Strangers: 5 ways being in a new town can be a rewarding challenge

Hi, I’m new here.

We stick out like sore thumbs.

It might be the Colorado plates, or the dog, or that we walk around everywhere (usually with said dog), but this town is small enough that it’s obvious we are new.

There are no sidewalks.

There are no bike lanes.

The grocery stores leave much to be desired, but that’s another blog entry in itself.  We feel like we live away from everything, on the edge of town (if you even want to call it a town).  The second we pulled up to our apartment, Josh and I both wanted to leave.  The first day moving in, everything out of our mouth was a complaint.

The truth is: we were spoiled in Fort Collins.  We moved from California to a smaller city that is on numerous top 10 lists for best places to live.  And now, we’re in Kent, a place that probably has never made it on a top 10 list in its 100+ year existence.

And then on Sunday, we went to church.  They were sending a missions team off to the Dominican Republic, and as we were praying for them, the pastor read from the book of Joshua.

This is my command—be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged.  For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

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Every once in a while, God punches you in the gut right when you need it.

So, we made a decision.  We gave ourselves a week to make introductions with Kent, shake hands with the city, get over the culture shock of the Midwestern countryside, and try to find a routine.  We worked to make our apartment more like a haven and a home (yet still missing a couch).  I unfollowed the Coloradoan on Twitter, deleted all Fort Collins related accounts on Instagram, and started following Kent and Ohio accounts like ohioexplored.

And we went outside.  A lot.

We went to Downtown Kent, discovered the best Chai latte this side of the Mississippi (Lavender Chai!) at Tree City Coffee, which we have been to at least 3 times now.

Found numerous epic parks (none within walking distance of where we live, but we won’t complain because the views make up for it).

Discovered Kent’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.

And in doing so, we have started to adjust to life outside of Colorado.  I’m by no means a master, and I may still be a bit homesick for bike lanes and the Poudre river, but my tricks have helped and the Cuyahoga is growing on me.

So, for the movers and strangers like us, here’s some tips to shake off homesickness and adapt to your new surroundings:

Reserve judgement.

Like I said, the first day we moved in, we were complaining.  We came to Kent and arrived at our apartment a back way, so we didn’t go through the town at all.  Don’t allow yourself to form an opinion of your new home based on a first impression.  For every complaint, say one good thing.  I don’t like that there are no sidewalks in my neighborhood, but we live right next to a bog!

Be a tourist.

Use Google and local guides to introduce yourself to your city.  Find out where to go for coffee, groceries, etc. but remember that you are still exploring and your habits may change.  The roads you’re taking now may be ones that you will never drive down in 2 months.

Be friendly.

Most likely, you might not know anyone where you are moving, so on your first day (while you’re sweaty carrying boxes), make an effort to say hi to your new neighbors.  They can be a great resource for information, and who knows, you might even have something in common.

Don’t compare.

Your new home will be different from where you came from.  Sometimes very much so.  It’s okay.  It may be hard at first to avoid comparing the old town to the new one but try.  Comparison leads to discontent.

Be courageous!

Get involved in the community.  Join a church, book club, sports team, etc.  Find a way to get connected and feel like a part of your new town.  You might find that people here aren’t so different than anywhere else.

Moving Cross-Country: My Dashboard Confessional

If the Beatles were American, “The Long and Winding Road” would be a completely different song.  Those highways are boringly straight and it makes moving cross-country mind-numbing.  The only exciting part was when we had a bird run into our car and go up in a puff of feathers, and we hadn’t even left Colorado yet.

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Bye Fort Collins

I will say, driving through Nebraska was one of my favorites, simply because they had a bunch of windmill farms, and plenty of historical sites regarding westward expansion and native Americans.  We stayed the night in Omaha and both think it would be a cool city to visit. By day 2 in the car, we all had a system, even Sherlock, who had the backseat all to himself in his hammock. He enjoyed watching the horses and cows out the window, and dreaming of squirrels.

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He did well in the hotel rooms too, although at first he would try to bark when a door slammed or he heard someone walk by.  He was a bit skittish and would hide under the desk or sink.  He was also not eating as much, normal dog stuff for an animal on the move and out of routine.

We finally made it to Kent, Ohio on day 3, after 22 hours of driving, 2 time zone changes, and 1 Amish buggy sighting.

