15 Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to DC

First up: Wonderful responses to hurry up vegan! Glad you liked the pasta dish, and can’t wait to do more of these posts. In all of the excitement about my pasta, I missed an important anniversary: yesterday marked one whole month since my move to DC. I made it! In honor of my first full month as a District resident (and NYC away from home), I’ve compiled a little list of the most important things I’ve learned since arriving.

New place are exciting.


I’ve never thought of myself as a person who likes new things. New people, new jobs, new places, new experiences—sure, I understand why it’s healthy to welcome them into one’s life, but that doesn’t mean I run after them. I like the things I like for a reason.

As I get older, though, I realize that my love of all things familiar is increasingly giving way to another force, which is my love of  new beginnings. As daunting as it was to leave publishing this year, I’m enjoying the clean slate, and I’m also excited about the fact that a career in medicine will offer me so many other fresh starts (the start of med school; the start of residencies or fellowships; the start of each relationship with a new patient). DC feels like a fresh start, too. I’m enjoying the novelty of new streets, new sights, new conveniences, and new yoga studios. I didn’t necessarily expect to relish all of this novelty, but I’m relishing it just the same.

Life outside of NYC is a little easier.


Yes, New Yorkers, it’s true. I know you pride yourselves on choosing the thrill of being in the middle of everything over the bourgeois desire for things like square footage, clean subways, low rents, and reasonably priced groceries. I know you’re happy to preference the savvy and eccentricity of New Yorkers over all of the fabled friendliness of people outside of NYC. (Actually, I think it’s kind of a myth that New Yorkers aren’t friendly: we’re very friendly. We’re also very busy. Sue us.) I know you would choose the NYC zipcode over all of the “quality of life” in the world.

But when you’re a student, and you’re poor, and you’re in a program that feels like running a marathon to you on a good day, convenience and kindness and little improvements in your quality of life each and every day are appreciated. It’s nice to pay less rent and have a little more space. It’s nice to deal with a school administration that’s helpful and invested in making your life easier. It’s nice to have a backyard. Would I choose these niceties over the indescribable thrill of being in NYC forever? Maybe not, but I appreciate them a lot right now.

It’s good to be proactive.


Since coming to DC, I’ve hunted down writers, journalists, old friends, family, and new friends like a woman on a mission. Why? Because it’s important for me to connect with book/writing culture (a huge part of my life in New York), and it’s important for me to have a circle of friends I cherish.

I’ve also reached out to some local eating disorder awareness groups and non-profits about volunteering, and I’m lined up for some exciting research work in two local hospitals. I’ve found a yoga studio or two that I adore, I’ve gotten to know Yates Field House, I’ve tried some vegan-friendly restaurants, and I’ve found a couple of daily walks that make me happy.

I haven’t wasted a moment, in other words, in finding activities, people, and places that excite me. And if you move, you shouldn’t either.

Don’t compare other places to NYC.


There’s really no point comparing anyplace else to New York. New York, like all great cities, has character and personality that can’t be summed up by it’s parts. You can’t sit around hoping that if you find a particular restaurant that reminds you of one in NYC, or see an NYC band perform, or find some NYC expats, you’ll suddenly feel as though NYC has come to you. If it were easy to replicate the experience of living there, New York devotees wouldn’t be quite so stubbornly devoted.

What I’ve found, though, is that a big part of my happiness here in DC is because I don’t compare the city to NYC. Instead, I focus upon the things DC offers me that NYC can’t offer me. DC is greener than NYC. It’s a better city for runners. It’s more temperate. It’s less costly. It’s closer to outdoorsy stuff: hiking, biking, etc. It feels a little like living in a park. And it’s home to a number of organizations (PCRM, PETA, COK, and so on) that I admire.

Most of all, I could never wake up in NYC, exit my cozy looking, cottage-like dwelling, sip coffee and do my studies in a back yard that’s quiet and private. Not at this age, anyway. DC gives me a lot of things I couldn’t have back at home, and I’m grateful for them.

It’s good to make new friends.


