Tag Archives: Moving to Boston

Making Friends and Building a Community when Moving to Boston

from an international student’s perspective

Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering

Congratulations! You made it!

You are moving to the Boston area and are possibly even coming from the other side of the world.

Your parents are proud, friends are jealous.

As time goes by, maybe they start to be more bittersweet. They think you are too busy living the dream life to FaceTime with them as often as you used to, but they have no idea how difficult it is to wake up at 5 am to make sure you call them at a reasonable time since there is a 10 hour time difference. You sound “annoying” or “displeased” when you complain about the tremendous amount of grad school work-load because your loved ones think you do not appreciate your opportunities enough. It looks so easy when you see the third-year international students, because they all seem settled down and have already built their communities. They are all incredibly fluent in English while you still take your time to construct your sentences in the most grammatically perfect way not to be judged by native speakers, and sometimes give up on speaking up because you are exhausted of overthinking.

I get it.

I moved to Boston from a country where America is only known for its fast food, huge cars, and “drive thrus.” Maybe also for TV ads of prescribed medications (like seriously?).

Even though I traveled abroad a bunch, lived in different countries and went to an English medium university, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with my new first language. I still remember the first time I landed at Boston Logan Airport and not understanding a word the security guy said to me. I was freaking out about writing a scientific article or a textbook chapter in English. The first research group meeting I attended was a nightmare – leaving aside the scientific content of the discussions, I could barely understand the language that they spoke. There is a difference between “native speakers who speak English” and “internationals who speak English.”

Language shock is not even the first challenge you face when you move in from another country. Yes, we live in a more global age and all of us are exposed to other cultures and understandings, but this does not necessarily mean that we will immediately adjust and things will go smoothly. There are so many small cultural differences and nuances, such as different gender roles, work ethics, and gestures that are not visible at first. You will learn how to write e-mails, how to flirt, or what to say someone who has lost a significant other in another language. Health insurance, contracts, financial agreements, leases; all these small things work differently, and now you have to read everything before pressing “I agree to the terms and conditions.” It is like learning how to walk again, although you thought you had expertise in it. On top of all these challenges, there is also the time you realize you came to this country all by yourself and you have to make friends and build your own community to survive.

The first big step to take is to accept the fact that you will need to put in effort. You probably will not find yourself in your perfect friend group spontaneously without making the first move. Luckily, Boston is such a diverse and international city. It is easy to blend in. It might feel strange or new to hang out with people with different backgrounds at the beginning, but Bostonians have been doing this for such a long time. Plus, you speak their language! This makes a huge difference because if you were to move in another country where the first language is not English, it would be much more difficult to befriend locals. Despite the fact that they can speak English if they want to, people will hardly give up on the comfort of speaking their first language to have you around. Are you not confident about your accent? Well, think about it as an ice breaker because you will notice that the question “where is your accent is coming from?” is a classic pickup line. So, own it!

There is a metaphor I really like: it is called “Peach People vs Coconut People.” You can look it up for more details, but briefly, it defines certain people as “peach people” and others  as “coconut people”. Peach people are easy to approach, love small talk, yet they still have the core that they will only share with their core group of friends or significant others (this does not mean that you will never be a part of it). Coconut people are the opposite, with an annoyed resting face; but once you get to know them, they are ready to tell you about their aunt’s new boyfriend or why they chose a particular medicine. Just remember that people will be different, and keep this in mind to understand different reactions when approaching others and getting to know them.

Obviously, it is easier to connect with other expats. You will receive plenty of e-mails from Tufts International Center about upcoming events – attend them. If you want to bond with people from your country, find their communities and show up at their gatherings. But please remember that balance is the key. Keep your conversations and friend groups diverse. Of course you will feel homesick and will need your own people, but try not to call home every time you find yourself in this situation. Actually, you know what? You will soon realize that you see home in a different light. It will take time, but once you get there home will not be “where your heart is,” but instead might be where you can connect to the VPN.

Last but not least, know what you like to do and keep doing more of it. Pursue your hobbies and find others who share the similar interests. If you like scuba diving, become a member of New England Divers. If you enjoy photography, go take a course about it and meet others who enjoy it too. Do you need people to hike together? Just invite them and get to know each other during the hike while there is no distraction except the nature.

