Relocating is never a piece a cake. It can be even harder if you are a recent college graduate starting your career.
Moving to a city where you know no one is never easy. It is even harder if you are a recent college graduate and are leaving the comfort of a ready-made community to start your career with your first grown-up job.
So how do you turn an unfamiliar place into one you can call home?
There are easy ways to make the transition from stranger in a strange land to the leader of a (new) pack. You can leverage existing networks like fellow college alumni; use social media to meet others with common interests; throw yourself into tourist mode and explore; make friends with your co-workers; and, above all, say yes to every invitation you get.
What do you have to lose?
A time to leap
When Jane Behre moved to Dallas in February, it was the first time she had ever set foot in the city. Her interviews for a production sound technician job at the Dallas Theater Center were all done by Skype.
“While I’m still young, I will go where there is work,” said Behre, 22. “If there’s ever a time to make a big leap, the early 20s is the time to do it.”
Behre grew up in Pennsylvania and went to college in New York City, so as a result of taking that big leap, she has had to build a new network in a new-to-her city.
It is not an uncommon situation for a recent graduate to face. In 2016, 12 percent of adults between 22 and 24 with a bachelor’s degree moved from one state to another, according to a recent study published in Educational Researcher. And while we might think of young adults as always being out and on the go, loneliness and isolation are not unusual in the demographic. In fact, young adults reported experiencing twice as many lonely and isolated days as late middle-aged adults, according to a study published in Aging and Mental Health.
Most college graduates, especially those who lived on campus, have had social structures built for them. Even if you do not buddy up with your classmates, you can still make friends in intramural soccer, bond over late nights at the college newspaper or by volunteering through a fraternity or sorority. Now, those who have moved to another part of the country — or another country — need to build those structures themselves.
“It’s like dating: You have to be proactive. You have to be willing to embarrass yourself,” said Melody Warnick, author of “This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are.” “You need to expand your social circle and build social capital in a new town. That’s really the primary thing you can do to help yourself feel at home quickly.”
Expanding existing connections
Just because a city is new to you does not mean you are starting with an entirely blank slate. Matt Sena learned that after he graduated from the University of Michigan and moved to New York City in May to pursue work as an actor.
“People who graduated three years ago, I’m getting in touch with them right now,” said Sena, 22, who grew up in Manhattan Beach, California. “A lot of people have done exactly what I’ve done before, so they can recommend jobs like catering.”
And if they are open to it, he said, he will often crash on their couches to experience different parts of the city, rather than just going back to the house he shares with roommates in Bushwick.
When Melanie Mabry, 22, graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2016, she moved to Sydney, Australia. But she did not go alone: She and a college friend got Australia Working Holiday Visas and moved there together, which gave them at least one connection while trying to make a home on the other side of the world.
Together they have explored the country and made other friends together, which Mabry said has been easier than trying to strike out alone. Pairing up with other young adults also makes it easier to sight-see and visit places that longtime residents might find old hat.
Tapping into the local branch of a community built around one of your interests can help, too: a running club, an intramural sports league, a church, a crafting group. Even if you do not know anyone there, having something in common can open doors to new connections and friendships.
Warnick, a writer who has researched place attachment, or the sense of connection that people sometimes feel with their towns, said that using college networks can help. But she warned against relying on them too heavily, especially if the people who are part of that network are on a campus far away and not where you currently live.
“For someone who has just graduated from college and moved to a new town, the temptation might be to hop onto Snapchat and talk to your old friends, and never bother making new ones,” she said. “That’s almost guaranteed to make you feel isolated and alone in your new town.”
There is an app for that
While making friends is important, Warnick said, so is forging connections with the physical place. “The friendship maybe isn’t enough,” she said, “which is why I tell people to also find ways to fall in love with your community.”
Mabry started doing this before she left for Australia. On Instagram, she followed people who lived in Sydney and other major Australian cities, and from there she created a list of places she wanted to go and things she wanted to see. Now, on Sundays, when public transit fares are capped at $2.60, Mabry and her friends take long train trips to see something new — often something she discovered on someone’s Instagram account.
Matt Sena has been using the Meetup app to find like-minded people doing things in New York that interest him too. He looks most often for meditation circles. He has also been going to open mic nights, and volunteers for a local political campaign. Even though he often goes by himself, he often clicks with people there, broadening his connections in and to the city.
The co-worker link
For a lot of recent grads, the job they moved to their new city for can provide an outline of a support system — or at least a place to start.
“It’s always nice when work doesn’t feel like work,” said Kim Christfort, an author of Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships and national managing director of Deloitte Greenhouse. “So to the extent that you can connect with people and have some sort of relationship, it makes it easier to do your job.”
Behre has gotten to know her co-workers at the Dallas Theater Center, and consequently Dallas itself, by meeting a very basic need. “A lot of it revolves around food, because the people who I work with — we tend to go out for lunch,” she said. Since the theater center has three locations, she and her co-workers can explore three areas of the city through something they all do every day.
“There’s always a risk of mixing business and friendship,” said Christfort, of Deloitte Greenhouse. “There’s a need to have good judgment about things and perspective.”
That means bearing in mind that not everyone at work is looking to make new friends, no matter how enthusiastic someone else might be.
“A recent graduate needs to understand that they’re going to be working with teams of people that are going to be very different,” she said. If someone isn’t open to a friendship, back off. It could be that things change over time.
Mabry, who works for an Australian staffing agency and as a bartender, said that she recognized the limits of most workplace friendships, and the need to have friends outside of her job.
“There’s a difference between having friends at work and having friends that you’re going to hang out with,” she said. Being friendly with co-workers is nice, but she said she does not rely on the idea of co-workers turning into lifelong pals.
Luke Rafter moved to San Francisco in 2016 after earning a master’s degree in accounting at the University of Notre Dame. He made friends at work, but soon realized that he wanted to expand beyond his office.
So in the last six months, he said, he has became a “yes man.” If someone asks him to do something, he goes, no matter what.
He also has sought out fun activities and invited people to join him. Sometimes he will meet friends of friends and then include them on his next invitation to do something, like attend a street fair or go hiking, so he is rarely alone on his adventures.
He is also a regular at Feastly, a pop-up dinner series in San Francisco. “It’s a communal atmosphere, and the chefs talk with everyone at the meal,” said Rafter, 25, adding that he has become friends with one of the chefs outside of the Feastly umbrella. “It’s really fun to spend some time with people you wouldn’t see on a normal day-to-day basis.”
Social media can also help with finding opportunities and like-minded people in a new city or town, Warnick said, but meeting people in person is key to making the new place stick — or be a better fit for however long someone stays.
“We have all sorts of social networks that give us the illusion of social interaction and friendship without actual, real friendship,” she said. “The only way to make friends is to put yourself out there. You’re just going to show up and do it.”
That prospect, Warnick acknowledged, may be hard for some people, especially those who are introverted.
“But all you really need is a couple of friends that will eventually lead to a couple more,” she added. “The entire experience of your city can change based on that.”