I’m lucky enough to have a lot of lifelong friends, but I also love to meet new people. Living in DC has brought me a lot closer to fellow bloggers whom I’ve been connected to virtually for years. And it’s introduced me to some new, non-blogging friends, too. I’m excited about these new relationships, and thankful for them.

Post-Baccs rock.


If there’s one thing my DC and NYC academic experiences share, it’s evidence aplenty that post-bacc students are a legit group. It takes guts, I think, to quit whatever job you’ve settled into in your mid or late twenties, commit to another 7 years of school, and brave foreign topics in classrooms full of peppy eighteen-year-olds. Not surprisingly, the men and women who make that choice tend to be driven, focused, and really committed to the idea of helping people. I love my new post-bacc peers, just as I loved my peers at Columbia.

Outdoor dining beats indoor dining. Period.

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It’s OK to ask for help.


I like to think of myself as someone who’s capable of handling anything. I pride myself of efficiency and savvy, on productivity and organization. I value my independence above almost anything else. It’s hard for me to admit when things are getting messy, or reach out when I need a hand.

As I’ve mentioned before, moving to DC has been nothing but a humbling exercise in asking for help. And fortunately, I’ve had friends nearby who answered that call with grace and generosity: Kathy, Valerie, Katie and Andrea have been right by my side when things felt confusing or new, and I’m so grateful to them for their friendship!

Home decorating is fun.


I haven’t decorated in a long time, but putting the hobbit House together has proven to be a very fun and consuming challenge. In part because I don’t have the familiarity of NYC at my fingertips, this is the first time I’ve really poured a lot of personality into a living space, and I love what it has yielded:

New York vegans are lucky ducks.


DC vegans are lucky too—let me begin this one on a positive note. We have Great Sage, Sticky Fingers, and we have Sweet Green. We also have each other:

IMG_6734 (525x350)

But I’m sorry to say that there’s simply no beating the NYC vegan dining scene. From ice cream to pressed juice bars, raw food to macrobiotics, comfort food to haute cuisine, take out to garden dining, NYC has it all in the way of vegan restaurants. New York veggie lovers, appreciate the dining options at your fingertips. It’s one of the many reasons you’re lucky to be where you are.

Sometimes a change is necessary.


When I quit my job this year and committed to the post-bacc, I was motivated and excited, but I had no idea how hard my program would be. I was also distracted by a long distance relationship, overwhelmed by the novelty of being back in school, and unaccustomed to organizing my time without a desk job to do it for me. I performed decently, but not as well as I’d like, and I have to attribute some of that to feeling distracted and out of focus.

Arriving at Georgetown has given me a whole new sense of motivation and commitment to my program. I prefer the post-bacc program here, which helps, but I think the move also helped me to re-focus, and it galvanized me to do better and work harder than before. The road ahead is still long, but the new scenery is helping.

I’m a New Yorker…

…but I’m not only a New Yorker.

image(Photo and intro photo courtesy of Kathy)

Moving to DC has affirmed that, no matter how deeply I identify with the city of my birth, I’m not only an NYC kid. The things that make me who I am—my passions, my interests, my sensibility, my humor—thrive and flourish in New York, but they’re just as vibrant outside of the city. It’s nice to be reminded that I can create a life for myself—a rich and happy life—anywhere.

New cities mean free stuff.


I plan on doing a post soon about my rekindled love affair with yoga thanks to Down Dog Yoga, but the immediate point is that I’ve gotten to do some free classes at both studios because I’m new to the city.

All fitness places offer some sort of introductory rate for new clients, and part of the fun of being in a new place is exploring what it has to offer by way of fitness, museums, spas, etc. I’m taking advantage of DC’s many fitness offerings (this is a very athletic town), and I hope to do some reviews as I go along!

Beyond that, I’m psyched to explore the city’s free museums, not to mention it’s many student deals for performing arts.

The world really is shrinking.


