‘It was chilly, confusing and overseas’: your stories of moving to a new city

London, UK
“It took a while until I actually felt at home here. But everything that had unsettled me about London in the beginning – the hectic pace, the constant noise, the onslaught of people – became an essential part of my daily routine, one that gave me comfort.” (Anonymous, moved from Berlin to London in 2013)

“Arriving in London was like putting on the best pair of shoes you’ve ever worn. I realised London was my home the day I arrived 32 years ago; it still is. I came to study ballet, and to arrive and swim in such culture-rich waters was a homecoming. Irish by nationality, European by inclination, Londoner by choice … 32 years and counting.” (Connor Byrne, moved from Limerick to London in 1984)

'It was cold, confusing and foreign': your stories of moving to a new city
‘It was cold, confusing and foreign’: your stories of moving to a new city

“There have been several moments that made me realise London is my home. The first was when I got the tube for the first time to meet a friend and I didn’t have to use the tube app on my phone to get around. I just strolled straight through the underground with ease.” (Esra Gurkan, moved from Leicester to London in 2015)

New York, US
“I began to realise New York City was home when the hustle and bustle became soothing. Also, when you see the same people on the subway every morning, leaving their flats at the same time and getting off at their respective stops. The community feeling comes alive once you have familiar faces during the commute.” (Olivia Graham, moved from Boston to New York in 2014)

“New York is the antithesis of the pristine natural beauty and calm in Seattle, where I had a yard. I found it impossible to ignore the roar of the adjacent six-lane highway in my new home. About a year in, I began walking a lot. I realised every walk in New York is an epic saga for people-watching alone, but on top of that, it got me involved in eclectic local communities.” (Helen Brew, moved from Seattle to New York)

Lima, Peru
“It was my first time ever living in a big capital city. I found it huge, noisy, congested and I was exhausted and with the feeling of being constantly on guard. I was also amazed by the cultural diversity. I felt at home when I fell asleep on the public transport, when I realised I was able to cross the entire city changing from one bus to another a hundred times and when I was no longer afraid of going out at night and coming back home on my own. Also, when the taxi driver thought I was ‘limeña’ after singing the full lyrics of one salsa song played on the radio. (Patricia, moved from Barcelona to Lima in 2004)

Berlin, Germany
“Finding an apartment in Berlin is not easy when you are effectively unemployed, barely speak the language and have not yet amassed all the necessary paperwork. After about nine months of bouncing from sublet to sublet, we found a home of our own. Arriving to collect our keys and seeing our names on the doorbell felt like a massive milestone, even though it was only a tiny one-room apartment.” (Kate, moved from Melbourne to Berlin in 2011)

Jakarta, Indonesia
“It was strange arriving here. People are less likely to smile at strangers. But Jakarta is the most developed city in Indonesia – you can get everything here. I can order food at 2am delivered right to my door. In Indonesia, that’s awesome. What made it familiar to me was when I realised that Jakarta is the most progressive and open-minded city in Indonesia. I feel safe knowing that.” (Irawan, moved from Malang to Jakarta in 2011)

Ljubljana, Slovenia
“I tried to make Ljubljana mine by making mental perky to-do lists – walks that would last several hours through the lesser-known parts of the capital, comparing and then bitching about the prices of coffee in the most popular cafes, remembering fun facts about the names of all of the streets that meant something to me (the street where my faculty is located, for instance, is named after an 19th century Slovenian priest who couldn’t resist writing mildly sensual poetry, because he was just too curious). And now, after three years, I can safely say that I have become something else, something more than a tourist and less than an immigrant.” (Marija Jeremić, moved from Užice to Ljubljana in 2013)

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
“Amsterdam was so different than the busy, bustling, dirty and unpredictable Athens. Everything was clean, manicured, ordered. It was very alienating at first. I also found it a bit boring. The moment I realised I was home was when I was biking to work – everyone bikes here – and I came across some tourists on rented bikes going the wrong way on the bike path. Instead of smiling permissively (which is what my Athenian self would have done), I shot them the ‘Dutch Blaming Look’: a look of derision and disdain, preserved for everyone who breaks any rule. I myself had been the recipient of that stare many times, and my friends and I had given it its name. The moment I gave that look, I knew that I had become a bona fide Amsterdammer.” (Tania Theodorou, moved from Athens to Amsterdam in 2002)

Manchester, UK
“When I started riding a bike to work it transformed the way I viewed the city – everything felt easier to get to, and I felt much calmer. I started really noticing my surroundings for the first time, and appreciating things like the change of seasons. My itchy feet gradually went away, and I finally began to really enjoy living in Manchester.” (Joe Paxton, moved to Manchester in 2007

