Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Expat Talk: 5 Tips for Your First Year in London

The first day of my first job during my first year in London was marked by two distinctly different feelings: overwhelming excitement and a pervasive sense of loneliness.

After five months or so, the excitement levels dimmed, but the loneliness lingered. And it took me years to figure out how to be, well, less lonely in London. Even though I was part of a couple (John had moved down to London a year earlier), John was more established in the city: he shared an apartment with friends, had been in his then-job for over a year already, and knew the city much better than I did.

Creating a life for myself in London was extremely important to me - that meant having my own after-work activities, finding my own (new) friends, and getting to know the city in my own way. But that didn't mean that it wasn't hard. Most people who lived in London already had established friend-groups - and it's not the type of city that leads to everlasting friendships after striking up a conversation on the tube or in line at Starbucks (which often happens in the US!).

Today, it's different. Social media and meet-ups are bringing strangers together in ways (non-awkward ways, might I add) we wouldn't have even dreamed of 10 years ago. Often, readers who are thinking of moving to London will email me to ask, "What advice would you give to someone who was moving to London for the first time?"

This is what I say:

Walk everywhere.

I quickly learned after spending three months in London that a small, discreet "London A-Z" pocket map would be my best friend (this was before CityMapper, guys). In fact, I still have that map: the spine's broken, and I've scribbled addresses and bus routes on the endpapers, but it reminds me of how much time I spent walking around Central London - getting to know the streets by name and by sight. It gives you a great sense of how places "connect". And suddenly, the distances don't seem quite so big and overwhelming after all.

Start a blog.

Not just because I did. But because it might help you appreciate your new city more; give you an impetus to explore. Write. Even if it's just for yourself. Even if your mom is the only one who reads it (HI MOM!). Even if it's just full of photos, with no words. Blog. It's also a great way to meet new friends. Writing about my expat experiences in this blog has led me to some terrific expat friendships (HI REBECCA!). But it's also made my experience less unique - which is as good thing. Those feelings of homesickness, of fear, of accomplishment - there are so many people out there feeling the same things. Sharing them with each other is a gift.

Download the HeyGreenGO app

I wish this app existed when I moved to London. Sure, it's fun to discover places on your own, but sometimes it's more fun to do it with company. HeyGreenGO is an app designed to get people out and about meeting like-minded people with similar interests - all within a 10-mile radius. Say you wanted to go to a classical music concert at King's Place (one of my favorite venues in London!) or try the new Yard Sale pizza place in Walthamstow - but felt like doing it with someone else (or even in a group) - you can post this activity in the app and invite people to join. Once you've enabled location settings on your phone (your actual location is never shown to users), there's a slider you can tap in the app to "increase" the radius of your search. We're not squeamish about online dating, so why shouldn't we try online, um, friend-ing? I definitely would.

Treat yourself.

I used to set little goals for myself when I first moved to London, like, "This weekend, I'm going to explore Greenwich. I'll take the Thames Clipper there and wander around the market with a hot chocolate in hand before taking in the view of central London from the park." The hot chocolate and the view would be my reward for trying something new. It's often easy to fall into a rut of doing "what's comfortable" on weekends and weeknights. Buying yourself a little reward (or treating yourself to a free but incredible view) is a good way to stay motivated.

Subscribe to email newsletters like TimeOut and Emerald Street.

Sometimes it can be exhausting to find activities to do. TimeOut and Emerald Street often have great ideas of restaurants to try, plays to see, or exhibitions to visit.

Are you new to London? What tips would you give to someone in your shoes? I'd love to know.

This post was sponsored by HeyGreenGO, which is available to download for iPhone and Android. All opinions are my own.


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