How to build your network in a new city, country or culture

12 ways to get going when you find yourself in some place new

Moving around the world to live and work is becoming easier than ever. 

There are numerous factors and trends enabling and fuelling this shift: low-cost airlines, remote work, broader education access, open borders (sometimes…), an increase in sabbaticals, portfolio careers.

Whether you’re going somewhere new for a couple of months, a year or two, or perhaps even the rest of your life, you’re probably going to want to connect with some fellow humans for one reason or another. 

To do that you’re probably going to want to build some relationships and build a network.

Doing this can feel daunting, overwhelming, or downright scary.

Here’s a brief guide to help you navigate the new place you find yourself in.

A couple of notes before we get going:

1. While there are of course now dozens of online platforms to identify and connect with new people across a dizzying array of locations, interest groups and demographics, this guide focuses mainly on ideas to help forge in-person relationships when you’re in a new place.

2. I could have got this up to 20+ ideas, but given my self-enforced ~2200 word limit, 12 is where we’ll stay for now. Part 2 is coming soon.

Without further ado, here we go…

Take on your explorer mindset

We all have the explorer mindset. It’s been with us since birth. Much of our learning takes place during our first few years in the world, and it happens in part because of this explorer mindset we all possess. 

During this time we’re in an almost constant state of awe, wonder, and curiosity – testing things out, absorbing information, interacting with our environment in whichever ways we can.

However, many of us lose our explorer mindset – due to ego, a narrowing world view, lack of motivation, or fear. 

A few of us, like Amelia Earhart or Ranulph Fiennes, maintain and even increase it, taking on incredible feats and journeys.

Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

But we don’t need to fly solo across an ocean or take on the arctic circle to become explorers. We can rediscover our explorer mindset any time we want, and going somewhere new is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

As Justin Lind writes:

Much like a toddler, the explorer is ever mindful at how much he has yet to discover.

She is not afraid of choosing the wrong direction or making a wrong turn. She knows that, whether it was her intended path or not, wonderful things can lay around any corner.

He seeks new discoveries over all else. Never comfortable in his current views and always striving to expand his knowledge.

She is not afraid to discard old ways of thinking in light of new discoveries.

The explorer mindset is also a very effective way to short-circuit feat and self-consciousness. 

At times things can feel awkward, strange, lonely or uncomfortable – especially when we’re adapting to a city or culture that’s new. 

Reminding yourself of your explorer mindset in these times suddenly reframes experiences into chances to learn and discover.

Embrace your vulnerability

Going somewhere new is tough. 

Even seemingly simple things can feel very different – many of the conventions we took for granted just aren’t conventions any more. It could be the type of banking or bread; meeting etiquette or metro tickets.

Add a few of these factors together and the whole experience can be pretty disorientating.

You won’t have it all figured out, and you probably won’t feel in control. There’s more risk, more uncertainty, more mixed messages. 

Perhaps there’s less speed, less efficiency. And some things can just feel plain backwards.

A natural response to this is to put your guard up and protect yourself. 

Try to resist this. 

Instead, embrace the vulnerability.

Accept this is how things are in the moment you’re now in. Apply a little stoicism here if you like.

The vulnerability allows us to open up – to new ideas, experiences and people.

Know yourself

There are probably certain situations where you thrive and others where you don’t. Maybe you love small, curated salon-style events. Or you could really vibe in a bigger meetup with lots of interesting people to interact with. Perhaps keeping it 1:1 aligns best for who you are.

If you’re not sure what works best for you, experiment. Attend a few events with varying formats and see which you get the most out of and why.

You may find the topic or the people attending a certain event outweigh the frustrating format, but in my experience the best results come from being in an environment where you’re comfortable and relaxed.

Building a network is often a big enough undertaking – no need to hobble yourself by trying to thrive in formats you just don’t dig. Know yourself and what you need.

Pro tip: You can always work the format if it doesn’t align well – for example, conferences are usually big affairs, so if you prefer something small then aim to chat with people in breakout spaces or at the bar.

Ask good questions

This point cannot be underestimated.

