So You’re Thinking of Moving to Canada…

Melody WarnickI would live there, Moving0 Comments

Canadian flag

Trust me. I feel your pain. When you say that a Trump presidency will make you leave the country, I’m right there with you, pondering the fact that an entire branch of my family tree hails from Nova Scotia. That means Canada kind of has to take me in, right?

We’re not alone in considering a move to the north. The number of people Googling “move to Canada” spiked 350 percent after Trump’s Super Tuesday victories. One American man who moved to Canada after George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 said, “We have no intention of going back.”

But is it as easy as all that? Here, three things you need to know before you start your visa application.

1. Moving to any new place, even if you’re just going from Alabama to New Jersey, requires a lengthy and sometimes lonely process of acculturation, or adapting to the new and possibly overwhelming culture of your new city. There may be an accent to decipher, or local vocabulary you’ve never heard before. They may say “soda” when you always say “pop.”

Your job, if you really want to fit in, is to figure out how locals do things—what they eat, what they say, where they shop—and do it too.

As one successful Canadian immigrant explains, “Canadians say ‘sorry’ a lot more than people in the U.S. do. They thank the bus driver as they get off the bus… There’s little things like that, and if you get those things right you blend in on a day-to-day level.” Another put it this way: “’Toque’ is Canadian for ‘hat.’ You need to know these things.”

In short, feeling that you belong in a different city or country is a matter of both big and little efforts to fit in. You need to accept the broad values of your new country (socialized medicine!), but you also have to learn to laugh at the jokes locals make—and find them genuinely funny.

2. Adapting to the culture of a foreign country, even one as seemingly similar as Canada, entails a monumental cultural shift that may not be worth it when you consider that, as Adam Alter points out in an elegant article from the Atlantic, your hatred of the new president is bound to subside over time. And even if it doesn’t, he/she won’t be around forever. By the time you’re hitting your place attachment stride in Canada, another president will be in the running.

3. But if you’re determined to jump ship, there’s good news: Just because you’re not originally from a place doesn’t mean you’ll never feel like you belong there. In one 2015 study, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario studied whether residents of three mid-sized Canadian cities—Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Hamilton, Ontario; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan—felt a sense of belonging in their community. A whopping 74 percent of them did. Even more surprising, the number of positive responses was about the same for immigrants and Canadian natives.

A Tamil-speaking immigrant to Saskatoon described how she knew she belonged. “Definitely, going to other cities, it is nice to look around,” she said, “but you don’t feel that that is home. . . . The thought of, oh I am living in Saskatoon, is a happy feeling.”

The caveat is that more recent immigrants were a little less likely to get that happy feeling. The study found that among participants who had lived in their city for five years or fewer, 64 percent felt a “strong” or “very strong” sense of belonging. Not bad, but among residents who had lived there between 6 and 10 years, the figure was even higher—77 percent. So if you do move, don’t expect it to feel like home immediately. It may take a while.

Only you can decide if a small-fingered lunatic (or one of his nemeses) in the White House is enough to drive you over the border. Just remember the trade-off: You’re going to have to start saying “toque” now.

Source: Peter Kitchen, Allison M. Williams, and Melissa Gallina, “Sense of Belonging to Local Community in Small-to-Medium Sized Canadian Urban Areas: A Comparison of Immigrant and Canadian-born Residents,” BMC Psychology 3, no. 28 (2015).

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Can friends make you love where you live?

Melody WarnickMoving, Place love, Placemaking, Uncategorized0 Comments


Ben Duchac/Unsplash

In 2005, my sister Heather was basically living inside her own real-life version of Friends. She and my brother-in-law were renting a two-bedroom apartment in a complex in Tustin, California, where no fewer than eight of their best friends and relatives had also taken up residence. A band of super-social newlyweds, they were hanging out all the time. Squeezing into each other’s living rooms for Settlers of Catan marathons. Coordinating Sunday dinner potlucks. Arranging playdates as the babies came along.

The one downside: They were renters. And because Southern California real estate prices were crazy, everyone knew they could never afford to buy a home there. One of the BFF couples decided to drive to Arizona and make a down payment on an affordable new house in the desert. That set off a mass exodus. Soon the entire group had picked up and resettled in the outer-ring suburbs of Phoenix, this time in their own single-family houses. Eleven years later, my sister still lives on the same block as two of her very best friends and their families. Their children have grown up together. Heather is living the dream. (Her dream, at least.)