In spite of the few adorable birthday cards and welcome notes I got in the mail, I can’t imagine having made this move without email, gchat, skype, and so on. They’ve absolutely closed up what would otherwise feel like a vast distance between me and my NYC friends. As weird as it is not to hop on the crosstown bus every time I’m in the mood for a movie with my friend Gabi, or trot down to the 72nd street Starbucks every time I want coffee with my friend Allison, or meet my friend Tom at some downtown bar or other for a spontaneous drink, I feel pretty close to everyone so far—especially my Mom, who’s the most important friend of all.

Thank goodness for the internet: if blogging isn’t already daily proof of why I’m lucky to live in the digital age, this move surely is.

Not a bad list, eh? What are some lessons you’ve learned from moving in the past? I’d love to hear what being in a new place taught you!


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  1. I just wanted to say thanks for this post – even though I’m a bit late reading it. I moved to DC from TX a few days ago and just got internet access yesterday. This is the farthest I’ve ever lived from home, and it is *crazy* different than what I’m used to (read: humidity being reasonable, Whole Foods being drive-to-able…), so it really helped me to read your reflections on moving here. I’ve also found so far that people are mostly really friendly, more so than I expected (I’d been warned people like their space more than in the south), but maybe that depends on effort or attitude? Also, thanks for the recommendations on yoga places – I’m going to try those out, and Java Green too! Hope your mind marathon is treating you okay. 😉

  2. Congrats on your move and I’m so happy that you are getting along so well with DC. I completely agree and relate to all of your points. The only thing I can suggest is to go for walks every day or night (this only really works if you live in a city). Try to get lost and then find your way home. I have found so many interesting little shops and restaurants this way!

    I am truly envious of your ability to connect with people so easily and find friends in new cities. I moved from Philadelphia to Portland, OR about 2 years ago and I really had trouble making friends. I just left Portland to come to Charlotte, NC for a few months and I left without ever making any real friends in Portland. Now I feel so alone in Charlotte! Can you share some tips on how to make genuine friends in new cities even when you are an anti-social loser like myself?

  3. So happy for you that adjusting to your new city has gone so smoothly. I just love your little hobbit house! Could not be cuter!

    I especially relate your point about being proactive. I’ve lived on both coasts, in 3 different cities, 3 different NYC boroughs and in 9 different apartments since leaving college! Also, my work takes me to various places around the country for big chunks of time. If I wasn’t proactive about meeting people and getting to know the different areas, I’d be one lonely girl! Awesome lessons, Gena!

  4. I’m so glad you’re enjoying DC. I live in VA, went to school in DC, and spend as much time there as I can. It’s one of my favorite cities (as is NYC), but it holds a special place in my heart. I’m also glad you like Java Green! It a favorite of mine 🙂

  5. I absolutely LOVE this post! Great points – and yes, it’s definitely not fair to compare any other city to NYC. It’s too different and, to me, a world of its own.

    If I ever get back to DC – meet up? 🙂

  6. This is an incredible list — most probably because I think that a lot of what you’re saying is applicable to things other than moving. Transitions in general, I suppose. I need to keep these ideas in mind while I’m living in France — it has been a bit scary for me to be in a new place (and also a place that isn’t New York), but it is also full of lessons. I think that’s what I would add to your list: being in a new place is an opportunity to learn new things about the world! I have learned a lot about people here, and I have learned hwo important it is to stop comparing: in life, it doesn’t necessarily matter who is the smartest or the fastest or the best at X, Y, or Z. What matters is that we look around and simply connect to the people around us. Thanks for reminding me of that!

  7. Sounds like you’re fitting in nicely and making new friends. I knew you would. You’re so likable.

    Sorry I haven’t had a chance to get back to you about meeting up. I’ve been busy with the kids, especially now that my son is on summer break. Obviously, you’ve been busy, too. Hope you can make it to that meet up Bitt is trying to organize. At the moment, I plan on going.

