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Adapting to a new environment can be difficult. Especially in Africa, it takes time to get your bearings and start working towards your goals.

A friend recently commented that I seem to get things moving quickly whenever I get to a new place. She wondered how I could feel so at ease so fast, and how I had already establish a number of contacts in the area.

Despite all my travels, the first couple days in a new environment are always disorienting. I have a few methods, though, of making myself immediately more comfortable and establishing a social network from the get-go.

1. Contact friends in the area. Close friends, acquaintances, friends of friends that you’ve never met before. Regardless of who they are, send them a message and meet for a drink. Maybe you’ll hit it off, and if anything they are a reliable source of insider information.

2. Go out with co-workers. If you are working, volunteering, or studying, go out with the people you spend your days with. This will help you feel more comfortable at work, and introduce you to some friends of friends.

3. Look for common interest groups. This can be a more established group, like the Hash House Harriers, or smaller local organizations. I had great success in finding rock climbing partners who turned into friends by checking out the Mountain Club of Kenya, for example.

4. Shop locally. Find the local woman who sells chapati in your neighborhood and go there regularly. Buy your eggs from the same shop every time. Not only will you learn your way around, but you’ll start to see familiar faces and establish relationships with your neighbors.

5. Learn the language. A few simple greetings go a long way.

6. Visit organizations. If there’s an organization in the area that interests you, check it out. Show up and ask questions. Learn about how they get things done, and who they work with. Learn about not only their work, but the people behind the scenes.

7. Set dates. If you want to exchange music and movies with a friend, pick a time and do it. Sooner rather than later. Start to establish your social circle at the start; don’t leave all your planning until the end of your stay.

8. Ask questions. It’s obvious, but people don’t do it enough. You’re not expected to find all the local shops and networks on your own, so ask. Ask people about everything mentioned above. Ask different people and make note of all your options. The locals are, after all, the ones who know their home the best.

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