Finding home in a new place

Anonymous said:

How do you make a new place feel like home? In less than a month, I’m moving to start a PhD.

I’m looking for advice on how to adapt to a new city and find new friends. I don’t want to rely on my program as my only source of friends, because doing that has left me isolated in the past.

Any advice on how to feel like this is really home and finding new friends would be appreciated. Thank you!

realsocialskills said:

There are a lot of possibilities, and a lot of it is a matter of personal preference and what’s available in your area.

One thing that works for some people is organized religion. Religious communities have a broader range of people than a PhD program will. They also have a lot of different things you can do, often including teaching and volunteering. It can also be low-pressure because showing up can be a way to be around people without having to do anything else.

If you want that kind of community but don’t want to be expected to believe in God or a particular doctrine, a Unitarian Universalist church or a Society for Ethical Culture might work for you.

Another thing worth doing is to find out where the community gathering places are which aren’t just where students hang out. If you’re in a small-ish college town, there will be a few places. Some of them might be bars, but some of them won’t be. For instance, if you’re going to UNC, Weaver Street Market is a place you should know about. It’s a place people hang out, and there are a lot of community events there.

Independent bookstores can also be good community places to know about. They often have events and interesting people and sources of information.

Look at the notice boards and pick up the free papers. Look through the events listings and find stuff you’re interested in. Try to go to things. Going to things that are not college events can be a good way to get outside the bubble.

If you’re in a bigger city, this is both easier and harder. There are more things going on in big cities, but they also tend to happen in silos and be harder to find out about. In cities, searching around for organizations or activities related to your interests can be a better starting point. (Although independent bookstores are often also helpful in cities).

You can also try walking around with Yelp! open on your phone. If you set the filter to show you everything and sort stuff by distance, you can find out about what’s near you. It also has a “local color” category that can be useful for finding non-standard things in your area.

Going to things that are college events can also be a good way to get outside the bubble, if you don’t restrict it to your own department. There are often a lot of interesting things going on at universities — it might be worth checking stuff out. (Although this can get complicated if you are a TA who teaches undergrads).

If there’s iconic local food and it’s ok for you to eat it, trying some might be a good idea. Eating food that people around you eat can be a very effective way to feel like part of the culture. Even if there’s only one thing you like, eating that thing might help a lot. (This is not always possible or advisable for any number of physical or cultural reasons, but it can be good for some people.)

Same goes for other weird local things. Like, if there are festivals and things and you don’t completely hate festivals, it’s likely a good idea to try going at least once if you’re going to be in the area for a while. Again, a couple of Chapel Hill area examples: Festival for the Eno, Halloween on Franklin Street, Carrboro events.

If there are iconic landmarks, it’s probably worth checking them out too.

If there are email lists about events that go on, it’s likely worth signing up for them. You can always unsubscribe later, and you can make a filter so they don’t clog your main inbox. Knowing what’s going on can be really helpful in becoming more integrated, and if you find out while you’re at your computer, it’s more likely to make its way into your calendar.

You can also do things like use to find people in your area who share your interests.

You can also take some kind of not-school-related class. Eg: karate, pottery, cooking.

There are also things you can to make your living space itself feel more like home.

Short version: When you move to a new place, there are a lot of different things you can do to meet people and otherwise feel more oriented. Scroll up for some specific suggestions.

Comfort in a new flat

A reader asked:

This may be a strange question and isn’t really related to social skills, so I apologize if it’s a wrong place to ask. I’m autistic and recently I moved flats. I lived in the old one for 15 years. No matter how much I try, I don’t feel at home in my new flat. I can’t relax, it doesn’t feel like my safe place. I feel alien and it makes me stressed and tired. Do you (or your followers) have any idea what I can try to do to get used to it? It’s a new place, new furniture, and nothing feels right.

realsocialskills said:

It might be a matter of time. If you wait long enough, things might start seeming more familiar.

But in the mean time:

I wonder if it would help to do some really familiar things?

  • Like, do you have a go-to TV show that you’ve watched over and over? Or a book you’ve read a zillion times?
  • Reading/watching that a whole bunch of times in your new place might help it to feel comfortable and familiar.
  •  Are there foods that smell or taste like comfort to you?
  • Like, do you like the smell of cookies baking? Did you bake in your old place? If so, baking here might help too.
  •  Or ordering a kind of food you ordered a lot.
  • Are there stim toys or blocks or anything that feel comforting and familiar to you? If so, using them might help.  (I never really feel at home in a new place until I’ve made a pattern with my pattern blocks.)
  •  Do you have the same blankets you used to have? If not, it might help to get some that are similar.

Also, it’s worth checking around your place to see whether something is actually bothering you. It might feel like unfamiliarity when it’s actually that you’re physically uncomfortable, for instance:

  • Are the lightbulbs in your new place bothering you? Some people find florescent bulbs intolerable. If your old place had incandescent bulbs and your new place has CFLs, changing the lights might help.
  • How is the temperature? If the air is uncomfortable, you won’t feel as good in a place. Turning the temperature up or down, or getting a fan, might help.
  • Are there noises that bother you? Or is it too quiet? If so, wearing headphones or turning on background noise that you like (music, white noise, TV, etc) might make you more comfortable