. I got involved in a weekly Zumba class shortly after I arrived in Bangkok simply because someone was bold enough to chat up a new face in the elevator. I was not the bold one in this situation; I’m still a work in progress.
- Wander around. Yes really! This may sound very basic but sometimes plotting a destination – like a café – and just wandering the streets until you reach it can be incredibly helpful when you’re trying to get a sense of your neighborhood. You can create your own list of destinations by using Google Maps to save favorite places and keep a running list of locations you may want to check out. Additionally, when you need to get home – and the preferred ride-hailing app in your country falls through – it’s always helpful to have your address saved as Home to show a cab or motorbike driver who doesn’t speak your language.
Most importantly, just remember to pace yourself. Set one goal per day and celebrate victories big and small – like taking the public transportation system one stop or finding the first “go to” spot you like to frequent. What other ways have you tried to immerse yourself into a new situation?