Ah, transitions. A major theme of my life has been changing locations. Whether it was moving two hours away for undergrad, changing residence centers as a hall director, picking up and moving to the other side of the world for a study abroad position, or quitting my job to backpack around Africa; I’ve been on the move.
As student affairs professionals’ lives revolve around the academic year, odds are you or a colleague has moved recently too. So, how do you make your transition successful?
Live Your Life
You probably moved to this new place for work (congratulations!) or love (so jealous!). As I’d tell my student abroad students to really know what it’s like to live a new place, make your old favorite routines part of this experience. Are you into running? Reading? Dancing? Hiking? Go do these things.
Build a Nest
Create a comfortable place to go home and read in your pajamas when you need it. I once worked at a summer camp and brought a bedside lamp and a potted plant. Picture frames help a lot, too.
Immersion and Engagement
If you move to China but continue to eat Subway every day for lunch, you’ll learn that bacon in China is soggy and wet like ham in the US. But, that isn’t really eating Chinese then, is it? In the same ways that college students do best when they become a part of their community, you will do better when you become an active part of your new community. Go do the things. Also, try the ganbian sijidou. It is delicious.
Stay Connected but Not Too Connected
You don’t need to leave behind your former community entirely. But, you do need to face the reality that you don’t live there anymore. When I advise parents of student abroad students, I tell them if they are worried because they haven’t heard from their student in over a week, drop them a line. If they know what their student is eating for lunch every day, their student would likely benefit from more autonomy. Apply this same philosophy to your support network in the community that you just left.
Personally, I really love to go on dates. As an introvert, one on one is my best case scenario. It’s like a spider building a web. For you, it may be easier to meet people through a local dodge ball league or a crocheting club. I have a colleague whose wife brought along her ukulele when they moved to Saudi Arabia. Sure enough, she found a ukulele group – in the middle of the desert. If she can find her people, so can you. My best advice is to do it now. It’s awkward to go up to a group of people and share that you’re new in town and want to meet new people. It’s beyond awkward to meet a new group of people and say that you moved to town a year ago but never left your house and still don’t know anyone. Be awkward.
People will invite you to karaoke (but you don’t sing), they’ll invite you to a concert (but you don’t like country music), they’ll invite you to do something outside of a meeting (but you’re not an extrovert). Just say yes to these invites. More than once I’ve declined invitations or pretended not to be home when someone knocks on the door because I’m tired or shy. Those are things I regret. Don’t do those things. Be in community. And remember you can take comfort in knowing when the hanging out is over you can go back to your nest.
Get Comfortable with Mistakes.
You’re in a new place, you don’t know all the unwritten rules yet. Once I moved to New Jersey and filled a cart with groceries. After checking out, I learned that due to theft of carts I couldn’t take the cart into the parking lot so I had to find a way to carry every bag to my car all at once. I recently bought my dog, Mister Bubbles, waaaaay too many slices of turkey at the deli because I’m an American – how am I supposed to know how much a kilogram is? You’ll learn.
Everything in Life is Only for Now.
As we learned from our favorite puppets on Broadway, this – the good and the bad of it – will pass soon enough. Did you just move from a dying mill town to a bustling metropolis like you’ve always dreamed of but find the new place is just too quick and not friendly enough? Give it the year. Appreciate what comes your way, accomplish what you went there to do. And then later, who knows, maybe you’ll find the locals actually are pretty swell once you get to know then. And, if you have learned that smaller is better for you; you move somewhere smaller next. Maybe you’ll be the person who has an innovative idea who saves that small town. Like in Kinky Boots. It might be hard to deal with today, but honestly, you can do it, and you’ll be so glad you enjoyed what you could each day along the way. Basically, calm down. You’re doing better than you think.
And on days when you need some inspiration, look around you. Almost none of those students lived here before college, and they are doing alright.
September is the month of transitions, especially on the college campus. Follow #SATransitions to read as the community reflects upon transition and change, personally and professionally. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria on Twitter at @NathanVictoria or via email at email@example.com.