    I bet you’ve been whipping up the soft serve lately, as it’s been hot out here. I actually made my banana-based split for my first video (http://rawdorable.blogspot.com/2011/06/conquering-5-in-5.html). It is so not professional, organized, edited, etc., but it shows the real mommy me. I actually entered it in the Hot Raw Chef contest. It would be an honor if you’d check it out and vote for me. Thanks 🙂

  8. As much as I love DC (and I’m glad you’re enjoying it!), I have to admit I might prefer NY. NY is def way more veggie/vegan friendly. I can’t wait for DC and Baltimore to catch up!

  9. Gena – as always, your eloquence is wonderful, as is your adaptation to living in a new city after being a lifelong New Yorker. I only lived the better part of 3 years, and I was kicking and screaming moving to DC (no, really, I was, ask my poor husband) – so your balance is truly to be admired.

    SO glad I have helped make settling here a bit easier 🙂

  10. I loved this post! As someone who is about to move from NY to DC, I’ve been getting really nervous. It’s encouraging to see that you’re settling in well!

  11. You never seize to impress and inspire me, Gena! Of course, you are wise beyond your years but beyond that, your psychological sophistication, keen instincts and grace are something to behold.

    So proud of you for applying positivity to your transition and so happy that you are now able to appreciate your take-aways.

    Go, Gena!

  12. What an inspiring post! I’m so glad you’re finding your place in DC and remembering that you’re a beautiful, vibrant person no matter where you live.

    I moved last September for a graduate program (just halfway across the state), but it took me until just a few months ago to start finding my place. My situation is a bit different because I really dislike this city, and I’m not sure my grad program is really where I want to be. But finding things I love within a city I don’t, finding a new roommate I identify with, and being positive always has really helped me to be happy somewhere I don’t really want to be. Thanks for your affirmations and reminders!

  13. I love this! SO happy you’re settling in so well. D.C. is beautiful.

    And someone who lives in New York now, I just have to say: I’m totally jealous of your YARD!!!!

  14. First of all, that was a great list. It’s great that you’re able to see the positive things such a big change brings. I wish I’d had your mindset when I moved away from home.
    When I moved to Worcester, MA (a city with a pretty thick layer of negative PR) from Madrid, Spain for college I, at first, I compared both cities constantly and Madrid always came out on top. Not that it was a fair competition, since I imagine my feelings about Madrid are similar to yours about NYC. Eventually, I learned to make the most of the city, to seek out fun and quirky little restaurants, to search for what made it special. I also made a group of local friends (people that weren’t in Worcester for college), and started to see the city through their eyes. Opening up my mind made me fall in love with the city and especially with its people.
    I moved to Durham, NC for graduate school three years ago (I feel your student pain!) and took the lesson I learned in Worcester with me — any place really is what you make of it. I believe there are wonderful things to do, places to go and great people to meet no matter where you are, it’s just a question of how hard you’ll have to work to find them.

  15. I’ve been in D.C. for almost two years since moving here (from MA) for law school, and I’m always learning new things about this wonderful city. This was a really great post and I shared it with a bunch of friends in D.C., who it’s really resonated with, too. So glad to hear you’re enjoying life here!

  16. Gena, I feel we are swimming in similar waters. I am in the process of starting over and going a through major life change. It’s scary to leave a place that is safe and financially securing, even if I know it is not the place I want to be. It takes an extreme amount of bravery to start anew. I am so glad you are finding your way, it’s inspiring. Wish me luck!


  17. Gena, I feel were swimming in similar waters. I am in the process of starting over with a new job that is completely outside my comfort zone, but something I know I will enjoy greatly. I’m leaving a safe and financially secure place, but I know where I am is not where I want to be. It takes an extreme amount of bravey to begin again in unfamiliar territories. I’m glad you are finding your way, it’s inspiring. Wish me luck! 🙂

    Chelsea – aka SoulSearchingVegan

  18. Love it! I can’t believe you’ve already been there a month–man, time does fly! And I’d say you have settled in admirably. 😀 I also can’t believe it’s less than a year since you left publishing–another way time seems to expand and contract these days! You’ve found so many fabulous things about your new home. . . makes me want to come visit DC again! And talk about green–it looks just gorgeous. Kudos for picking yourself up and going somewhere new (yes, change is good, and new beginnings!) and committing to your passion. Again. 😀

  19. Glad that your move is turning out to be a positive experience! I’ve always loved the adventure of moving, but have never been good at meeting new people and making new friends. I think you are right, that the key is to get out there right away and build a support team of people who share the same interests. If I end up moving again, I will take that advice. Thanks for showing that it is possible to have more than one home.

