Let’s say that my first impression of San Francisco wasn’t at all that great. It started with me, arriving at a strange airport with no one around to pick me up.
My eyes scoured the people at the baggage area. No one looks even the slightest bit similar to the thumbnail photo on the email. No handheld signs written with “Sabrina” or anything that could possibly refer to me.
Well, the plane was delayed for half an hour. Did the person who was supposed to pick me up give up and left? I started to worry.
I sent a message to the number I was given. 15 minutes passed by with no response.
Being the adventurer I was, I decided, why not go find that BART train that I’ve been reading up on? Not that I know exactly which stop I will be on, but let’s figure that one out when I arrived at …. Daly City! That’s a familiar name. Yeah, let’s go to Daly City and get a taxi from there.
Fumbling around with the ticket machine, got a ticket amidst the wind that decided to pick up, that was my orientation to the Bay Area Trains, also known as BART.
I didn’t know that the homestay I was moving into was halfway up the hill. Google Earth has tricked me! was my bemused thought as the taxi arrived at my destination, which of course looks familiar yet not familiar as I have looked through the online photos.
My homestay host was glad to see me, because apparently the person who was supposed to pick me up was still at the airport waiting!
But all was well as she drove over, and we finally met and went to purchase a US number and some Mexican dinner.
I have to say, San Francisco was unbelievably cold those first few nights. For a person who comes from the tropics, it might as well be winter. The first full four days was foggy and windy, and I didn’t even have to go into work yet. Maybe being able to go to work would have been better, since I would be fully occupied. And possibly warm.
For my first day, my community mentor took me for a real tourist outing – to the Fisherman’s Wharf. Since parking was so difficult in San Francisco, we parked at the top of the hill, and walked down, which seemed to take forever for a woman who comes from a city that is just flat. And of course, when you’re down, you have to climb up again to get to the car!
Definitely I think my biggest challenge for this fellowship would be hills. But the more hills I conquer, the stronger I will get. I hope.
The second day onwards, I have to discover San Francisco all by myself. I went to the California Academy of Sciences, I discovered a bit more about the area where I was staying in, where the nearest grocery store was. And I learned about another area because I was looking for a tillandsia (which I didn’t know the existence of before) for a gift for my school friend who was having a bridal shower.
In my mind, I keep remembering 12 years ago, when I was a student in Brisbane. How much I loved the place, and how I much I loved discovering what Brisbane has to offer. San Francisco is in some ways, like Brisbane, except for the large numbers of homeless people.
However, it’s so much easier making friends when you are student. It does not apply to my current situation.
For example, when I was a student, even though I was new to a strange city then, at least I was surrounded with people who were in the same boat – all wanting to explore, and it was for sure you’d find a buddy or two or even ten.
But what I do have now are workmates, all who have built their lives in San Francisco. And a friend whom I just reconnected with after 21 years, and the people I met at her bridal shower.
And then there’s Meetup and Eventbrite.
At the end of my very first day of work, I thought I would go and check out a Toastmasters Club and network there. It was interesting to see the differences in how they conduct meetings compared to back home. But I didn’t get to meet any friends there. I also didn’t want to stay too long as I was in some place I wasn’t familiar with and I wanted to make sure I knew how to get home.
The next week, I decided to get smart and leverage on all interesting events I can find on Meetup and Eventbrite. It just so happened that there were two women-related events happening which I had to pay a small fee for.
The first event, was a networking event for women in product management and was held in the LinkedIn building. I did not manage to get any useful contacts from there, possibly because I was in the wrong field. The second event was for Expat Women in Google Launchpad on the topic of “Women in Business: Breaking the Glass Ceiling”, and I felt more welcome there. I at least got 2 contacts – one from a new MBA student who wanted to explore SF as well, and another, a VP of Wells & Fargo who was receptive about what I wanted to say about my practicum on paid family leave.
As with all new chapters in life, there is always a period of storms before everything slowly calms down and settles. I think the best way to find out about a new place is to be involved as much as possible with local activities that you’re interested to explore and who knows where it might lead to next?
My take is, just immerse yourself in the here and now. Let the sights, smells and sounds seep in.
As of now, I’m sitting in a cafe with a bunch of other writers, doing some real writing that I haven’t done in a while and thinking “Maybe this is a place I will like to come back to again and again”.