In early 2021, despite never having set foot in San Francisco, I picked up and moved there amidst a global pandemic. This cross-country relocation from Washington DC reminded me of a similarly long-distance relocation I undertook back in 2015 when I moved from the eastern coast of the U.S. to Galicia, Spain. Now settled in California, I’ve taken time to reflect on the lessons I learned during my first transoceanic move that I hope will provide insight as I take on this new transcontinental chapter in my life.
When I first finished my undergraduate studies in 2015, I accepted a job in Galicia, Spain and moved there alone without ever having visited before. Though this was not my first job, it was my first time moving to a different city (let alone province or country) on my own. I had studied abroad in southern Spain twice before as an undergraduate student, but each time with the guidance of an academic counselor and knowing classmates who would be there to greet me upon arrival. In Galicia, I knew no one and while the fresh start and new opportunities were exciting, they were also intimidatingly boundless.
“Now that I’m new in town, I try to remember that my community of support is often larger than I realize”.
Fast forward six years, an MBA and a career transition later. Despite the intervening years and life events, upon my move west, I found myself experiencing the same feelings of excitement and intimidation that had defined my previous relocation across the Atlantic six years prior. As a lifelong IB learner, I’ve found reflection to be a helpful tool for understanding the world around me, and so I set out to distill a few lessons learned from my previous experience that I hope will serve in this new context:
Lesson #1: Communities support
I first arrived Galicia with the proud notion that I should be self-sufficient in establishing my new life. I thought that, as a newly minted university graduate, I should be independent enough to put down my roots easily and integrate into a new community by myself. However, after a while, I realized that it was lonely to be “the new kid in town” and that I needed to ask for help. I admitted my struggle to friends and acquaintances, who in turn put me in touch with their local friends and acquaintances in the area. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support I received from the people in this network who I never would have met otherwise, and soon I felt like I was part of the community.
Now that I’m “new in town” once more in San Francisco, I try to remember that my community of support is often larger than I realize. I’ve resolved not to feel too proud to let my network know when I’m in need of a connection to show me the local ropes, grab a socially distanced coffee or join on a hike.
Lesson # 2: Education is a great connector
To establish myself in Galicia, I decided to enroll in an after-work Portuguese class offered by the local language institute. The language I learned has a benefit, for sure, but I found the connections made with my classmates to be just as valuable. Some were much older than I and some much younger, but we got to know each other through the shared challenges of our common interest in language learning. From them, I learned not just verb conjugations but also the best places to eat octopus, how to dress for local festivals and where to snag the best views of the fireworks during holiday celebrations. My classmates became a community who went walking with me on weekends, checked in on me when I caught a cold and humored me when I wanted company to carve pumpkins with on Halloween.
“Ultimately, I’ve realized that as I reflect on my own experience living inside my own heart, everyone else is living inside themselves too”.
While it will certainly be challenging to implement this strategy in San Francisco amidst various pandemic lockdowns, I’m determined to explore and participate in the variety of virtual and socially distanced outdoor classes that can help me feel connected to the community. I now know that sharing experiences with others, centered around a common love of learning, is one of the best ways for me to connect with a wider network who share the same interests and can make me feel much more at home.
Lesson #3: Sometimes, the best feeling inside comes from outside
My first friend in Galicia took me hiking to some nearby cliffs to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. We were just south of the cape Fisterra, named after the Latin word ”finis terrae”, which means “end of the Earth”, and looking out over the open water inspired similar feelings of expedition and expectation that I imagine befell those who named the area. Throughout our several trips back, I found that spending time outdoors grounded me and put my experiences into perspective—if Fisterra wasn’t really the “end of the Earth”, whatever setback I happened to be facing wasn’t the “end of the world”, either.
During one of my first weekends in San Francisco, I experienced déjà vu while visiting a Pacific Ocean overlook outside the city. Reflecting on the similarity of these memories, I understand why some refer to Galicia as “Galifornia”; the hilly coastal geographies are surprisingly similar despite their distance apart. I hope that, as before, I can benefit from the perspective and insight that seems to come so easily when spending time staring at large bodies of water or otherwise communing with nature.
During this recent move, I’ve often been reminded of a particular anecdote regarding the artist, Prince: Legend has it when actor Matt Damon once asked if Prince still lived in his home state of Minnesota, Prince responded, “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon”. This anecdote encapsulates the idea that the tumultuous change of moving to new places doesn’t seem so intimidating once you realize that we do live inside ourselves and we therefore take our home with us wherever we go. Ultimately, I’ve realized that as much as I reflect on my own experiences living “inside my own heart”, everyone else is living inside themselves too, bringing the communities they’re part of with them and integrating others into the communities they’ve created.
Armed with that knowledge, I’m looking forward to diving in once more!
Nicole Fitchett is a graduate of J.W. Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia, USA. She continued her studies with a BA in Linguistics at the College of William and Mary and an MBA at The George Washington University in the United States. She now works in international business. On weekends, you can find her exploring the natural beauty in her newly relocated “home state” of California, USA. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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