Wellington City Center(47075)Credit: Jennifer S. Johnson

When I first moved to Wellington, New Zealand I was bit overwhelmed.  Not only had I just been travelling for a full 24 hours, but I also knew absolutely nothing.  Where was my apartment? The grocery store? Who am I going to hang out with?

Friends, or social contact in general, are the absolute must in getting settled someplace new. They give you a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and nothing makes you feel more at home than that.

So the art of getting settled in a new city is all about how to find communities to get involved in.  It doesn’t matter what type of community you’re looking for – a book club, a theater troupe, a running group, or maybe even a Little League organization for you kid so you can meet other parents – but a group of similar minded people is a must.  They’ll become your friends and guides to your new city.

Which means you have to know where to find these groups.

Tourist Centers:  Not every city will have these, but most big cities will.  They have the best maps you’ll ever find, and the workers are always well informed. They can tell you what events that match your interest are in town, and where. Plus, being locals, they’re great at answering questions such as ‘which grocery store has better deals’ and ‘who can I contact to set up my Internet’.

Libraries:  Very important, especially if your town doesn’t have a tourist center. It serves as a community bulletin board; you’ll find lots of literature about what’s going on, be it group meetings or local events.  Going to the ones that interest you will help in finding people to hang out with.

Recreation Centers: My hometown doesn’t have a library, so the Rec Center is the place to go.  But even in larger places it’s a good resource to check out.  A lot of community Rec Centers offer classes, be they photography or Jazzercise.  Sign up for one.  You’ll be hanging out with the same people every week, get to know them, and learn something at the same time.

While having people to socialize with is the best thing you can do to get used to a new place, you also have to explore the area.  Get to know your way around the city to minimize how often you get lost in the future.

That being said, get lost.  Go explore! Find new things, and then try to find your way back home without using a map. But bring one just in case.  And just because you don’t know where you are, doesn’t mean you can’t navigate yourself to someplace where you do. 

Here’s a couple of navigation tips.

Find a landmark.  In Wellington, my apartment was a couple of blocks from a tall bell tower.  If I got mixed up in my directions, I could always look for that and make my way home.  It also served as a compass.  I knew the bell tower was on the south end of town, and from than I would orientate myself when travelling to other places.

Stay on main streets.  If you’re just exploring a small neighborhood, this one isn’t that important, but in a big city it’s major.  Knowing the main streets means you know the basics of a city’s outline.  Plus, it’s the major roads that others use in giving directions.   These streets are for the most part straightforward. So if you get lost, but then come across one you at least know that following it one way or another can get you someplace you want to go.

Don’t tackle the entire city at once.  Do it in parts, each adding on to other sections that you’ve already explored. The bigger the city, the easier it is to be overwhelmed, so keep that in mind.

Pay attention.  This one is obvious, I hope.  Make sure you take note of street signs, or buildings if you’re more visual.  I learned which corner to turn at on my way to work in Wellington by noticing the fancy Burger King on the corner, and in order to get to the supermarket by noting the corner with the church.   That’s not to say buildings should replace street names in your mind – street names are much more helpful in navigating in the abstract, such as following the directions someone gave you earlier.  But in every day getting about, visual cues mean a lot.

Moving to some place new is always stressful, and lonely at the beginning.  But once you met people and know how to navigate around, you’ll be calling the place home.