Early on it’s inevitable you’re going to be grasping a bit (especially if you play the accordion): meeting people where the connection may be tenuous; going in without understanding too much about what they do, or trying to make something fit that just isn’t there.

This grasping and flailing can be uncomfortable and frustrating for both you and the person you’re sitting opposite, especially as they’ve been generous enough to give you their time.

The best way to alleviate this flailing feeling is to ask good questions. 

This is simple, but not easy. 

A good place to start is by preparing well for each meeting.

Any good PR or communications pro will prepare briefing notes for any interactions they set up for their clients. A one-pager of briefing notes and the key messages you want to get across can be a very helpful frame to help you focus. 

Note: here’s Coffee Notes, a resource I created exactly for that purpose.

If this route feels a bit heavy, then just prepare by always going equipped with three open, positively framed, and relevant questions. You’ll be amazed how effective good questions can be.

Also – this doesn’t just apply to ‘big’ meetings with important people. Being curious and asking good questions can be just as effective when having a chat with the barista at your local coffee shop.

Pro Tip: If you’re struggling for questions, start them with ‘I’m curious…’ and then follow it with an aspect of that person’s industry or work. It’s the most effective way I’ve seen to get the conversation rolling quickly.

Play the accordion

One approach for networking I’ve found to be effective is what can loosely be analogized as playing the accordion. [1]

Start by taking in as much as you can – spreading to full breadth with a high volume of conversations.  

Take a pause, and smoothly press into to a much lower volume based on what felt best the first time out. 

The important part here, like with many aspects of music and other creative arts, is the pause. 

“Music is the space between the notes” 

Claude Debussy

The pause is for reflection, taking a breath, gaining insight, understanding what worked and what didn’t. 

It’s the space to decide which adjustments you want to make for next time. 

It’s where the music happens.

Take some time to pause, then play again.

I found this approach very effective in my early days in New York. 

There was so much to take in, so much happening, that going in with a specific focus immediately was actually counter-intuitive.

It was more valuable to first have many lighter, introductory chats with interesting people. These allowed me to quickly find particular sweet spots and areas of interest, rather than going down only one path with a lack of information.

The accordion method helps you find the grooves and the networks that work best for you, especially when you’re entering a new chapter.

[1] I’ve never played the accordion, so am aware I may be glossing over some technicalities here. Perhaps I should take some lessons.

Be a host, become an impresario

Hosting something can be an incredible way to meet people. Depending on your areas of interest, you may want to host an educational workshop, a panel session, a more casual meetup style event, or a breakfast or dinner get-together.

Hosting can enable you to become an impresario, a linchpin at the center of a brand new network. Even if the initial group is tiny, being a part (and center) of this can be a highly effective to build out networks.

But if you’re not comfortable organising something from scratch (and this can be particularly daunting when you’re trying to build a network rather than bring together an existing one), there are other options.

You can also co-host: find someone already doing something in your area and offer to partner up with them, especially if you can bring skills to the table that they may be in need of.

Co-hosting also has the obvious added benefit of access to your co-host’s network. After all, the impresarios aren’t just promoters, they need skills in production, logistics, curation and much more.

Pro Tip: It’s always worth considering culture (see below) if you’re going to organise something. 

Volunteer

Similar to co-hosting, volunteering is also a great way to meet people, and can be a lot less daunting.

It could be a charitable cause, helping out at a conference on a topic you’re interested in, or mentoring with a youth non profit or accelerator program. There are all sorts of events and organizations actively seeking positive, engaged volunteers. 

Volunteering is a great way to better understand and engage with culture, and also often has its own in-built network and alumni effects that can do amazing things. Two added bonuses for doing something good.

Pro Tip: Volunteering definitely means not getting paid. Most of us know this, but it also means being selfless. Avoid traps of status, virtue signalling and hidden rapaciousness if you’re thinking about volunteering. Spend time thinking about why you really want to put yourself forward, and if the answers feel right – commit and follow through.

Recognize culture

I had to change the spelling of the first word in the subtitle. 

As a British Citizen I still often write ‘recognise’ here in US. It’s a tiny example, but being aware of culture is important.

