Moving to a new city in a new country can be a disorienting experience. Nothing is familiar, you can’t read the road signs, and it is hard to ask directions in a new language. How do you get oriented in your new location?
Buy a large paper map of your new city. The map on your phone or computer is helpful, but for the big picture a large paper map is essential to making sense of your new city. Mark where you live and study the map for landmarks such as parks, schools and places of worship. Try to understand what is to the north, south, east and west of where you live. This will help as you use the smaller map on your phone when out walking and exploring.
Begin to explore your neighborhood in concentric circles.
- Walk your neighborhood. Where are the markets, convenience stores and other services? Are your neighbors poor, middle class or wealthy? Friendly? Hostile? Neutral? Are children playing on the street? Is there an active street life? Where do people congregate? As you walk, begin to participate in the neighborhood activities, greet your neighbors, practice your new language.
- Rent or buy a bicycle. This will enable you to expand your exploration, but it continues to give you a “street level” view. A bike will help you to discovery the location of restaurants, government buildings, the post office, banks, and department stores that are beyond walking range, but easily accessible on a bike. Many cities have public bicycle sharing programs, which enable you to use a bike for an hour or two, often for free. Learn how to use these bikes and explore.
- Ride public transportation. Ride different buses to the end of the line, paying attention to the different sections of the city and where the bus stops are located. Look closely at who rides the bus: are they business people or laborers, the poor or middle class, or primarily students? Does the make-up of the people change along the route? Are there scenic spots or tourist attractions on the bus route? Be open to talking to your fellow passengers.
Begin to learn the name of major streets. Are the streets named for politicians? Provinces? Native trees? Learn how to recognize restaurants, and what type of food the restaurant features. Is there an area of town where ethnic minority people live?
Ask people for help. Not only for directions, but where is the best place to buy a cooking pan, or what restaurant has the best chicken dishes. Go systematically into different shops and stores and start up conversations with anyone who will talk with you.
Accept the help of other Americans as they can often guide you into avoiding mistakes that they have made. It is also important to remember that living in a new culture is a complex experience and everyone response to this new adventure is different. It is best not to let the perceptions of your new city be filtered only through the experiences of another American. Look for Americans who have a healthy and positive attitude toward your new home.
Orientating yourself to a new city takes time and work but it can also be fun! Look at this experience a something to enjoy and challenge you. Take your time and know that working to orientating yourself will help to make your new city your new home.
Do you have any tips on moving overseas? Let’s hear them!