Katowice, Poland
“Every day I would walk for hours in the city, getting to know street patterns, nice cafes, local groceries etc. There was this ‘map Katowice’ project I helped with (the result of which, a map of all buildings in the city colour-coded by age, is stunning), and then I started going to the museum for lectures about local architecture. And if someone would criticise the city, I would defend it.” (Szymon, moved to Katowice in 2012)

Austin, US
“I feel more like an Austinite as I have come to terms with nature over the years,. Hearing coyotes howl in the middle of the night (and losing one of our cats to them); our son discovering a scorpion hiding under a pail and being stung; myself needing surgery from a brown recluse spider bite; and pulling a 10-inch long centipede out of a window box planter are some of the highlights. Now we live in Austin’s ever-expanding downtown where the wildlife is more of the alcohol-infused variety, but it still feels like a small town and very much like home.” (Melanie, moved to Austin in 1997)

Melbourne, Australia
“It was cold, it was confusing, it was foreign. But soon I realised Melbourne has a lot of things that Jakarta doesn’t have. The first thing you notice is proper public transport. Despite the fact that I’ve encountered quite a few locals who complain about the tram being slow, I don’t care. To me, it’s an upgrade from Jakarta’s transport system. The second thing that makes me feel at home are the parks. There aren’t that many open public spaces in Jakarta that are comfortable and relatively non-threatening.” (Anonymous, moved from Jakarta to Melbourne in 2016)

Abu Dhabi, UAE
“When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi, we greeted our new city somewhat treading precariously. But we soon realised that there can indeed be many homes for those living the expatriate life. Being Indians in the Middle East means you can feel relaxed knowing that India is a short flight away and the city is inhabited by others hailing from the Asian subcontinent.

What really clinched it for me was the taxi drivers and their warmth. A Pakistani taxi driver who goes out of his way to make an Indian passenger feel welcome and comfortable in today’s world when the two countries are embroiled in political turmoil speaks volumes of people and their need for camaraderie that can make them forget all else.

These taxi drivers in Abu Dhabi certainly fuelled a feeling of comfort in me and reinstated that belief that echoes in many of us: that home is where the heart is, and where you find good people to share it with.” (Anonymous, moved from Munich to Abu Dhabi in 2015)

Oslo, Norway
“Oslo felt like a quiet, small village in comparison to the hustle and bustle of London. I took the ferry from Harwich to Gothenburg and drove to Oslo, my first long solo drive. I realised I was home in Oslo when I started to read Jo Nesbø (in English) and I recognised all the landmarks and areas he described and understood the Norwegian characters and their quirks.” (Homa Jansen, moved from London to Oslo in 1997)

Dubai, UAE
“There used to be no street signs in Dubai – strange for such an advanced city – and with the rapid growth, roads and intersections were changing every other day, so navigating the city was via landmarks (like the ‘clocktower roundabout’ in Bur Dubai), buildings, or billboards. You’ve finally clicked with the city when you’re able to get from A to Z easily.” (Olivia Roqua, moved from Australia to Dubai in 2010)Montreal, Canada

“Thirteen years in, I often describe my relationship with Montreal as my longest love affair. Just like any love affair, our beginnings were ravenous. I wanted to know Montreal intimately. I went looking for her in the city’s restaurants, bars, parks and festivals; and I found hints of her in these iconic and tangible spaces. But my real sense of understanding came when I started intuitively navigating the city’s metro system.

All of a sudden, something clicked. I started carving paths for myself across the whole city. I knew where to wait for the doors to open in a busy crowd, knew which end of the platform to embark on depending on my final station, knew which of six confusing exits would take me exactly where I needed to go. I like to think I literally know parts of Montreal inside and out.

These days, I’ve been making a point of stopping to read all of the plaques around the metro network. Turns out, there are tons of them sprinkled across the city, and they tell rich and insightful stories. They help me add context and intricacy to my city’s narrative.

Since I first arrived here, my definition and sense of home has changed. I’ve found home in a feeling and in the familiar rhythm down new metro steps. Home is in the three notes that play right before Montreal’s metro staff announce a system-wide shut down. Home is instinctively waking up from a nap seconds before it’s time to step out at my intended metro stop. Home is knowing which of the network’s hallways have the best acoustics and echo. Today, home is most definitely Montreal.” (Sarah McMahon-Sperber, moved to Montreal in 2003)

Brussels, Belgium
“Belgium is a notoriously hard country to integrate into, but after the bombings in March this year I have felt more a part of the social fabric than ever before. I have spoken to many people outside of my normal social structures and I now feel like Belgium is my turf. All our opinions matter and we all need to share our experiences; this process brings us closer together.” (Anonymous, moved from Dublin to Brussels in 2001)

Paris, France
“I knew I was well-assimilated the first time I dropped my keys and said ‘merde’ to myself instead of its English equivalent.” (John Agee, moved from Los Angeles to Paris in 2006)

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