Blog: Emma Wendt

Moving from the west coast to the third coast is a major life change, one that Emma Wendt, entrepreneurial services connector at Ann Arbor SPARK, has handled with resourcefulness. Among many ideas, Emma writes on how Michigan winters make for good local food and networking, and how an ABC (Anything But a Car) philosophy builds a closer community.

Why Smaller Towns Make for Bigger Communities

One of the great things about being in a smaller city is that I feel much more connected with my community. In my first six months in Ann Arbor, I've chatted over a beer with my mayor and local city councilor; was elected to the board of a non-profit; and raised a greenhouse at a farm where I buy my salad. 

None of that happened in my five years in the Bay Area.  I moved from San Francisco last August, with my significant other (SO) who started medical school. He grew up and went to undergrad in Ann Arbor, but I'd never set foot here until we drove into town, straight from California.  So far, I've been excited to be here and call Ann Arbor my new home.

Believe me, I miss a lot about the Bay Area -- dramatic scenery, delicious year-round food, wide-spread public transportation, excitement right outside my doorstep, and a solid group of friends. 

It's taken time for me to adjust, and I'm still working on that process.  In my posts this week, I'll write about how I'm navigating my transition through the lens of networking, food, transportation, urban planning, the environment, and entrepreneurship.

A lot of new things have opened up for me in this Midwestern college town.  Since the population is smaller, I now spend time with a wider variety of people, and I'm compelled to be more involved.  But if you're new here, how do you actually make those connections happen?

Show that you want to be here, and want to be here for the long haul. 
Luckily, I have an edge.  Explaining that I have "ties to Michigan" through my SO, and that we'll be here for four years -- and hopefully longer -- seems to reassure people I've met, especially potential employers.

Even if you don't have those all-important "ties to Michigan," and you or your partner are here "just" for school or a job, at the very least express that you like the place.  For inspiration, check out the Pure Michigan tourism site, or consider converting to the religion of Michigan football.

It's easy to fall into the trap of talking nostalgically about what you love and miss about your previous residence.  But now that you're here, take the time to enjoy it.  Your new neighbours will likely repay the kindness.

Tell everyone what you're looking for.
In a small town, people talk.  Use this to your advantage to find a job, friends, or hobbies. The more people you meet who are watching out for your needs, the more referrals you'll get that can lead you to your goal.  Finding -- and eventually becoming -- that connector makes this process easier.

Over the first ~four months of being here, I met about 165 new people (more than one every day!). While that was exhausting and probably overkill, it likely took several different connections to get me to my current job at Ann Arbor SPARK.

I'm now working more on building a personal network, and I've met friends and acquaintances who are happy to introduce me to new people and events.

Be patient.
In bigger cities, where I've lived almost all my adult life, I've found it easier to make friends quickly. I've been surrounded by a larger number of young people, who tend to be more transient and who are also seeking new connections.  In Ann Arbor, I often find myself in meetings where I'm the youngest person by two decades.  And since more people have roots here, the process of community-building takes longer.

True to stereotype, I've generally found Midwesterners to be very nice and generous.  But it does take work to get beyond the initial polite conversation and become integrated into a community.  If you want to create a rich life here, it's definitely worth the effort.