Fort Collins Colorado Ohio Kent Moving Mathonthemove Cross country roadrtrip Dog travel
I think we might stick out like a sore thumb.


We did it. We jammed our possessions into a six foot box and it’s off to Ohio a week before us.

Not only did we do it, we did it crazy fast.  We planned for two days to pack and  load the cube(s), expecting it to leave on Wednesday.  We had everything packed by Sunday.

Today, we rented a u-haul, filled that bad boy up, moved everything to ABF and then unloaded the u-haul and proceeded to fill our cube. We had every intention of using 2 cubes, but we only ended up needing one, which is a great feeling.  It probably helps that I am so good at throwing things away. 

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So since it’s all done earlier than expected, it’ll arrive earlier than expected. Which I guess is a good thing. In the meantime we are camping on an air mattress, eating pizza and playing board games on the floor.

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It’s a strange feeling seeing your worldly possessions fit into such a small space.  It’s a good reminder that 1. You don’t need a lot to live off and 2. things are just things.

Today’s stats:

1 busted pinky finger

1 split lip

3 bloody knuckles

1 sunburn

2 pairs of sore arms and legs

1 grateful wife that’s married to a mathematician who has the spatial intelligence of a Tetris master. Cube loader, PhD.

Decided: The Academic Interview Process

We know where we’re going.

We’ve known for a while now, we’ve had an inkling before we had an offer, but it’s official, and Kent, Ohio will be our new home.  I’ve already been boxing things up in anticipation, and the office has been cluttered with moving supplies.  But, you gotta make a mess to clean a mess.  We’ve been working hard to hide the boxes and put things away to make room for visitors coming to stay for graduation this week.  So as I put the packing on pause, let me tell you about our decision process.

The Academic Interview Process

Like in all job searching, searching for a job in academia is a process, and it works on a specific schedule.  Due to the school schedule, most first-round interviewing starts as early as January or February, typically with a phone or Skype interview.    This may happen more than once per school, with different people within the department.  If you get lucky you will be invited to the school for an on-campus interview, where you will most likely be asked to teach a class or give a lecture.

The on-campus interview is a day scheduled with multiple interviews within the department, talking to multiple people individually or in conference.  Bring water and throat lozenges because you’ll never remember a time you’ve talked so much before in your life.  By April or May, you’ll hope to hear back from a school with an offer for employment, which will start in August.

It’s nearly a 6 month process to find a job in academia, all while finishing up your doctorate, sending out applications, doing interviews, and fielding questions from relatives asking if you have a job yet.  Once you get the offers, you need to consider each one.  The point of a postdoc position for a mathematician is to allow yourself to build up a reputation in your field by doing research.  These positions typically will last for 2-3 years and will mainly be research positions, but might require the employee to teach a few classes each semester.  Postdoctoral research is very important because it will set the foundation for future funding and tenured positions within academic fields.

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Considering Factors

We had to take these factors into consideration when making our decision.  But most of all, we had to do what was best for our family.  Did we want to accept a job that might have paid more, but was farther away, involved more work and less time for research?  It might sound good on paper, but in the long run, it could have been detrimental to career and relationships.  If you are an unmarried PhD student, go for it. Live your best life.  But there are some of us in the world of academia that would prefer to live our best life with our spouses (and dog), so that’s what we are doing.

The worst decision to make is to not make one.  Whatever you decide, make sure you make your choice wisely.  Always talk to your partner about the choices you make regarding your family.  It’s not my job we are moving for, but I am fully invested in this life and I get a say in every decision we make (especially veto power); that’s what a partnership is about.

The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8

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Purge Before you Pack

When we moved to Fort Collins six years ago, we put everything we owned into our car and drove 16 hours from California. Since then, we acquired a few more items (including a dog).  We’ve also been throwing out a few more items, mainly in anticipation of the move.

The great thing about moving is purging.  I love throwing things away.  There’s a freedom in empty space.  (I highly encourage everyone to watch the Minimalism documentary on Netflix).

Break up with your stuff

There is so much stuff that we hoard that we don’t use or need and we keep it for what purpose? The only joy we get from it is when we donate it.  It’s time for some spring cleaning.

