Loneliness and location
November 5, 2009 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading back to the work world after studying abroad, and want to overcome my long-standing social isolation. Where should I move to?

I'm 27, and finishing a masters degree at a university in Sweden. Between this and my prior experience in the software industry, my career is in great shape. But my social life is not. I'm lucky enough to have kept close friends from high school, but have struggled to make new ones since then. This also carries over to dating: my only sexual experience was a fling with an old friend a couple years back. The thought of this continuing indefinitely is scary but all too realistic.

Soon I need to start applying for programming jobs, and I'd like to do it with the above in mind. I'm a U.S. citizen from the Northeast, but I also traveled around Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Holland, Ireland, …) during my studies and wouldn't mind living there either. (I'm aware of the issues with getting work permits.) But the couple friends I do have here are also foreign students, and even outgoing expats say Swedes are hard to get to know. I'm afraid that even in an English-speaking country this could be the case for a foreigner. Are there expat MeFites that have experience with this? I prefer some aspects of the culture here, but it's no fun to live anyplace as a perpetual outsider.

If I do go back to the U.S., are some cities friendlier than others? Of course I realize that solving my problems involves hard work, personal change, and probably some form of therapy. But I don't want to sabotage my efforts either. Cities with good food, public transit, a decent music scene, and not overly conservative would be nice too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Move to Brooklyn. Get some roommates. Be willing to say yes more than you say no.

"solving my problems involves hard work, personal change, and probably some form of therapy." - that's pretty much the motto of NYC
posted by mattbucher at 8:45 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you really want to be part of a community, I think geography matters less than the type of neighborhood you like. You can find good food, public transit, decent music, and liberal people in just about every US city-- is there anything else important? Do you want nature and space, or close quarters and shopping? Intellectuals or jocks? Is living somewhere historic important? If you can narrow that down, you might get some great, specific responses.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:49 AM on November 5, 2009

I can't speak for life back in the US as I'm a long term (i.e., about thirteen years, one third of my adult life) American ex-pat.

But I can say that based not only on anecdotal and personal evidence, but also acclimation seminars that I took when first leaving the United States, the longer you're out of your home country the more foreign it will seem upon your return. Some folks don't have a problem with this, returning a decade or so later without skipping a beat. But others find short stays abroad (i.e., one year or less) jarring to the point that upon return they loathe their birth nation, and can't wait to get out again.

FWIW, I worked in Sweden for a while (Stockholm, so I'm not sure if my experience was representative) and yes, those folks are a little reserved. Great people, I had wonderful times there, genuinely enjoyed myself but yes, folks were a little standoffish, some more so than others.

Other parts of Europe not so much, and an American accent will often help as folks will be curious about you. I generally don't have much of a problem saying hey to total strangers I meet and having a good talk. But Mrs Mutant tells me I'm excessively social, so I guess it depends upon yourself. After all, if you're not outgoing in Europe you probably won't be back in America.

Guess I'd ask do you really want to return to The United States? If you can swing a work permit in some other country I'd suggest trying it for a while. Done properly, you could even return to the United States with a second passport and the right to (easily) work abroad again should you choose.

If you return to the United States immediately after graduation you may not easily get the opportunity to live and work abroad again.
posted by Mutant at 9:21 AM on November 5, 2009

I'd say you're probably shell-shocked by Scandinavian social habits. Sweden is a beautiful country, true, and some people are really sweet, but in average it is a tough and lonely environment - especially bad is that holidays of all sorts tend to be family-only enterprises; if your family is far away, there's nobody else to socialize with. After a while there, one forgets how social life actually works - or if you came there early in your education you probably never truly found out.
I assembled about as many good friends in my last 2 months in the UK as in 18 years in Sweden, and went to, or joint-hosted, almost as many cooking-and-wine evenings than in an entire Swedish year.
Get away, I'd say, and try out something else, no matter what (almost).
posted by Namlit at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ireland is very friendly. I've lived outside the US since 1997 and we've had zero problems making friends here. The job market isn't great but there are programming jobs going depending on what your gig is.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:11 AM on November 5, 2009

I'd like to reiterate the importance of neighborhood versus city. There's even a difference between apartment complexes. I remember being startled how much my social life changed when I went from a monster gated complex to a smaller 8 unit community. It was easier to have friends over, neighbors dropped by to chat. We looked out for each other.
posted by politikitty at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2009

I'm a software engineer, I went overseas to get a degree, and just last month I returned to the US to start working again. So I guess I'm kind of in the same position, except I was wildly social while getting my degree and I'm now trying to overcome the loss of my entire social circle.

