Moving to a new place is hard enough, but getting yourself integrated into your new home is sometimes even harder.
As of September 9th, my husband and I finally unloaded the last of my things into the new apartment. It’s been surreal to get used to the idea that I’m not going back to Oklahoma. The last time I moved away from home, it was to Istanbul! You’d think that moving to West Virginia would be a zillion times easier, and in most ways it is. I can read everything, talk to anyone I want, and I have my own vehicle to drive around in. Yet I still get strange flashbacks, like when I’m figuring out a new washer and dryer.
With the differences between the two moves fresh in my mind, I’m thinking about the lessons I learned in Turkey about integrating into the local culture. Here are the five best things you can do to make your new town your home.

1) Take Walks

This was my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE THING TO DO when I was living in Istanbul. I would get off at random bus or train stops on the way home from work and walk around the city. It was a wonderful way to discover cool new places, like the rose garden in Göztepe, or the tiny coastal movie theatre in Beşiktaş.
Walking gets you oriented to a new place in way driving can’t. It forces you to quit relying on your GPS and start noticing the little things, like the candles in the window of the house on the corner, or the ivy climbing up the green shutters on a white house. It’s a form of transportation that makes you slow down and notice things.
When I moved here, I walked the two short blocks to the post office, and on the way, I stopped by the tiny library a little ways down the street. I know that to my husband, who’s lived here his whole life, this is all rote. But for me? It’s a new and exciting way to discover my new home.

2) Learn a Little History

I’ll readily admit that when I first moved to Istanbul, I had a difficult time learning to love it. There were a lot of reasons for it, but good ole fashioned culture shock had a lot to do with it. One of the remedies for culture shock is to learn the local history. If you know why something is the way it is, it’s (in theory) a lot easier to understand and accept.
I’m lucky that my husband already knows a lot of the local history here, and already I’ve learned a few key things about some of the old roads and buildings. Hopefully, I can also learn a bit of the history of the whole state, so that I can rattle off facts and locations like everyone else seems to do.

3) Talk to People

One of the things I regret most about living in Istanbul is that I did a crap job of learning the language. I did okay, but there was no comparing my Turkish to those of some of my friends. Not being able to talk to people makes integrating into a place difficult.
Luckily I don’t have that problem here! I’ve been talking to friggin everyone I meet, or at least I’m trying to. It can be pretty exhausting, I’ll admit. Almost every time I leave a place I turn to my husband and ask, “Was that okay? Did I do alright?” But making this new place my home isn’t going to happen if I refuse to talk to anyone that already lives here.

4) Don’t be Afraid of Being Familiar

Y’aaaaaaaaaaall this is one thing that still gets me. If you integrate into a new place, you have to (quell horror!) become a familiar face. Maybe it’s because I’m an anti-social millennial, but I have such a hard time with this. It was particularly bad in Istanbul because being familiar with people is how the culture works! You have to get to know the grocer down the street, or else your life is going to be uncomfortable.
Now, I’m no longer the fresh-faced college graduate I was when I first moved away. I know of the best ways to feel like you belong is to just show up, be helpful, and be social. That’s how you stop feeling like a stranger in a strange land: let the place become familiar to you, and let yourself become familiar with the place.

5) Be Flexible, But Be Yourself

One of the things I struggled with the most in Turkey was that no matter how hard I tried to blend in, there was just no getting around the fact that I wasn’t Turkish. I learned all the social niceties I could, imitated their expressions and mannerisms, read all the books about culture, but none of it seemed to work! I met one girl who said to me as we were parting ways, “You are exactly how I thought an American would be.” By the time I left, I thought the whole thing had been a failed venture because it was so hard for me to fit in.
Now that I’ve gotten some distance from my time there, I’ve realized that “fitting in” doesn’t mean giving up everything you are to become who you think you should be. Fitting in means that you, as a whole person, found a place in your new home that you fit into. As my dad put it, “You’ll get used to them, and they’ll get used to you.” It’s hard because I want to make the people around me comfortable, but that’s going to be hard when I don’t feel comfortable myself.
 
I’ve moved often over the course of my life, so all I’ve known is transience. Now it’s time to learn a little permanence. Hopefully, the things I learned in Istanbul will help me here, and if they do, I’ll let you know.
 
In the meantime, do you have any useful tips for me? How do you get yourself familiar with a new place? Let me know in the comments below!

Elizabeth lives with her husband and cat in a cozy apartment that is a bit too full of books and Legos. She loves writing, reading, cooking, and would probably die for a good beer and a slab of cheese. Maybe.