How To Settle Into A City (Part One: Social)

“I am moving to Auckland at the end of this year (with my boyfriend) so that I can attend university up there. How does one make friends? I’ve heard all the ‘take a class/join a club’ suggestions which I’m not suggesting aren’t valid, but I’ve taken many classes and haven’t really become great friends with any of the other attendees. I don’t want to come on too strong and seem desperate. Also I’m quite shy. Waaaah… Gala, how do I make friends in a foreign environment?!?!”

Such a good question, since I have been thinking about the subject a lot myself. There is a lot to it, so I’ve decided to make this a two-parter. This one is about the social aspects of moving — the next one will be more on the domestic side of things.

As most of you know, I moved to Melbourne in October of last year, & while I enjoy it here, it is very challenging at times. This is compounded by a couple of things:

1. Melbourne is a very tucked-away city — everything is hidden down secret lanes, alleyways & in arcades
2. I work from home, so I don’t have the advantage of regular, reliable social interaction with people in an office.

Your situation is quite dear to my heart though, since I also moved to Auckland from Wellington once! It was my first time away from home & it was quite overwhelming a lot of the time. Thankfully, I moved straight in with my boyfriend who was a local, & was quickly adopted into his group of friends, their social activities & introduced to all the places they’d hunted out & enjoyed.

I know that you’ve asked primarily about making friends, but moving into a new city is more than that. Typically, you need to get to know the place before you’ll meet anyone — & then, meeting people is mostly incidental. Immersing yourself in a city is a slow process. I have been in Melbourne for six months now, & it still all feels exceptionally foreign to me. I read that it typically takes anywhere from a year to two years to feel properly at home in a new city. There are so many little things that take their toll on you, like knowing where the good coffee or bagels are. As most of my readers know, I have been on the search for decent fish & chips for a really long time, but I am realising that the whole point of moving somewhere new is that life is DIFFERENT! I need to find new food, new activities, new ways of interacting with people — Melbourne is not Auckland or Wellington or anywhere else.

Moving to a new city is really exciting but you will face a lot of challenges before you feel really at home. Here are some things I know of which can make the process a little easier!

Bookmark your local Metroblogging website & visit it regularly
Or better yet, hook it into your RSS reader. Maybe I am slightly biased, since I write for Melbourne, but Metroblogging can be a good way to become accustomed to where you’re living. Metroblogs consist of a group of local writers blogging about their city — events, opinions, etc. I read mine for a long time before they asked me to join them. If your local one is boring or non-existant, email them & get involved!

Go for long walks
As often as you can bear it, put on a pair of good shoes & go for a walk. Not a piddly walk around the block, I mean at least 45 minutes on foot. It doesn’t matter whether you go alone or with your lover, you just need to go out with the intention of exploring. I probably do this every second night — I take my camera, set off in a random direction & walk until my feet ache. There is no better way to get to understand the geography of your city & to find the little hidden places.

Google for “free events <your city>”
I have done so many things this way — opera in a park, trapeze lessons, gay & lesbian festivals, rubber ducky races, etc. Most cities, especially over the summer months, have absolute piles of free events on & they are worth taking advantage of. A lot of locals don’t even think about free events, so if you go along with positive intentions you’ll probably find that you meet some new people.

Join local communities on LiveJournal
Just search for your city & join up. Post an introduction if you want. The melbournemaniac community has been really valuable to me — I ask them all manner of inane questions!

Make the effort to drag yourself out of the house
It’s easy to hate everything & shrink into the couch with a steely resolve to watch every episode of House ever created. Don’t do it! Put on some sunglasses & leave the house, even if it’s just to visit your PO Box or buy a sandwich. The more time you spend in your city, the better you will feel in it.

Accept invitations
Even when you feel wretched & can’t stand the idea of meeting new people, you should always say “yes”. (I have yet to learn this one myself.) The people you initially go with might end up boring as hell, but you might meet one of their friends who totally turns your crank, you might go to a party full of amazing people or you’ll stumble across a bar that you absolutely love.

Go solo
Moving to a new city with your partner is a good, safe way to go — you have each other to lean on, which is so, so good. You will find it challenging at times, but mostly you will be thrilled to come home & have someone who understands you. However, if you constantly go out together, you’ll find that your social interactions are mostly with each other. I know that if I go out alone, I am far more social & meet a lot more people than if I’m with another person.

Take classes & go to clubs
I know you’ve said this doesn’t work, but try it with a different focus. Take a class in something you really love & do it for that reason, rather than with the intention of making friends. If you make a friend, that’ll just be a bonus. One of the best things I ever did for myself was take a creative writing workshop for a few months over winter at the University of Auckland. I was so, so lonely at the time, & while I didn’t become friends with anyone there, they were all incredibly supportive, kind & gave me great praise & feedback about my work, & I have remembered that. Not to mention doing a regular sport or physical activity is good for you!

Pick up flyers & leaflets & keep an eye on what is going on
Going to some good gigs will make you feel much better about your city. Another thing you can do is get involved with an events group — there are often collectives of fine young things who put on bands, shows, publish magazines, etc. If you can hitch your wagon to them (offer to write for them, do website design, whatever), they often have great contacts & know where all the good parties are. Do some Myspace sleuthing for this kind of thing.

By the way — when I lived alone in Auckland in 2005, I was in a pretty bad place emotionally & felt very lonely. I had just broken up with my long-term boyfriend & all my best friends were in Wellington, where I grew up. I spent hours on the telephone & flying back on the weekends. It’s a very easy thing to do. It took a while but I realised that if I wanted to be happy in Auckland, I needed to cut myself off from Wellington. Not completely, but enough that I wasn’t clinging to my friends 600km away for comfort. When I stopped relying on them for moral support, I was much happier & was able to be present in the moment in Auckland.

In terms of being shy, you might want to read my article on popularity. Don’t be nervous about asking people to have a coffee or a drink — everyone likes to feel socially desirable & you will find that most of the time, they’ll be thrilled to accept.

Extra For Experts:
How can I make my new city feel like home? asked on Metafilter.