Except for one thing: Arizona is not really Heather’s jam. I’ve seen her go pale with yearning at the sight of Pacific Northwest greenery. She’d love a little less heat and a little more color in her landscape. Like most of us, she sometimes fantasizes about moving—but she always stops herself. Because she loves her Arizona people. And her people make it impossible to leave her place.

After I posted last week about place attachment, Heather messaged me: “Not sure if it is my city I love, or the people in my city that makes it home to me. I think I could quite easily pick up and move to even another state if I wasn’t so committed to certain people. So, does that make me place attached or just people attached?”

The difference between being attached to a place and being attached to the people in it is hard to untangle, because in many ways, places ARE their residents. A town or city is largely created by the people who live there—by their personalities, by their interests, by their choices.

Plus, place attachment and social cohesion—the phrase researchers use to describe the kinds of strong social relationships we have with people around us—feed each other. One study of data from the New York City Block Booster Project examined whether 2,000 residents of Brooklyn and Queens had a sense of community. They asked questions like: Do you recognize the people who live on your block? Do your neighbors watch out for each other? Do you and your neighbors want the same things from your place?

The strongest predictor of sense of community turned out to be place attachment. In other words, when participants agreed with statements like “I think my block is a good place for me to live,” “I feel at home on this block, and “I expect to live on this block for a long time”—signifiers of attachment—they generally also knew, liked, and watched out for the people who lived there with them.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Does place attachment make us like our neighbors? Or does liking our neighbors make us feel more attached to our place? Functionally speaking, a sense of social cohesion with the people who live in your city is as happiness-inducing as loving the city itself. For all intents and purposes, they feel the same way.

When we have a strong social network in our town—when we throw communal potlucks, chat with our neighbors, join the adult rugby team—we tend to feel happier and more engaged where we live in all the ways that lead to place attachment. On the other hand, when we feel lonely in our city or annoyed by the people we interact with every day, it’s incredibly difficult to fall in love with our place.

I’m nowhere near as social as my sister. (Honestly, her situation sounds like a bit of an introvert’s nightmare.) That’s okay, because there are plenty of other ways to become place attached, many of which I cover in my book This Is Where You Belong.

You don’t have to do game nights and potlucks. Inevitably, though, developing decent relationships with friends and neighbors has to be part of the place attachment equation.

For Heather, loving her Arizona people probably functions the same as loving her city in Arizona. She can’t imagine living anywhere else right now. That’s a win for putting down roots.

Source: D. Adam Long and Douglas D. Perkins, “Community Social and Place Predictors of Sense of Community: A Multilevel and Longitudinal Analysis,” Journal of Community Psychology 35, no. 5 (2007): 563-81.

Originally published at my Psychology Today blog.

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How much do you love your city?

Melody WarnickPlace love0 Comments

Austin Texas

Tell your friends in Iowa that you’re moving to Austin, Texas, and they squee with a weird combo of joy and jealousy. They maybe get misty-eyed, or tell you how lucky you are. “Austin is a great city,” they say solemnly. “You’ll love it.” Hear this enough times and eventually you become a believer. Moving to Austin makes us the luckiest family on earth. Obviously.

Never had a place been so well-hyped in advance of a new resident’s arrival as Austin was when my family moved there in 2010. And I’m just going to come out and say it: Everyone was right. Austin IS a great city. I mean, the tacos, people. Alamo Drafthouse. Reading a book on the back patio in February. What’s not to love?

And yet for all these fantastic qualities, it never quite felt like home to us. Two years later we were moving again, looking for a town that would–although if Austin didn’t do it, I was pretty sure my husband and I were broken inside. What were we expecting to experience, anyway? Pure adoration? I couldn’t quite figure it out, until I learned about place attachment.

What is place attachment? It’s a love for your city, a belief that this, right here, is your place. It’s a sense of local belonging. It’s an emotional bond based on mutual history, responsibility, and affection.

You probably haven’t heard of it. Neither had I until a few years ago, when, after yet another semi-disastrous move to a new city, I started doing some research and eventually discovered that place attachment matters in a huge way to our physical and emotional well-being. What I learned so drastically changed how I thought about where I was living that I wrote a book about it, called This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live (which comes out June 21, 2016, from Viking; you can preorder it now right here).

So how do you know whether you’re truly attached to the place you live now? Start by answering these three basic questions:

  1. Does where you live say a lot about who you are as a person?
  2. If you could move anywhere right now, would you stay in your town?
  3. Does your city feel like home?

Read the rest of this post over at my new Psychology Today blog.

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Some people look for a beautiful place.

Melody WarnickPlace love, Placemaking0 Comments

Some people look for a beautiful place.

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