How I Cultivated Community When I Moved to Chicago

Learn how to make friends in Chicago — or any new city.

I moved to Chicago in my 30s with a mix of emotions. I had just finished graduate school on the East Coast, and I was excited for the opportunity to be in such a vibrant hub for young professionals. But I also knew it meant starting over again and finding new people and places to weave into the fabric of my community — which is daunting work. 

I knew a few folks from graduate school and had relatives nearby, but, other than when I flew in for the interview, I hadn’t spent any time in the city. In many ways, this was my new beginning. And I knew finding and creating community would be something necessary for me to survive in my new surroundings. 

Having grown up around many cousins and good friends, I had a deep fondness for being in community. Back home, building community came easily, whether it was gathering with loved ones for graduation parties or hanging out after school friends. For myself as a second generation Filipina American, that desire for creating community came out of a core belief of “kapwa.” Kapwa translates into “fellow human” or “neighbor.” There was a deep desire to find kapwa in Chicago. 

Like many young professionals in Chicago at the time, I had the good fortune of working downtown. I settled in a small studio in a quiet neighborhood that was walkable and friendly. Whether it was commuting on my way home or finding an activity after work, there were a lot of people my age that gave me hope that my desire for community could be achieved. There were sports leagues galore and luckily I found a bowling league nearby to meet others in my neighborhood. I also participated in a young adult faith sharing group that met downtown once a week. Slowly a sense of familiarity became part of the background. 

About six months into living in Chicago, I decided it was time to throw my own gathering. It was a great excuse to invite all my new acquaintances over to get to know them better after sharing bowling lanes and beers. I remember how exciting it was to have a group of people coming over and sharing my space. It was fun to have folks chat and get to know each other that night. It wasn’t a spectacular party, but it was a genuine opportunity to attempt to build community. I do remember a new friend saying to me at one point that she couldn’t believe I knew this many people in the several months I had been in Chicago. I told her it was just a mix of folks I had met in a few activities, and I wanted to share some warmth and hospitality with them. 

Looking back on those early months in Chicago, I realize how much weaving those communities helped me adjust and feel a little less homesick. It was also an opportunity to reclaim what was familiar and had always been important to me — finding places and spaces to gather and celebrate life. 

Whether you enjoy it or not, creating a community in a new city isn’t easy and takes intentionality. Here are some considerations for you if that’s something you desire to create for yourself: 

Try new things 

Moving to a new place especially after a life transition (graduation, new job, etc.) can be daunting. Once you get reasonably settled and unpack most of your things, look into activities that seem interesting to you. A park district may have some adult sports leagues. A community college may have an evening art class that might be worth joining. The library may have a book club that meets monthly. Tap into the resources for community around you!

Be open to conversation and put the phone down

Having a device in your hands at all times is a great temptation. It’s easy to check social media or randomly scroll while sitting on the train, grabbing coffee, or walking in your neighborhood. But if you are hoping to make some new connections while you are out and about, the phone in your hand can act as an unhelpful distraction and barrier.

Ask family and friends to e-introduce you to folks they know who live in your new city

Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Do not be afraid to reach out to close connections to ask them for introductions to friends they may have in your new city. An e-introduction email or text goes a long way to helping find a friendly face. Many of us have been the new people in town and know how hard it is in those early months (or years) to find community!

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