Do not forget that flux has no season in a diverse and international city like Boston. People come and go all the time. They all feel like a fish out of water at the beginning. Everybody needs friends and there is not a “more normal” thing than the desire of being a part of a community. Just be yourself, show up and bring your beautiful unique accent and slightly broken English with you wherever you go! 

Moving to Tufts

Written by Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017

      Bucket List Item: Attend Graduate School in or near Boston. Fall 2015: Check!
      Ever since high school, I dreamed of moving to Boston as an undergraduate student. Unfortunately, many people told me that I would not be able to afford the cost of living and that I would be better off moving to another region in the United States. Taking advice, I listened to them and did not apply to any universities in my dream city. Instead, I attended a university in the south of Ohio but every so often fantasized of my time in Boston. After four and a half years of undergraduate study and two degrees under my belt, I was determined to make it happen. When it came time to apply for graduate school, I applied to Tufts and two other schools, and all of them were in the Boston area. Once again, I was reminded that I would not be able to afford or manage the Boston housing market as turnover is very quick and I would be navigating the tricky market from a distance. But I got into Tufts, and look where I am!

First off, if you are considering applying to Tufts, but you are concerned about the housing market – do it anyway. Tufts is located outside of Boston, in Somerville/Medford. You’ll make it work if you really want to be here! And sure, you may find it a little stressful and realize that you need to put some time in to figuring out the resources as well as the options, but it’ll all be okay. I started looking with some other students in March and secured a place by May. It didn’t happen overnight, but it all happened. Where do I begin? Let me guide you through the Boston area housing market with some advice:

1. Connect with your department and see if there is any ongoing communication regarding housing among current graduate students as well as prospective graduate students.

2. Use the University resources. Tufts’ Office of Residential life has information for Off-Campus Housing! They have even done most of your research for you and can give you access to a list of available housing.

3. When you’re admitted, the Office of Graduate Admissions will provide access to a forum as well as a Shared Wiki. Here you can discuss with other Tufts graduate students, also looking for roommates, about the housing availability near Medford. I found two roommates from the Biology department through this forum, who ended up being some of my closest friends at Tufts! One of them is from Montana and the other one is from Virginia. We both cracked the housing market together and found a three bedroom on a street near the Tufts’ gym for only $2,100 a month! This is the most ideal situation, as you want to live close to campus where the majority of Tufts students are located! Otherwise, you might have to drive/walk/take the T to campus in this:
4. Another option is searching through Craigslist. I know what you are thinking, but you’re intelligent and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a scam and a real listing! You may also stumble upon other Tufts graduate students also searching for housing which is how I met one of my friends from the history department. Although we couldn’t get ourselves together for a housing option, she understood and we continued to be friends throughout graduate school. And we still joke to this day about how we met.

5. Be prepared to have at least the first month’s rent, a security deposit (one month’s rent), and the Boston broker’s fee (one month’s rent). Some places even require last month’s rent. In other words, if you are looking to rent a room for $700, be prepared to have $2,800 and celebrate if you aren’t required to pay the broker’s fee. When thinking about the broker’s fee, consider it as part as your monthly rent. If your rent and broker’s fee are both $700, divide $700 by 12 months and consider it an extra $59 as part of your monthly rent that you must pay upfront.

6. I highly recommend looking for two other roommates from Tufts, so that you are on the same schedule for leasing an apartment. The housing market isn’t so bad. There is constant turnover and if you start looking in April and feel a little worried about finding a September 1st lease, there are always options for an August 1st Moreover, sometimes there are more options for August 1st than September 1st. And who wouldn’t want to have a month to themselves, exploring Boston sights such as these…

Copley Square, in front of the Boston Public Library

Skyline view from East Boston

One of my favorite places: Boston Public Garden

You won’t regret moving to Boston. You’ll see the beauty and charm of the city, convenience of the public transportation, learning opportunities at cultural centers, and the affordability of a city frequently travelled. Sure, you may have stressful days during the search but you’ll see – you will find a place that you are able to afford too!