Culture of course goes way further than spelling and grammar. It’s the type of milk people take in their coffee, how they respond to certain methods of communicating feedback, and what they may feel about cannabis, naturism, or free healthcare.

This is probably the most important item in this guide.

It connects to everything else.

Recognizing (Recognising) and acknowledging the culture of your new home is extremely important for a whole host of reasons.

And it can be difficult to find your place. You of course don’t want to overreach or appropriate culture, yet settling in to your new home matters.

Be curious, be open, be respectful. Find the sub-cultures, movements and ideas that resonate with you. Find some you’re unfamiliar with.

And take some time to read up on the history of this new place you’re in. It’s amazing what an hour or two at the library will do for you.

Discover your online voice

Ok, so this is an IRL rather than URL suggestion, but it’s important, and like much of technology also affects our offline lives.

If you’re reading this then you probably have an online voice (or perhaps even a few). Posting on Facebook, sharing Instagram images, retweeting memes. Maybe you write blogs or publish podcasts. Some of these are passive and some are active, but they’re all ways of expressing a voice.

As our digital voices develop in their vocabulary, viewpoint, tone, and timbre, it’s worth taking some time to consider what this voice is actually about. 

It’s amazing how little most of us think about this.

What is it saying? 

How does it sound? 

Who is it speaking to? 

What’s being read between the lines? 

Who hasn’t it reached yet?

Discovering and developing our online voice is more important than ever, especially when we’re going somewhere new.

It’s an opportunity to launch a signal: send your fluorescent flare, futuristic rocket ship, or exploratory research pod up in the air to let people know who you are, what you value, and where you’re heading.

How do you develop your online voice? 

There are many ways, but one of the most effective is to just get started launching a signal or two. A video, blog post, a social media share, a handwritten letter, or just starting a gold old IRL conversation.

Your signal may not reach the heights of the solar system – it may barely leave the ground – but you may be surprised who else is attracted to it.

Be patient

Humans are generally terrible at estimating things. Sometimes we can surprise ourselves with the progress we can make, but generally, the path is much longer than we first believe. 

Human networks are not something to be shortcut or gamed. You may have all experienced the person dishing out 10 business cards a minute, or the founder who leads with their elevator pitch before asking your name. Neither of these approaches build rapport.

Rapport takes care, consideration, empathy – all that good stuff. Building strong and supportive networks of humans you feel aligned with requires all these elements, and it needs time.

Don’t expect to find your tribe right away – give it time and space, especially if you’re seeking people in a particular niche or with a specific approach.

As with dating, you’ll probably need kiss a few frogs, have a couple of near misses, and perhaps a regret or two. 

And once you’ve found the relationship, that’s just the start. You’ve got to keep nurturing it.

Be patient.

Remember compounding

Part of Naval Ravikant’s popular tweet storm on wealth included a tweet on compound interest. 

What’s notable in this context is compound interest also applying to relationships.

It seems obvious when you think about it, but we often miss this. 

Compound interest is built on the concept that something small can become much much bigger when nurtured well over a long period of time.

Take a moment to think about your most valued relationships. They may have gone through some ups and downs, but overall they will have compounded over time. 

This ties to the point about being patient – the best returns come from compounding, and to access these returns you need to think long-term.

Take a walk 

Walking meetings can be really effective. The best way to explore (most) places is by walking. Walking is good exercise.

Combine all of these positives and do walking meetings. You can just meander or let the person you’re with suggest a route they like. 

Walking meetings are especially good if you get a little nervous. I wrote  more about those here.

And another good time to take a walk? When it’s not working.

Sometimes you may feel lonely, adrift, misunderstood, undervalued.

Take a walk. 

Notice the surroundings of this place you’re calling home right now. Notice the big things, the small things, the things others may not see. 

Notice what you notice. 

They could lead to your next great conversation, your next great connection.


And the last piece of advice? 

Don’t sweat it.

Don’t worry about the time you may be spending on your own.

Don’t worry about not yet finding that tribe you seek. They’re out there.

In the meantime enjoy this new place you’re in, and enjoy the ride.


What would you add to this list?

What have I missed?

I’d love to hear your take on how to build a network somewhere new.

Some further reading:

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