Chicago is a big city. Maybe not as big as New York or Beijing, but it’s still a good size. As a new resident to a lot of places in the past few years, I’ve done this dance a few times– making friends, looking for a job, getting situated. Now that I’ve officially been here for three months, I’m not a sparkling clean newbie anymore. I’m actually meeting people who have arrived here more recently than I have. And, true to its city form, there will always be more new people to come. So as a former NKOTB, here are seven tips on how to meet friends, network and get connected in the Windy City, fast:
1. Move here when it’s warm. I have yet to see Chicago when it’s cold, but I am constantly being reminded by new friends how smart I was to move here during the season when everyone is outside and celebrating life. Because I hear it’s not very much like that in the winter time. Move here when people are hanging out at roof decks and walking through the parks. That way you’ll have friends to bond with when the weather is frightful.
2. Check out Meetup.com and local networking events. I’m not sure what the stigma is about meetup.com (do people find it slightly creepy like MySpace, somewhere in the middle like Match.com, or a free-for-all, like Facebook?), but I absolutely love it. First of all, you can find a Meetup anywhere, in any city. Second of all, Chicago in particular is an incredibly hot Meetup location, with tons of clubs clamoring for members, and usually pretty cheap (if not free) admission. But the third reason why I love it is because everyone, absolutely every single person that goes online to Meetup.com, is looking to meet someone. They’re actually in the same position as you, and are trying to network and get to know people. And when you get a group of people together that are all trying to network with each other, magic happens. I think this also goes for off-Meetup.com networking events. If you see one, go there.
3. Embrace the sisterhood (or brotherhood). If you went to college, I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to get in with your local alumni organization. For me, Wellesley College’s alumnae network has been one of the greatest features of my college experience. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving (and hey, we deserve quite a few gifts after $160,000+ of tuition, right?), and in a big international city like Chicago, you’re sure to have an alumni org nearby. You don’t even need to have liked college in order to find great friends with whom you already share something in common. Not to mention, colleagues from any year are always great sounding boards for job opportunities and professional pursuits.
4. Be chatty. It’s amazing how much people love to chat in this city. More than the residents of any other city I’ve seen, Chicagoans seem always willing to stop for five or ten minutes and have a good talk about the weather, the Bears (the team, not the animal), great places to get food, or pretty much anything else. As a New Englander, it’s taken me a bit to get used to this chattiness, and fear that people probably initially found me unfriendly here. But I’m learning that standing around actually can get you somewhere. Don’t be afraid to hang loose and make some friends, wherever you are. You never know what may come of it.
5. Get a dog. This follows tip #4. The absolute best way to master your chatting ability is to get a dog. I had no idea what great gossip I was missing in my neighborhood until we got our German Shepherd puppy. Suddenly, Chicago became an active hub of dog lovers on every street corner, and everyone knew my dog’s name before my own. In fact, sometimes when I’m in a hurry, I actually have to walk in the other direction in order to avoid another 5-10 (-15-20) minute chat with the neighbors and their furry friends. It’s amazing what Roxy has done for my social life.
6. Read the paper. Read everything you can get your hands on. Some ideas include newspapers like the Red Eye, the Reader and the Tribune, event listings like Time Out Chicago and Metromix, and even cute neighborhood e-newsletters like the regular updates they send out from Marty’s Martini Bar and the Edgeville Buzz, in northern Chicago. Read everything you can, find events (never lacking here), and get out. If anything, reading daily pubs like the Red Eye will give you a constant source of fresh content to chat about on your dog walks (#5), since everyone else is reading the Red Eye, too.
7. Don’t say no. Just don’t do it. For the first few weeks that you’re here, accept every single invitation you get. My boyfriend said it best. On nights when I was too tired to go out, he insisted. “You need to establish your friendships,” he said to me. “You can say ‘no’ later.” It’s advice I’ve taken very seriously. Make friends now while you’re new. Don’t get stuck in a shy rut.
To new Chicagoans and anyone in a new place in general, good luck! I am a great fan of moving, and the challenges and opportunities it brings. If you keep yourself open and let yourself have a good time, you’ll be fine. And if that doesn’t work, practice your “Chicahgoo” accent. I find it such a riot.