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Prospering After PCS: Becoming a Local in Your New City

I am from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I adore my hometown, and I love telling people where I’m from and how great The Good Land is. I love telling people about how beautiful and cold Lake Michigan is, about the city’s rich brewing history, and about the coffee shop where my husband proposed to me under the fireworks of a nearby festival. Being from Milwaukee is an important part of my identity, and I’m proud of my hometown. So proud, that when we had a permanent change of station (PCS) for the first time as a married couple to a quaint little beach town called Pensacola, I compared everything to my hometown.

I complained about the freeways, I lamented about the hot and humid weather, I told anyone who would listen about the lack of good coffee and beer, and I just generally whined my way through that first duty station.

I was miserable. (I did have the good sense not to complain about the seafood, though. Joe Patti’s for the win!)

I realized once we’d left that I’d made a huge mistake. The military life can be a lonely one, and I was only making myself lonelier by refusing to adapt and prosper in our new city.

I vowed not to do it again. Now I make a point to dive in headfirst to every new city we move to (we’re on our fifth new city in eight years!) and truly making it my home for as long as we’re there.

Here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful once the boxes are unpacked and you find yourself in a brand new city:

Comparison is the thief of joy. Now, it’s okay not to love your new duty station; we all have favorites and that’s okay. But try not to make the same rookie mistake I did in Pensacola by comparing your favorite to your new home. Every part of the country (and world!) has something unique and awesome to offer that simply can’t be found anywhere else. Find out, or decide for yourself, what is beloved about your city and embrace it.   

Go find that city’s ‘best of’ and make a bucket list. We just picked up Washingtonian Magazine’s annual ‘Best of Washington’ issue, and it lists everything from the Best Brunch and Best Doughnuts to The Best Views of the City and Best Sunday Outings. (And some quintessentially D.C. awards like Best of the Political Marches.) This guide is our best bet on finding hidden gems and well-known favorites for food and things to do. It’s also a good way to explore a new city without feeling overwhelmed. We always pick a few categories to explore and earmark a few we-can’t-leave-without-doing-this types of places, and it becomes our bucket list for the tour. This has always been a surefire way for me to start falling in love with a new city.

Get to know your neighbors. This may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me for a long time. I didn’t really know our neighbors in Virginia Beach and I realize now I suffered for it. They had block parties and cookouts and everyone had dogs that played together, but because I kept to myself and never offered much more than a hello, no one really thought to invite me. I was alone a lot because of deployment, and I’m sure the neighborly comradery would have made me feel less isolated. We experienced a huge difference in Jacksonville when we reached out to our neighbors. Not only did we meet lifelong friends, we trusted them when emergencies came up, and we needed help quick. Reliable folks who live close by are a godsend when you’re far from family. So go ahead and stop to chat next time you see them across the street!  

Make a local friend (or become a regular at a local bar or coffee shop). When you first PCS somewhere new, especially if you move to a military town or if you only know the other families from your spouse’s command, it can sometimes feel like everyone you meet is a transplant. Getting to know a friend or neighbor who has always called that place home is like finding a little gold mine. Some of our friends in Jacksonville were born and raised there, and they gave us an insight to the city that we would have never known if we didn’t take the time to hear about their experiences. And, if you can, find a local place to make your own and get to know the people behind the counter. I never felt more at home in Jax than when I walked into my local coffee shop with my days-old baby and everyone stopped to ooh and aah and celebrate my new addition. I’d been going there all through my pregnancy, and they really treated me like family, which meant the world to me because I was far from actual family.

Volunteer somewhere. In Jacksonville, before I stayed home with my kiddo, I was lucky to work with a nonprofit that provided a variety of services for women. I saw a side of the city I probably would have missed. I got involved in projects and groups and causes that will be keep going long after I left, and even though I won’t be around to see the end result, it felt enormously rewarding to leave our temporary city a little better than I found it. It’s easy to feel deeply rooted in a community that you are serving. Whatever you are passionate about, I guarantee your new city would benefit from your help in that cause.

These are just a few things that I’ve learned along the way that have made PSCing to a new place a little less daunting and a little more adventuresome. What about you? What tricks am I missing? What has helped you feel like you’re home in your new city?

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One Response to Prospering After PCS: Becoming a Local in Your New City

  1. Courtney Pittman July 25, 2017 at 9:11 am #

    Hi Cari!
    Such a great read! I’ve never felt more at home in a place than when I’ve made great friends with some local people and found my own life aside from the military. Not comparing is also some great advice and something I need to keep in mind as we are currently PCSing from San Diego, CA to Wilmington, NC. Love from Matt and me to you, Ryan, and the kiddos.

    Courtney Pittman