  20. I moved two years ago from Toronto to a smaller city in southwestern Ontario to return to school because my program sadly wasn’t offered anywhere in Toronto. My biggest lesson, ironically, is that I am blessed with amazing friends whose ceaseless support is the only reason I’ve been able to get through the last 2 very tough years.

  21. This is such a great list! Honestly, I would recommend it to anyone who is facing a new opportunity in their life and are afraid to make the leap.

    Eleven years ago I was certain of my life. I would continue working in the nonprofit sector in Chicago and my husband and I would be in Chicago for the rest of our lives. One scary / fabulous opportunity later suddenly we moved to New York (seriously, we found out about the opportunity in December and on March 1 we were New Yorkers — we had never, ever discussed moving anywhere, let alone New York. That move changed everything. Once I realized that my future wasn’t pre-determined, that I could change my heart and mind in a moment’s notice, it suddenly opened me up to change in all aspects of my life. And I learned that I was brave.

    And YOU are brave, my dear Gena!

  22. Such a sweet and thoughtful post Gena! I love that you are finding your stride in your new town, and those were some great moving tips! I think that moving is an awesome chance to re-invent yourself or parts of your life, that maybe were not how you wanted them to be in your old home. We all have patterns we want to break out of, and I think moving is one of the best tools for change! And in a new city, you can make new friends, and be a new you if you want to!

  23. Wow, this is an awesome list! I’ve never seen ‘preference’ used as a verb before–always on the watch for stuff like that.

    I’ve moved so many times, and am not ‘from’ the place I was raised, and I’ve learned that there are good, kind people everywhere. I’ve also learned, especially living in AK, that I can live ‘anywhere,’ and that the universe can throw curveballs (I was intent on settling in the tropics, in HI, and ended up here in AK!)


  24. I’ve always been a little restless and moved a lot. But it can be hard once you’ve settled in a place for awhile. I am glad you are embracing DC whole-heartedly. Volunteering and all that yoga on top of being a student and blogger? I guess I should give coffee drinking a second thought. Seems to keep you running.

    NYC is amazing but to me as for as restaurants having a few really great ones is important and having ones that listen and don’t break the bank more so than variety at least for a place to live. But when I visit, I love the options NYC offers. I never think I could live there unless it was Brooklyn which I know you don’t consider real NYC but I’d need a yard because I need dogs.

    Great insights. Had to laugh a little because Eden posted something about how bloggers love lists. Yes we do!

  25. Wonderful post, so glad you’re happy in DC. Moving to CA from FL and dragging my hubby was an adventure, I learned to be more adventurous and break from my comfort zone. And that compromises must be made!

  26. I’m glad you’re enjoying your new home! I just started med school this week (we have an optional summer course) and there are a ton of non-trads/older students here. Which is very nice! You’ll fit in very well.

    • Woohoo! Good luck — I’m in the middle of braving Chem II this summer. Glad about the non-traditional bunch 🙂

  27. I grew up just outside NYC, and have always felt so attached to the city… moving to LA for school was a CRAZY change that took a lot of adjustment. I love what you said about cities being incomparable to one another, because it’s so true! People ask me how I like LA compared to New York, and my response is always just that it’s “different”. It’s nothing I can really ever explain!

    • People who don’t really LOVE NYC can’t really understand why New Yorkers are so devoted. It’s not one fact or quality: it’s just the essence of the city itself.

