On the bus today, I came to the sudden realization that I truly consider Melbourne to be my home. I love the city, have made bucketloads of friends and have built up a cozy little nest here. I feel comfortable walking around the CBD, and I’m now at the stage where I don’t cringe every time I get on the bus, for fear that it will take me to some unknown place and I won’t be able to find my way back again. I can tell you where to go if you want to find an amazing hamburger, vintage clothing store or speak-easy. I have come a long way in the past five years.
In 2006, I moved to Melbourne to start university. I had been looking forward to the move for years, and I settled in quickly at college. I lived at college for a few years before moving into a share house with a friend. When I first came to the city, I had no idea where the nearest grocery store was, I didn’t know how to catch a tram and I had only a couple of friends living close by.
Moving to a new city is a huge transition. You are thrown way out of your comfort zone, your routines are severely shaken and you’re likely to be far away from the people you love most. It will take time, but you’ll find that eventually, your homesickness will fade, your disorientation will dissipate and, like me, you’ll realize that your ‘new’ city isn’t actually new to you anymore.
I’ve thrown together a couple of the most important lessons I learned when I moved to Melbourne, in the hope that it will be helpful and inspirational to any of my readers who are in the process of settling into a new city (or who are contemplating a move).
Make your home a safe haven.
In the months leading up to my move, I spent a huge amount of time planning how I was going to set up my college room. It was really important to me that my new room look bright, fun and inviting from the very beginning. I couldn’t think of anything more depressing than sitting between four white, cinderblock walls on my grey bed, feeling homesick. I stocked up on funky bed linen, posters and throws. I framed loads of photos of my friends, family members and pets to strew about the room. The day I moved in, I made my first order of business decorating my room. I made sure that the room was looking gorgeous before I started unpacking. That way, when I woke up on my first morning away from home, the first thing I saw was my cheery new room.
It’s vital to make sure that your living space is a place where you feel safe and comfortable. You want to make your new home feel like somewhere you actually want to come back to at the end of the day. Even if you’re living in an apartment the size of a matchbox, you can still throw some fun pictures on the wall and a bright blanket on the bed to make it feel more like home. Display all of your favorite trinkets and pictures to leave your own mark on the room. If your living space looks inviting and comfortable, you’ll start feeling more at home there a lot more quickly than if it looks drab and boring. Taking the time to personalize your room will also reinforce the idea that this is your space, and that you’re going to be living here for a while.
Learn how to use the public transport system.
For the first three years that I was in Melbourne I lived on campus at my university. In many respects, this had its advantages: I made a lot of friends very quickly, I could wake up fifteen minutes before each class and still make it on time and I could head back to my room for a nap whenever I wanted. My university was very well-equipped too. There was a library, a gym, a bookstore, a pharmacy, a medical centre, countless cafes and bars and even a convenience store. This was brilliant, but it meant that I rarely had to leave the uni. I could get pretty much everything I needed for my everyday living within the confines of the university. I had enough know-how to catch the tram into the city so that I could jump on a train home, but that was about it.
After two years in the city, I realized how many wonderful things I was missing out on by cloistering myself inside the university. Part of the reason that I never ventured out is that I was unsure of how to use the public transport system, and afraid of getting whisked off on the wrong bus. I finally got off my butt and downloaded some bus timetables, and then asked the advice of my friends who were well-versed on how to use Melbourne’s public transport. Now I’m an old pro, and I can find my way to pretty much anywhere in the city with some degree of confidence.
Most public transport systems aren’t really that complicated, and by learning how to use them, you’ll open yourself up to a whole new world that’s ripe for exploring.
Work your social networks.
Make a list of any friends or family members you might have that are already living in your new city. Before you move, get in touch with them and see if you can make a date to catch up. If you already have a couple of people you know that live in the city, they will be able to make life a lot easier for you. Although I highly recommend getting out there and learning things for yourself, it’s brilliant to have a human guidebook that can teach you about the best places to eat, shop and hang out. Furthermore, they’ll be able to introduce you to their friends, which will expand your social network even more. It’s also very comforting to know that there is a familiar face in the city if something goes wrong, if you’re feeling lonely or you need help with something.
Even though it’s daunting, the best way to become acquainted with your new city is to spend plenty of time exploring. Throw on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and take yourself for a long stroll around your new neighborhood. Take your camera and a notepad so that you can record any great places you might come across on your way. Some of my happiest days in Melbourne have been the ones where I’ve explored the city without any real agenda. I’ve just walked about, checking out stores that look interesting and taking pictures. I’ve found some of my favorite restaurants and stores this way. Particularly in Melbourne, most of the extremely interesting stuff isn’t on the main streets. It’s squirreled away in the alleys and suburbs. You have to be prepared to hunt a little to find the truly special places. Also, walking about your city will allow you to practice navigating unfamiliar streets and build your confidence.
Spend some time outside your house.
It can be very tempting to hole up inside your room, watching movies and browsing the internet for weeks at a time. Although it might seem preferable to venturing out into the big, scary city beyond your front door, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by turning into a hermit. You aren’t going to meet new friends in your own house. You aren’t going to discover an amazing store or restaurant without stepping outside the front door. Your house isn’t filled with street performers, museums and colourful weirdos. To experience these things, you need to go outside.
Make a pact to leave your house at least once a day. Take your book to a park, eat lunch at a café, go to the movies or just go for a walk. You’re going to meet new people and experience new things a lot more readily if you put yourself in a position to see them.
Try new things, all the time.
One of the most beautiful parts of living in a new place is that you can try new things. You can be adventurous and experience things you might not have had the opportunity to try if you’d stayed put. To that end, I recommend going out of your way to actively seek out new things to try. Sample a cuisine that you’ve never eaten before, shop somewhere unusual, wear neon makeup to do the grocery shopping, take a dance class or visit the markets. Always be on the lookout for new things to try, so that you don’t find yourself stagnating while all the action is going on around you.
It is really scary to step outside your comfort zone and move to an unfamiliar place. I think that the best way to succeed in your new environment is to surround yourself with things that make you feel good, build up a support network and allow yourself to seek out wonderful new experiences. Before you know it, you’ll feel completely at home in your new city, perhaps even more so than the place you lived in before you moved away.