There are many reasons people move to new cities: for a new job, a partner, or just because they need a change. I needed a change. After almost a year of traveling and sleeping somewhere new each week, I decided to set down my roots in a new city. I was excited to see what this chapter would bring, of all of the people that I would meet and the new experiences that I would encounter. One week into this life, the world changed in an equally new way: a global pandemic set in. Without knowing barely anyone in my new home, and a shelter in place order for most of the first year of my living arrangement, the dreams of the life that I thought I was going to live had died and in its place grew something more magical than I could have imagined. Here are three things I learned from moving to a new city during a pandemic.
Upon moving to or visiting a new place, I take to the internet to see what’s going on there. I typically research weekend activities and other businesses and organizations that offer activities or products that resonate with my personal interests. I do this to try to observe the community and to identify where I could see myself fitting in. The challenge lies in navigating this newness during a lockdown order.
To start, I used the internet as a tool to learn about my options for community. And I had to actively pursue these options myself. I would take virtual classes or attend events to connect with local people. I shared my story of moving to the area shortly before the pandemic happened and would find people who offered me insight into the city and other connection points to meet more like-minded people. I’ve actually made lasting friendships virtually, some friends I haven’t even met in person yet. I know all my coworkers virtually. I even met my current roommates from searching around on the internet.
Mostly, I had to put myself into new uncomfortable situations, not with only new people but also on a new platform and format in the virtual space. I had to be unafraid to speak up and share my story to strangers on the internet in the hopes of human connection. From this pursuit, I actually found circles that I feel at home in and can gladly say that I have been able to find community virtually.
Never in my life have I had so many weekends and evenings free as moving to a new city without knowing anyone. Throw a pandemic on top of that and the amount of free time became insurmountable. For the first time in my life, I was able to fully make decisions about how I wanted to spend my time. I realized that it was a unique opportunity to create the life that I wanted for myself. I didn’t have anyone else’s schedule, input, or interests to consider. I could do whatever I wanted to do, which was incredibly empowering, but also scary. How did I know what I wanted to do?
I realized that time continues whether we are actively present and participating in the moment or not. This time was mine, I was the decider of what I wanted to do with it. I took every class I ever wanted, attended every event, read every book, went on walks wherever I wanted to. I taught myself to paint and play the harmonica. I learned how to assess each moment by creating a relationship with myself and learning my own needs. I was able to cultivate a new sense of self in the open spaces of time that I was never afforded before and probably wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for this rare experience of collective stillness.
A shelter in place order in a new city provides little opportunity to witness the typical daily rhythms of life. Moving to a new city and trying to orient myself without the daily activities in session was a challenge. And the outside activities that were available to me were limited. So I did the best with what I had available to me to learn my new neighborhood and community.
Several times a week, I went on long walks. I walked every street within the five mile radius of my house. I saw every art mural, succulent garden, park, random farmers markets and every house that lined the streets of where I lived. I took the time to really get to know my new space in a way that I probably wouldn’t have done if normal activities were happening. It was an immense sense of grounding and exploration of this new place that I call home, one that I never would have considered if it wasn’t my only option.
There’s beauty hiding in all the places tiny between, in the silent corners of the neighborhoods that are typically missed on the morning commute. I felt even more connected to my physical community and surroundings, in the day to day life happening directly around me. It made me feel more connected to my new neighborhood in a way I wouldn’t have given myself the chance to explore otherwise.
The experience of moving to a new city is life changing, offering new perspectives, new characters, new smells and sounds. A pandemic is also life changing, forcing the loud wild world to close its doors for a time. The experience of moving to a new city at the onset of a pandemic provided me with a new sense of community I never would have imagined I’d find, new skills and sense of self, and a new appreciation of what is right in front of me.
California Associate Clinical Social Worker #ASW100012
Under supervision of:
Javanne Golob #77915
San Francisco, California
I am a clinical therapist specializing in providing personalized care for individuals seeking support in addressing their mental health concerns, including trauma and addiction.