People ask me a lot about my move from New York City to Mexico City. I made the move two years ago, when I was 30 — I moved from NYC where I had a big professional and friend network to Mexico City where I literally knew no one and I didn’t speak the language.
I’m very happy to report that I’m two years into the move and I couldn’t be happier. However, I talk to lots of other foreigners who have made a similar move and end up being unhappy — I think there are a number of reasons that can end up happening, but the most important factor that I’ve noticed is that those who don’t find happiness in their new home are those who never manage to build a social network here in the city.
Bootstrapping a social network as an adult is hard! The tired joke about it being impossible to make friends after college rings true — a lot of people rely on large social networks built up over years of living in the same place, and they feel totally unmoored once they try to move to a new city and no longer have that network to rely on. And often, they rely on them in a very deep and profound way that they don’t even realize.
When moving to a new city, it’s absolutely critical to invest the effort in building up a social network that you can rely on as the foundation for your new life. And this takes a lot of dedicated effort that most people are not willing to invest. But it’s the number one piece of advice that I give to people who are doing a big move: focus less on your apartment, less on which neighborhood is the coolest, and more on how you’re going to build up a social network once you get there.
If you can build up a big group of friends, the rest will tend to fall into place — you’ll have people to help you in an emergency, to recommend a cool neighborhood for you to live in, and, most importantly, a community to be a part of. But if you skimp on the community, chances are you’ll end up struggling to feel “at home” no matter where the place is.