I was really worried about moving to Ottawa.
Of course, looking back on it now, where in less than 2 years in this new city I have lived with the most amazing girls, found the love of my life, and become part of the most amazing church, it seems kind of silly how nervous I was.
But you see, I came from a small town that I grew up in from when I was 4-18. I know that town, inside and out, and it knows me. The YMCA I worked at was the same one I took swimming lessons in, and my boss taught me when I was first learning how to blow bubbles. My church was full of people who knew me from when I was in kindergarten, and my friends remained pretty stable throughout the years.
I know every turn and backroad, the best places for chocolate chip cookies (and what time they get the fresh batch in), the best study places, the best places to find frogs in May.
And then I left.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I was insanely excited to leave. My hometown is great, but it is small, and I wanted to expand my horizons and start my own life in a new city. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t scary.
I think I wanted to take all the familiarity and the certainty of home and transfer it with me to Ottawa. But of course, that can’t happen.
After living here for almost 2 years, though, I really do feel like Ottawa is home. I found a couple of ways to quickly settle into the new city, and I really feel like these acted as a catalyst for my love of this city. Hopefully they help you, too!
1. Find a home church in your new city
This one can be tricky because every church is so different. So this might take a while, but make sure to find a church that fits you! It is so important to get involved in a church community since they act as your support in every way if it’s one that truly acts as the body of Christ. I generally try out a church for 3-4 weeks and then decide if I want to stick with it or not, and I found my church by November.
2. Find your coffee shop
I didn’t just go church-hopping, I went coffee-shop-hopping as well. I swear I must have tried the green and peppermint tea from 15 places within the first two weeks of being here, all of which are walking distance from campus.
Gotta say, though, my favourite one is this one. Look at the size of that tea cup.
I don’t know what it is about coffee shops, but if you find your favourite one it almost becomes like a security blanket–somewhere to go when you’ve had a bad day, want to meet up with friends, or just bring a book and curl up with a cup of hot chocolate. After Connor asked me out on our first date, I spent the entire day after our dinner in my favourite shop just journalling about it. I loved having a place to go to where I could just process and experience life in the moment, where the rest of the world goes away.
Plus, making friends with the people who work there is super fun! There’s nothing that makes you feel more at home than having people know you as “one of the regulars”.
3. Find somewhere outdoors that is your place
I’m lucky enough to live right across from beautiful green-space here in Ottawa, which was such a huge factor when we bought the house. So this was an easy one for me. But I didn’t just want to us the one 30 seconds away from my house, I wanted to find an outdoor spot on campus, too. So I found this little hill outside of one of the buildings I have a lot of class in, and when it’s warm out in September I studied there. Just sprawled out on the grass with some books and lay out in the sun while I read.
4. Find 5 quirky stores in your new city
I absolutely LOVE the Bywood market here in Ottawa. There are so many cool stores! There’s an authentic Italian grocery store with a restaurant in the back which is my favourite and has the cheapest AND best deli-meat in downtown Ottawa, and there are always at least 3 random stands set up around the centre of the market. So find some stores that are out of the ordinary–find an authentic Japanese restaurant, or a juicing stand. Anything! Just go and explore, and find some of those hidden gems in your new city. Also, that way, when your family and friends come to visit you can show them something interesting instead of just going to the same old places that you can find in any city.
5. Find a club at your school and join in their events
Honestly, this is not only helpful for meeting people, but is so much fun. We have a Celtic club that has ceílí dances once a month that I go to with my friends. It’s pretty much like Irish square dancing, which is just square dancing, but 10x more exhausting. Even more than that, though, I have the inter varsity Christian fellowship group on my campus, and I was extremely involved my first two years of school. Almost all of my friendships have stemmed out of this group, and it’s amazing the amount of encouragement and challenges I’ve received from other people.
Now that I’m married I don’t go as much, but I still hang out with people from IVCF on an almost daily basis. The community has stuck. If you’re in university or college and haven’t found a students’ Christian group, FIND ONE. It’s so worth it. When you have somewhere you belong, your city starts to feel more like home.
It can be hard to move from one city to the next. It’s a huge transition, and I think especially if you’re from a small, close-knit community, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. But if you find those little places you can call your own, if you can find people who become not only friends but family, soon enough you’ll find that the big city you’ve moved to really becomes your home.
How did you find the transition from home to school?