A few years ago, I packed up everything and moved cross country from Los Angeles to Providence, RI for work. Having lived in Los Angeles all of my life, all of my friends and family were there, and I was starting from scratch. I wondered how an introvert like me would adapt and make new friends in a new city.
Perhaps you’re moving for work, or you just graduated from college and need to move for your first job. Here are some of my experiences and tips.
1. Go to Meetup Groups
I’m going to get straight to the point and tell you that my number one resource for meeting people in a new city is Meetup.com. It’s a site that has thousands of groups which hold all kinds of events. It was founded after 9/11 to promote community. It’s free to join. I stumbled upon it after I was looking for web development events online. A lot of them seemed to be on meetup.com. I started going to these meetup.com seminars, mostly in Boston. They had really good career-related content, and were great for networking with other professionals.
But soon I realized that there were tons of other Meetup events on there too – purely social events. There were groups for people new in town, single people, people who like hiking, and for people who just liked to go to happy hours after work. I joined all of them and started meeting tons of people like myself who were looking for new friends. The demographics were all over the place – some old, some young, male, female, some new in town, some not. You name it.
One of the coolest things about Meetup events is that a lot of people are there to meet people, and you know you have something in common (whatever topic the meetup group is about). I found that it is much easier to approach and talk to people at these events than at other random events or bars.
Meetup.com is probably my main source of social events now. So, I highly recommend checking it out if you’re new in town!
2. Join Churches, Classes, Clubs, Teams, Political Organizations
Of course, before Meetup.com existed, there were other groups of people with common interests who would meet up. These include formal institutions like churches and other religious organizations, or adult-education classes. There are all kinds of other organizations devoted to things like cleaning up the environment, hiking, playing sports, running, and so forth. Definitely check those out!
As a bonus, you’ll meet people who share your values!
3. Immerse Yourself in Informal Social Scenes – Partner Dancing, Live Music
There are also less formal groups. Back in LA, one of the best ways I found to meet people was through my hobby of Swing dancing. There was a whole underground community of people who’d go to all of the swing dance events. After a while, I got to know all of the regulars in the scene, and I made some good friends through it. There are also huge communities of people who like salsa, ballroom, and tango dancing in every major city. Once you get into one of these scenes, you can pretty much instantly find a group of friends in any major city. Getting into these scenes takes some effort (dance lessons) but the results are really amazing, as far as meeting people is concerned.
But I’m not saying you have to do partner dancing. There are other informal “scenes” around. You just have to look for them. Renaissance Fairs? Historical re-enactment societies? Bluegrass music? Go online and look for groups devoted to whatever floats your boat.
Another way to meet people (and do something good) is to volunteer. Shortly after I moved to RI, there were historic floods which damaged a large number of homes. I signed up with Samaritan’s Purse to help homeowners clean up afterwards. I didn’t know anyone in the area so I didn’t have anything better to do. I also volunteer at a food bank once a month, in association with my church. These organizations always need help, so you’ll be welcomed with open arms, and you’ll meet some good people in the process. Personally, I am not good at making small-talk, so having some mission to accomplish way for me to interact with people.
5. Talk to Everyone
I am not naturally an outgoing person, and I realized I had to be more proactive to meet new people. All of those Meetup events were great, but if I didn’t take the initiative and say ‘hi’ to someone there, I could leave without talking to anyone. I had to push myself to take the first step and introduce myself. It wasn’t easy at first, but I’ve never been sorry for doing it. Most people want to talk to someone as much as you do! After pushing myself many such events, I feel like I’m actually pretty good at meeting new people now!
Don’t limit yourself to pushing yourself at just those events though. Make an effort to talk to people everywhere regardless of whether you are attracted to them or not. Be willing to talk to anyone about anything. A random lady was locking up her bike when I stopped to talk to her about bike locks. That is something I would have never have done before! When I go to a store, I make small talk with the owner like “how’s business been?” So, go ahead and talk to random people you meet. At the very least, it’s good practice. At best, you might be able to meet a new friend.
6. Use This Phrase That Energizes Every Conversation
I discovered a magical phrase that always energizes the conversation. That phrase is: “I just moved here from…”
For example, if you’re at a meetup and don’t know how to start a conversation, you can say, “Hi, my name is Brian. I just moved here from Seattle”. The most common response is something like, “Oh! I did a summer internship there!” You’ll find a good number of people who have lived in your city at some point in their lives, and have an instant rapport with them.
After that, new topics always spring forth. That can lead to, “Oh, why did you move?” or “How do you like it here so far?”
It also allows you to proceed naturally into asking “what kinds of fun things do you like doing here?” This phrase is so good that I still say it, even though I’ve lived in my “new” city for a couple of years now. I’m bummed that I won’t be able to credibly say it anymore soon!
7. Be Curious
I love learning new things. I found that it really pays off to indulge my curiosity when meeting new people. As you find out more about them, ask them about things they are passionate about. People love talking about things they know about. It makes them feel smart. It makes you seem humble and not an arrogant know-it-all. They will like you more for it, because YOU make them feel good about themselves.
Some people love talking about their work, while others hate it. Find out what really excites them and ask them about that topic instead. “You love to cook? What is an easy dish I can make in fifteen minutes after I come home from work?” “You love to bike? What your favorite bike path in this area?” “You love art? What is your favorite museum in Boston?” Be curious and ask about things you genuinely want to know. People love talking about things they know.
8. Smile and Look Friendly
Take an honest look at yourself and make sure you are as approachable as possible.
Let me give you my example. A while back, I noticed that when people took photos of me when I wasn’t prepared, I was rarely smiling. In fact, I often had a sour look on my face. I chalked it up to “I am not photogenic”, or “they caught me at a bad moment.” But I eventually realized that these were valuable data points. If I wasn’t smiling and inviting in these candid photos, I probably wasn’t smiling the rest of the time either!
I now make an effort to smile and be more approachable all of the time. It takes effort, but no one wants to talk to someone that is frowning or looks mad! It really pays off to smile, believe me. Now I have had people approach ME to start random conversations – something that NEVER happened before!
9. Improve Yourself
Take an honest look at yourself and see what you can improve about your appearance. You don’t have to look like a movie star, but almost everyone has one or two things that they could really benefit from by improving. Maybe it’s changing up your hair or dressing better or losing a little weight.
Even if these things don’t magically make people talk to you more, they will give you confidence, which is just as important.
Moving to a new city has been a wonderful experience for me, and I feel like I’ve improved myself as a result. Let me know about any ideas that have worked for you!