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Lessons learned from moving out to a big city for the first time

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FIU chapter.

Moving away from your hometown can be an emotional yet life-changing experience. Living in a new city can be the start of a new chapter for some people, while others may find it overwhelming and unfit for their lifestyle.

In January, I moved out for the first time to Washington, D.C. for a journalism fellowship program for the entire Spring semester. Growing up in South Florida my whole life, I had the warm sunshine and beaches at my reach and switching to the nation’s capital, a freezing metropolis, was a brutal change. But not only did the weather impact my mental health, but so did many factors when it comes to living on your own, especially in an unfamiliar environment.

For those who will soon move away to a new city, or are still struggling to adapt to their new home, here are some lessons I learned in my short experience of moving away, so you can keep these tips in mind.

A new city means new culture, and you may feel like you don’t belong

You’re likely going to feel lonely, and it’s completely normal. It’s not easy to acclimate to a different lifestyle and environment. People in a new city are very different than you think they’ll be, they may value other things and treat you differently.

When people in Miami meet, the first thing usually asked is “Where are you from?”, but in D.C., it’s “What do you do?” Living in D.C., the environment felt fast-paced, where socializing felt more like networking and everyone there was trying to make new contacts either in politics, finance, or tech, rather than real connections.

It can be hard to create new relationships in a place where there are people you feel like you don’t relate to, especially when you don’t see much of your own culture. Yet, the capital introduced me to people coming from all over the country and world, so even if you feel out of place, take it as an opportunity to become more receptive and open-minded.

It’s going to be overwhelming, but don’t forget to prioritize yourself 

Chances are that you’re going to be the one responsible for cleaning your place, cooking your meals throughout the day, running errands, and getting groceries, all while working or studying. It’s also likely that you’ll forget to look away from your screen once in a while, head to the gym, cook food, take a walk, and get some sunlight.

You’ll learn to love taking care of yourself. Chores can seem dreadful, but when you do them every day, you realize that you’re doing it for yourself and you become proud of how independent you are.

Plan your week ahead and stick to the schedule: Set a couple of days in the week to get your work done, set a day to meal prep get chores done, and set days to have fun too.

It’s super important to not forget to take care of yourself — eat at least two full meals a day, get at least seven hours of sleep per night, take a break from the screen, and move around.

Depending on where you move, the weather can tremendously impact your mood.

Be prepared for a new climate, your body and mind will need some time to adjust.

Moving to D.C. in the spring, there were more wintry and bleak days (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) than warm days. Besides having overloads of work, I always felt fatigued and overwhelmed. But one warmer day, I took a stroll by a river and just by smelling the water and feeling the sun on my skin, I instantly smiled when it felt like home. That’s when I realized how much the weather impacted my mood the entire time and how homesick I was.

People diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder or other mood disorders are more susceptible to having seasonal depression. A milder version of this is known as the “winter blues,” which researchers believe could be triggered by lack of sunlight, a biological clock change, vitamin D deficiency, less serotonin activity, boost in melatonin, or negative thoughts.

You learn to appreciate basic things

I’ve been fortunate to grow up with cars in Florida, and in D.C., relying on public transportation is how you get around, especially on a college student budget. I’ve used subways and buses when traveling in other places, but I wasn’t used to bus and metro schedules on a daily basis and it was a tough transition when living on my own.

Living away has given me a new perspective on appreciating things I only had back home, such as cars, physical or financial support from parents, hometown friends, the beach, South Florida’s Latino community and even the unbearable heat. These experiences can all change you into a better, more grateful and empathetic person.

Things don’t always go as planned, but perhaps for a reason

Oftentimes when we travel or move somewhere new, we have expectations of how our life could be: We could find the love of our life, get hired at our dream job or feel like we’re living in a movie when exploring a new city; but it could lead to disappointments.

Instead, let things come to you and be open to different possibilities, even if it’s not how you imagined it’d be. Embrace the unexpected, take advantage of opportunities that are outside your comfort zone or seem challenging, and try new things that you thought you’d never do. Moving to a new city is a great way to get to know your limits and more about yourself and what you’re capable of.

Spend your money wisely

Ask yourself this and answer honestly: are you paying more for unnecessary things than important ones? Are you sacrificing homemade meals and groceries for fast food or take-out meals to “save money”?

It’s common for young adults to spend a lot of their money on drinks, outings, clothes, beauty and entertainment. We prize convenience and spend more money on short-term pleasures than on long-term “investments” like our health.

Of course, don’t forget to enjoy, it’s okay to treat yourself every once in a while. You don’t know how long you’ll be there, so make the most of it and have new experiences. Just learn to prioritize where your money should go based on necessity.

Having roommates can be a great learning experience

Having a roommate(s) won’t always be easy — you’ll have lifestyle differences, different beliefs, routines, and diets. If you plan on rooming with your best or close friends, just know that it’s an entirely different thing to live with them, be prepared for the hard days, with tough conversations and disagreements.

However, everyone’s experience is different, some roommates like to share and spend more time together, while others like to have their individual belongings, food items, and daily routines completely separate. In my case, I enjoyed buying and sharing things together with my roommate, and if needed, we’d buy different products.

You’ll also learn a lot about your own flaws and the way you handle interpersonal relationships, which can help you become a better version of yourself. It can also open you up to new cultures, information, and views you’ve never encountered before. If you have a good relationship with your roommate(s), it can even develop into a bond you’ve never had before, one where you become vulnerable with each other, creating memorable moments.

Don’t feel uncomfortable being alone, embrace it

Besides safety reasons, most people tend to feel uncomfortable going out alone and being seen alone in public. There’s been a stigma around it in which people see it as being friendless or lonely, which is completely different.

Living in a new city, it can be scary to leave the comfort of your home and go to places surrounded by couples or groups of friends. I noticed that I had the tendency to depend on my friends to go to a café, park, or museum that I’d been dying to check out, so I wouldn’t go alone. But, I realized that I can equally have as much fun going by myself and shouldn’t miss out on an experience I want because of other people and their schedules.

So don’t fear being alone, it’s a great way to unwind and think, or even meet new people, and definitely do not wait on people to do something you really want to do.

Nicole Ardila is a writer for the FIU Chapter of Her Campus and a multimedia journalist for Caplin News where she's covered national stories from Washington, D.C for the Spring 2023 semester. She is the former Opinion Director of FIU’s student media, PantherNOW and some of her work has been featured in The Miami Times and The Miami Herald. Nicole's currently majoring in digital broadcasting with a minor in psychology. She loves to travel and has a passion for photography and covering topics like health, mental health, wellness, lifestyle, culture and environment.