After Graduation: Getting Comfortable in a New Town

February 1, 2003

by Max Cohen, Pratt ‘03

Some newly-minted Duke Alumni head off to a new campus for graduate school, and others return home or travel abroad to take some time off. But some of them take the plunge and go to a completely unfamiliar city to start their professional careers.

For those who do go to new jobs, getting to know their surroundings and making new friends can seem a daunting task. When you go off to college, even if you don’t know anyone, there’s a great support network built in, where you have plenty of students your own age within a few feet in your first-year dorms, and organized events to help you find friends and acquaintances every night after you arrive. Unfortunately, there’s usually no red carpet rolled out for you when you move 2,000 miles away to start a new career.

Still, there are plenty of ways to get to know your new location. One important fact is never being afraid to tell people you’re new in town; you’ll be surprised how helpful everyone wants to be. Don’t have anyone to eat with? You can cook for yourself, or you can go to a restaurant and get a table of one. Go to a place that is right by your house, and strike up a conversation with your waiter or waitress. Ask them directions to a local museum, fun things to do at night in the area, or where people your age hang out. Talking to local residents is the best source of information, far more accurate than any Internet research or apartment brochure could tell you.

Go to the alumni website and look for a “Duke in” your city club. They are all over the country, and provide a good network for you to meet helpful alumni and friends of the University who can lend a hand. Many clubs even have a weekly happy hour, which would be a good way to meet other graduates of all ages and professions. Call up the local chapter president and find out more ideas for places to go meet people.

It’s important to have a good balance of friends both from your workplace and from elsewhere. Most major corporations have groups where new hires can find each other and meet, but it may not be an official organization. Ask your managers if they know of any such group, and if not, think about starting one yourself. It’s always scary when you first start work in an unknown environment; being able to relax with your coworkers of similar interests and desires makes the workplace better for both the employers and the employee.

There’s one great way to get to know a large network of people: throw a wine-party or a house-warming party. Invite your coworkers, and make it clear that they can happily bring friends and family. A good suggestion for a wine party is to have each group of guests bring a cheap wine that they personally enjoy -- stress the fact that you’re not looking for high-dollar donations. Get a wine-tasting kit, or put the bottles in opaque wrappings yourself and perform a blind wine-tasting. It’s a good way to increase your wine knowledge and circle of friends at the same time!

If you like to play sports at all, join a local gym or athletic club. Apart from the health benefits, it’s easy to find sports and weight-lifting partners and other people with similar physical interests to your own.

It may seem scary when you first move far away, but you’ll probably learn to relish the time spent alone where you can write a novel, learn how to play Go, or just relax and watch some quality television like Average Joe. Don’t be afraid to say you’re new in town, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your new city will feel like home.