Things you need to ask yourself when you are going through your items:

  1. Does this item serve a purpose in my life?
  2. Is this item useful and convenient to me? Is it saving me time?
  3. Do I get joy out of this item?
  4. Is this item in good condition? (seriously, how much stuff do we keep that’s broken, ripped, etc?)
  5. Do I have another item that does the same thing?

mathonthemove how to purge before packing

How/What to Toss:

  1.  Start in one room.  Focus on one area of your home and go through that room corner by corner, drawer by drawer.
  2. Pare down your supplies. Do you need 5 sets of scissors, 50 pens? Probably not.
  3. Backup all your music/discs, etc onto an external hard drive.
  4. Donate books to your library (unless they are Harry Potter books. Those can stay).
  5. Check your medicine cabinet and bathroom for expired goods. Toss makeups/hair products, etc. that are expired, unused.
  6. YOUR CLOSET! Oh my goodness, your closet.  So many people look at their closet and then pass out, run away, cry, hide, etc. Project 333 will save your life.  This is what my closet looks like:   you can learn more about my love for Project 333 in my Throw it all Away post (are you seeing a theme here? Because I am!).purge before you pack

When we clean out, we are physically cleaning and donating items to people in need, serving our community and doing good.  But we are also cleaning out and creating space in our homes and lives for other things.  Things like relationships, conversations, peacefulness, contentment with ourselves and a feeling of peace with our situation.  The less things we have the more time we have to spend on things that really matter.


Do you have a hard time cleaning or getting rid of things?  What are your tricks for staying organized?

Stressful Schedules in Grad School

I haven’t seen my husband in a month.  He’s been around here and there, but for the most part, we are like separate entities, ships in the night, waving at each other from afar.



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I can practically hear the echo.

Separate Timelines

Let me give you the rundown of a grad student’s schedule:

  • March 13: Spring break starts. “Yay!” you might say.  “NO!!!!” Says the grad student.  This triggers the massive push to complete dissertation.  He has 3 weeks to complete it.

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  • March 14: Skype interview
  • March 16-19: Math conference.
  • (And when he returns, he is greeted by family friends visiting from out of state.  Less time for him to get work done, but hopefully he gets to relax a bit.)
  • March 20-24: Colleague from another college is visiting.
  • March 24: Skype interview
  • March 24-27: I am gone for a work conference. 
  • March 28: Skype interview
  • March 29-30:  Math talk at Princeton
  • March 31: Skype interview
  • April 3: Birthday!!!!  He said “I’m too busy, let’s ignore my birthday until after I graduate.”
  • April 4: Skype interview
  • April 6: Turn in dissertation
  • April 6-13: Germany
  • April 14: Skype interview
  • April 16-18: On-campus interview
  • April 18-19: On-campus interview
  • April 20: Defense
  • April 20-24: Friend visits from out of state.

It is Done

Josh officially submitted his dissertation and passed his defense, he has a PhD.  He can graduate.  He is a doctor, just not the useful kind (as I like to joke).

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What’s Next

We’ve survived a crazy season and we can take a deep breath, but only for a moment.  We just need to gather enough air to swim to the same boat so we can be together, journey on, and decide where we’re going next.  Sometimes I think this is a little bit crazy.

“What are you doing this summer?”


“Oh, where are you going?”

“We don’t know yet.”


We get a lot of looks.  But there’s not a lot we can do about it right now anyway, and it’s not really our decision to make.  Whatever we decide, whatever God decides for us, we will do together,  waving at the passersby as we drive to our new destination.

I don’t have Facebook.

Yes, I am well aware that I don’t have facebook.  It’s not the end of the world.  I figured if you wanted to keep tabs on what we were doing in the world, where we ended up moving, where we were scamping (I’ll cover that in an other post), you’ll have to work for it.

(Insert diatribe on the pitfalls of social media and the timesuck of Facebook and how it’s the death of modern society here.)

Here’s my 3 reasons for creating this blog:

  1.  To provide a resource for postdocs/grad families.
  2.  To give you an insider’s perspective of life in academia (it’s not as thrilling as you might think).
  3. Gives me something to do.

So join me!  Give yourself something to do besides roll your eyes at people on the internet (who knows, that might still happen on here!)  I promise to keep you in the loop and give you an insider’s look.  No paperwork, thesis, or deadlines required.