Making Pals 101: a new city, a new start.

When I received my offer to the STP, believe me, I was ecstatic. When applying to the program, I never dreamed I’d be accepted, let alone get one of my top choices in locations. But here I am, based in the Clinical Genetics department in Cambridge, about to start into my second year of the Genetic Counselling program. When I got that email, I jumped around, I hugged my family, I definitely didn’t cry (jokes) and then, it hit me – I know NO ONE in Cambridge. Here we go again, another new city, another new start.

The prospect of moving to a new place isn’t a new phenomenon for me. I went away to boarding school at age 12, moved even further away to do my undergrad, moved from Ireland to Exeter to complete my Masters and was now faced with moving to Cambridge to start into the STP. Upon receiving a place in the STP program, it’s extremely likely you’ll be moving to a new city (or if like me, a new country), possibly one you’ve never been to, and one where you don’t know many, or anyone.

Below are a few things that have always helped me when moving to a new city, along with a few tips gathered from other sources (mainly Google and the odd sketchy Buzzfeed article…).

Join a Club…

I’m not going to lie, one of the first things I did after receiving my Cambridge offer was look up hockey teams in the area. I found 3, but settled on one straight away because it had a social section on their website and the others didn’t (shows my priorities… also purple is more my colour, see below). Joining a team sport like hockey is like walking into a ready-made group of pals who are similar ages and have similar interests to you. With a team sport like hockey, you’ll have a training sessions and matches throughout the week and weekends, so will be kept plenty busy during the season! Anywhere I’ve moved to, my hockey friends end up being my closest friends and always makes moving to a new place so much easier.

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To join a club, it’s not a necessity that you’ve played that particular sport before. Most clubs also have a beginner section, so if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, why not give it a go and make some new pals in the process!

Another alternative is watching sports in a local pub. It’s likely you’ll find people supporting the same team you do, and after a few drinks and a bit of extra courage, you’ll be chatting away in no time!

Although sport is what immediately comes to mind when talking about joining a club, there are loads of other groups that are a great place to meet new people when you move. If you can hold a note (I cannot), choirs can be a great way to meet people with similar interests to you. For the greater good, I gave this one a miss… Evening classes, such as cooking or a language, can also be a great way to make friends and pick up a new skill while you’re at it!

Use Your Network…

At your Birmingham Induction Day in September, all regional training networks will have their own stand. Here you can sign up to your local network and ask any location-specific questions you may have. I can’t recommend signing up to your network enough. Your local network is in charge of setting up events in your area such as interdisciplinary workshops, OSFA prep, professional practice discussions and (most importantly) socials! Your network is a huge source of both work-related and emotional support. If you have any issues regarding your training that you feel you can’t bring to your training officer or line manager, this is a great place to go. Another reason why your training network is amazing is that it is a group of people who are going through the exact same program as you are. Worried about competencies? Overwhelmed with your workload? Struggling with an assignment? Chances are, so is someone else in your network. We STPs are a rare bunch, and it’s a pain having to explain why you live in one city and go to university in another, so having a group of people who know exactly what it’s about, is invaluable! The STPs in my network have become some of my closest friends here in Cambridge and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be the same without them!

Another great thing about the Birmingham Induction Day is that you get to meet the rest of your specialism cohort. Take the opportunity to set up a WhatsApp group and get chatting about your training and your first few weeks of University teaching! TOP TIP – if you’re as disorganised as me, you won’t have organised accommodation for uni teaching at this stage. Use the day as an opportunity to find someone to share accommodation with!!

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If you’re lucky, you’ll be placed in a department with a great team working around you. And if you’re SUPER lucky, you’ll have a second and third year STP student above you. THESE PEOPLE ARE YOUR LIFELINES!!!! They know what you’re going through, they’ve literally been there, done that. Bake them cookies, make them tea, befriend them in whatever way you can. This goes for the rest of the department as well. You spend your three years in the STP as supernumerary. You learn most of your clinical skills by learning from and being taught by others in the department. You will also work with them day in, day out. Life will be easy if you get along – if you have a great team around you, you’ll have the best time! TOP TIP – make extra good friends with whoever is sitting next to you (see above), they get all your stupid questions. I bribe mine with snacks, mostly M&S cheese topped pretzels.

Your hospital is also a hive of activity. You should get some form of daily bulletin from your Trust detailing the goings-on in and around the hospital. These will include lunchtime walks, concerts in the hospital and various other get-togethers. You’ll never be short of things to do!

Social Media…

Despite what your parents warned you about, the internet is your friend. Whether its through Google, Facebook or an app, you’ll find a goldmine of meet-up groups; whether you’re looking for pals or something more (oi oi). If you’re single, going on dates is actually a great way to find your feet in a new city! (Try to date a local, they know all the best spots…)

You need only Google “meetup groups” and your city and you’ll be inundated with groups set up with the sole purpose of introducing people to a new city and to each other. These may seem like you’re throwing yourself into the deep end, but everyone else there will be in the same boat as you! You never know, give it a try! Facebook can also be a great place to find similar groups. If you’re a keen reader or want to read more, a book club might be a good shout either!

*DISCLAIMER*: don’t be silly, internet at your own risk and keep yourself safe…

Call Up Old Contacts…

As I said earlier, I knew no one when I first moved to Cambridge. However, one day, whilst mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I noticed a guy, who was in the year below me in primary school, was also based in Cambridge. I sent him a quick message saying I’d just moved to Cambridge and to see if he was around for coffee. Although we only met up a few times for coffee, it was nice having a familiar face around (who also had the same accent!). It can be super hard building up the nerve to message someone you haven’t seen in years, but it’s very likely they’ll be delighted to hear from you and more than happy to meet up to show you around!

In Conclusion…

I realise and fully appreciate that none of the above is easy. Despite doing it time and time again, I still get super nervous when I meet new people, it never gets easier. But it does work. If I had to leave you with one final top tip, it’s to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Say yes to things you wouldn’t usually do and be brave! This is one of those situations where what you give is what you get; the more you put yourself out there, the quicker you’ll settle in and start to really enjoy the city you’ll call home for the next few years!

Author: Nichola Fennell

Genomic Counselling STP 2018 Intake

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