The number 1 piece of advice I can give you as far as location, is to get an apartment as close to downtown as possible. The ability to stroll out your front door and into a pub/club/farmer's market/cafe is invaluable. It helps you overcome that post-work laziness inertia when you get home and don't feel like moving, it lets you drink and walk home (if you drink), it keeps you in touch with events by actually seeing them going on, as well as letting you run errands on foot frequently so you end up seeing more fliers and running into locals.

Other than that, try to find a town/city rather than an extended suburb (eg there are a lot of tech jobs on the San Francisco Peninsula, but it's practically just a long strip mall from SF to San Jose). Less community = less socializing.
posted by skintension at 12:31 PM on November 5, 2009

Just realized you might not have come back to clarify because this question is anonymous. Just a plug for my own neighborhood/city: I recently moved to Cambridge, MA, between Central and Harvard Square, and I love it like crazy. I haven't really made new friends because I live with and near a lot of my college friends, and also I'm lazy, but there are a lot of really cool, friendly people around. I'm a history geek and can't stand bro culture, so being really close to Harvard is great (lots of offbeat, but smart and successful people). Again, I'm lazy, but I hear there are a lot of interesting local groups (plus a ton of MeFites, apparently).

It's urban enough that I can walk to any amenity I need (and the Red Line is the best subway line in Boston, even if it's falling apart) but there are plenty of parks and it's just pretty everywhere. There's great local music, tons of amazing food, and you're more likely to think it's overly radically liberal. Feel free to memail me if you want to know more.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2009

2nd mattbucher, whose advice is exactly what I did. (I suppose you could do it without Brooklyn, but I wouldn't!) Having roommates goes a *long* way into creating an instant social life. Probably further than anything else you can do as an adult.
posted by zvs at 6:38 PM on November 5, 2009

I did what mattbucher did, but in Seattle. Strong software engineering scene here as well.
posted by jacalata at 7:32 PM on November 5, 2009

If you return to the United States immediately after graduation you may not easily get the opportunity to live and work abroad again.
This x1000. If you ever want to do this, it is your best chance now. You have the university connection, you don't have a house, car, kids, complicating things, and you have the opportunity to get a) the foreign work experience on your resume and b) a position with a foreign company so you can move in-and-out of the US later.

As far as getting more social, mattbucher and oinopaponton have it; get housemates. accept EVERY invitation, if only for the experience. Cambridge is awesome.

Also, people are so LAME about even minimally PLANNING things. Start being the guy who drags other people on your adventures, instead of being another person who whines about never being invited anywhere or having anything fun to do. The internet is also good help - couchsurfing, meetup, ...
posted by whatzit at 11:17 PM on November 5, 2009

Having recently moved back to the US from Sweden I can say that WOW everyone seems so friendly. I miss the bike paths and my favorite milk, but it's helluvbva lot easier to meet people in NYC, which isn't even a really friendly place. Meetup groups, dance classes volunteering, sports...all those things were less friendly for obvious language reasons or unavail in Sweden.
posted by melissam at 5:24 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

DON'T move to Las Vegas. This place is a social desert.

Seattle has a reputation for being unfriendly, but it really depends on your approach. If you're into crunchy "progressive" political activism, it can be very easy to make friends through joining community activist groups. Read up on the neighborhoods and pick the one that has the type of people you'd want to be friends with, because people in Seattle are very neighborhood-oriented (partially because traffic makes getting to other parts of the city such a bitch).
posted by Jacqueline at 5:14 AM on November 8, 2009

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