Moving to a new city is always a tough adjustment whether you are in your home country or in a foreign country. You have to start from scratch and find a place to live, figure your way around the city, adapt to a new work environment and make new friends. Although it will inevitably be difficult and challenging, your attitude, outlook and effort can help make it a smoother transition in so many ways.
Let me preface this by saying I did not choose to be in Ourense. I knew I wanted to stay in Spain, but I was happy and content in Madrid. I had my most of my friends there, knew my way around and felt comfortable in the big city. However, I had always wondered what it would be like to live in a smaller city in Spain. I wanted to feel more connected, like less of a foreigner and really integrate myself into the Spanish way of life. In Madrid, it was so easy to lose myself in my routine and forget that I lived in Spain. So, I decided to accept the offer in Ourense and I’m taking small steps to make this a great experience. Just like with anything else in life, you must always be positive and make the most of things.
After only one month in Ourense, I already feel quite comfortable here. Although I’m still adapting to some things and I know the transition will take some time, I truly feel like I live here. What took many months for me to achieve in Madrid has only taken me a few weeks here in Ourense. Living in a small city definitely makes for an easier transition, but there are some key steps you must take upon arrival to your new city to make you feel at home.
- Before you get to your new city, find somewhere to stay for the first week or so.
I highly recommend staying in an AirBNB while you search for an apartment. It’s less expensive than a hotel and much more comfortable than a hostel. In most cases, you can come and go as you please and prepare your own meals instead of eating out. In many AirBNB’s, you have the option to share with other people. This is a great way to meet locals and learn about the city. If you’re on a tight budget or want to stay with locals, Couchsurfing is another option. 2. Take a walk around your new city and get a feel for its streets, stores, restaurants and people.
Give yourself at least one full day just to walk around the city and check out its shops, restaurants, parks and monuments. Get lost in the new streets and don’t be afraid to stop and talk to people on the way. Take note of street names and popular restaurants that are full of locals. Stop inside shops and ask shopkeepers about their city. Where should you go? What should you do? How can you meet new people? Make yourself known.
3. Find a café that you like and go back often.
In some cities you may not have a prominent café culture or you just may not be a fan of coffee, so you could substitute a restaurant or bar instead. However, I am a huge fan of cafés because they are comfortable, usually have free Wi-Fi, have very attentive staff and you tend to spend a few hours there. Go at off-times and try to go a few times a week. Continuity is key. Workers and café-goers alike will start to recognize you and in no time, you will feel like a regular. I stumbled upon a café I really liked in Ourense in my first few days and now I find myself there at least three times a week for their French, Spanish and English language exchange nights. You never know what your café could bring you.
4. Sample the local cuisine. Go to places that are full of locals and ask friends or acquaintances for recommendations.
One of the best ways to get a feel for a culture is by sampling its food. You may ask me how I would know that being a vegetarian and all, but I assure you that I have sampled quite a bit of food since I’ve moved to Ourense (and some of that food may or may not have eyes…). Even before you have an apartment and make friends, I recommend checking out restaurants and trying local food. If you don’t know what to try, ask staff for their most popular dish. Ask them what kind of food is traditional and comes from your new city. Don’t just limit yourself to food. Try locals drinks as well-responsibly of course!
5. Meet as many people as you can. Be social and go out often.
During your first few weeks, you may be hesitant to go out a lot because you are still looking for a place to live. Maybe you’re even on a tight budget at the beginning. Don’t let any of this stop you. Going out and meeting people does not have to be expensive. In fact, it could even be free. Social media makes meeting people 100 x easier than ever before. Look for Meet-Up groups, Couchsurfing events or Facebook pages advertising events in your area. Even in a city as small as Ourense you’d be surprised at the number of events going on every week and weekend. Frequent these events and talk to everyone. Don’t limit yourself to only ex-pats, but also don’t limit yourself to only locals. Try to meet a wide range of people and thus extend your potential social circle.
7. Find a place to live where you feel comfortable and at home. Don’t jump into the first apartment/house that you find.
Looking for a new home is probably one of the biggest challenges and stressors you will face in your first few weeks in your new city. Try to relax and take your time. Rushing into the first house/apartment that you see is never a good idea. Likewise, it is never smart to agree to something before you get to your new city. Make sure you see the place in person and weigh out the pro’s and con’s. Realize that you will have to make compromises and that the “perfect house/apartment” doesn’t exist. Decide beforehand what kinds of features you must have and which ones you’d be willing to live without. Also think about whether you’d be willing to have roommates and how many you would like. Thinking about all of this in advance will save you a lot of time when you start your search as you will already know what you’re looking for. It’s also a good idea to look into how people find housing in your new city. In some places, it is better to use websites like Craigslist, and in others, you may want to consider going through a real estate agent. In Ourense, I was lucky enough to be able to use a real estate agent who made my search incredibly easy. Also, I didn’t have to pay an agency fee because the landlords pay them to the agencies directly here. I found my place and was moved in in about a week.
8. Discover the sights and attractions in your area. Allow yourself to be a tourist.
After you get a feel for your new city, check out the sights and attractions. Be a tourist for a few hours and find out what your city has to offer. In bigger cities, you may spend weeks or months seeing new sights and attractions, but make sure you don’t spend too much time being a tourist and allow yourself the chance to gradually become a local.
9. Say, “yes” when people invite you to do things.
One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me before my first year abroad was to say, “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. It may seem obvious, but there are times when you may feel like you are a burden or people are inviting you because they feel bad for you, etc. Don’t ever think this way! If someone is inviting you to do something, it is because they want you there. Take advantage of every chance you have to spend time with people and enjoy it! Some of my best experiences in Spain have been when Spanish friends invited me to visit them, travel with them or simply get drinks with them in their neighborhood.
10. Relish in the true beauty of your new city.
Living in a new city is never easy and there will be days when you may question your move. You will have days in which you feel happy and ecstatic about life and others in which you may feel sad or confused. This is completely normal and happens to everyone who moves to a new place. When you are feeling down, go outside and walk. Appreciate the beauty of the city streets and the people who stroll them. Sit in a café and enjoy a local pastry while you slowly sip your coffee. Stare in awe as the sun sets over the river and mountains that surround you. Try to find what is truly beautiful about your city and use that as a reminder whenever you feel down. The transition and culture shock you feel in your first few months will be difficult, but like anything in life, you will adapt and feel like a local in no time!