  28. Ah, everything here is spot on, especially that this is a very, very athletic town. Much more so than any other place I’ve ever lived. Takes some getting used to. Glad you’ve discovered the awesome yoga communities, and I’m just glad in general that you’re finding your way here. It may feel like living in a park, but living here isn’t always a walk in the park! You always make the best of opportunities. Also, you put up with my dad jokes.

    • It’s weird, I’m such a workout and fitness fanatic, but I also have a knee jerk dislike of athletic types. Totally unfair, totally true. I feel like I’m living in a city of jocks.

  29. You’re never coming back! What do you mean clean subways? Have you seen the MTA lines? They’re sparkling!

    All joking aside. I loved reading this post. I am so happy to see how well you’ve adjusted. I can’t believe how many niches you have already tapped into–on top of the whole doctor school thing.

    You get an A+ for thriving in a new town, Dr. Hamshaw.

    • Did you know you’re not allowed to eat on the subways here? Eat. Yes. It’s so insane. I’ll take the roaches in exchange for a snack, thanks.

  30. I agree so so much. Being proactive, asking for help, and eating outdoors are the biggest ones. I need to stop procrastinating, and stop waiting for others to realize that I am in need of help!

  31. I’m so glad you’re here! Although I’m a veteran of new beginnings, I know how daunting they can be. I’ll make and adventure junkie out of you yet;) Just wait until we hit the arts scene.

  32. I love this list! Moving to DC from Cambridge involved a somewhat similar list of adjustments… including the crucial realizations that [i] DC is not anything except itself, and comparing it with NY or Cambridge is an exercise in futility; [ii] I am a native New Yorker and adopted Bostonian, but I’m not only that–and I can carve out a place for myself in a new city and appreciate what it has to offer.

    Also, the Hobbit House looks adorable! 🙂

  33. Oh Gena, this post is just chock full of great insights and totally honest prose.

    I am so happy for you that you have branched out from your beloved NYC and are thriving. Meeting new people, deepening relationships, trying out new yoga studios (yay for that! and free on top of it!), to trying new restaurants to learning new things about yourself, and being able to ask for help and having a few humbling moments..I love all your honesty and thanks for sharing it all.

    “But I’m sorry to say that there’s simply no beating the NYC vegan dining scene.”– I would also say that ppl assume SoCal is a mecca for vegans restaurants and although there are lots and it’s better than many other areas, I think NYC holds the title on that one. Just my opinion only though 🙂

    What have i learned about moving? Well, I have moved 10x in the past 10 yrs and just got some news that I am not happy about. More to come on that.

    But I have learned from one of my last move that just b/c home ownership is possible in a certain city b/c it’s cheaper, home ownership is not the end all-be all. I’d rather rent in a city I adore than own in a city I hated. It was a MAJOR life lesson on all levels for me from emotional to financial.

    I heart San Diego. Period.


  34. Aww I like this! It’s funny, I tend to crap on DC a lot but then get really defensive when people bash it. All in all, DC has a lot going for it and living here is pretty good, despite my occasional gripes. Did you read that WaPo article about NYC expats bonding together? It was pretty funny and generated a lot of outrage/amusement. It sounds like you are really embracing the city, however, not sitting around pining for what you used to have with other NYC expats.

    Oh man, lessons learned from moving… well, I don’t know if this really counts as moving but I studied abroad in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. Moving from the US to a chaotic capital of a developing nation was a shock to the system, but SUCH a welcomed one. Nairobi is a truly insane, crazy, overcrowded, overpolluted city and I grew to love it, warts and all. Living in Nairobi taught me that no matter how challenging my surroundings, I have the power to cultivate inner stability in the midst of daily uncertainty.

    • Agreed — DC has a lot to offer, even if it also contains way too many skirt suits and Ann Taylor Loft stores.

  35. Such a great post. Glad you’re liking life in DC, specifically Gtown! I spent four years going to high school at Georgetown Visitation. It’s also really inspiring to hear that you have a renewed commitment to your Post Bacc. As a theatre major, I am going into the business full throttle, but I am considering Post Bacc for Physical Therapy as my Plan B. Watching you continue on your journey is truly an inspiration!

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