Emigration means cutting off a lot of roots. It disrupts your job and deeply affects your family and friends. The change from having a social life in your old surroundings to having none at all in your new ones, at first, is a natural given. But it also is a chance to shed people who haven’t been great friends in the past and even to welcome people whom you thought to have lost back into your life. It’s a tumultuous situation for all sides.Newly arrived in the US, I had no idea what friends I would make here.
At first, my emigration made a wave of people back in Germany gravitate towards me because they were simply curious about my new chapter in life. Maybe they were indulging some distant hope for a gratis vacation in the US someday. Well, none of these oh so suddenly interested people stayed in contact with me for longer than half a year after I left. It was obviously way too tedious for them to keep writing emails or letters. And once my way of life changed from a professional career to one of volunteering, home-making, and writing novels, they lost interest entirely.
I also lost some of my former long-time friends. In their eyes I had changed so entirely they didn’t understand me any longer. Probably, they hadn’t ever listened or believed me when I told them I was simply happy with where life was placing me. All of a sudden, this formerly single woman was centering her life on a partner who had become her husband. I was going to leave behind my career, I was walking out on them, and the journey was to be on a one way ticket to a place far away! They weren’t at the center of my plans anymore – how very selfish of me! Those people dropped out mostly on a bitter note.
But I also kept a whole lot of my old friends. Thanks to the internet, we still keep contact in real time even though half a world apart. Social media have kept me in touch with some of my oldest friends, while bringing me a load of entirely new ones. They simply accept who I am, and I know and hope one or the other will come over someday. Actually, a few of them already did – to make sure that I’m fine, to surprise me, to celebrate with me.
But what about friends over here? When I started out at my new home and in my new life, hardly anybody was aware of my arrival. My husband had been working night shifts until I joined him. Therefore, barely anybody knew us in our little town. If I didn’t want to mold in isolation, we had to reach out ourselves.
It is true that opportunity drops into your lap when you least expect it. For me, it came in the shape of a door hanger by our local museum association, and I grasped it. We signed up as members and as volunteers. And lo and behold! – my lonesome days were over. Another couple of weeks later, I was invited to join a museum committee, and from there it went like wildfire. I became a docent, staff at the annual Apple Squeeze, helped at a baking party, sang with a caroling group – you name it. One tiny step started an avalanche of events and meeting new people. After not even half a year, people in town started to recognize me, to chat with me across their garden fences, to invite me into their homes, to tell me stories about their past and town history. My new lifestyle – so far removed from my former one – has been permitting me to go and meet people on an entirely private, non-career-based, and personal basis.
It has been over seven years now that I first set foot in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve made an astonishing number of wonderful friendships and acquaintances. Social media even connect some of my old friends with my new ones, though, most likely, they will never meet. It takes a while to make new friends, of course. It doesn’t matter whether you just move to a different town in your own mother country or, as an immigrant, to an entirely different world. I love the thought that, one day, all these new friendships will be old ones, too. And that the place that sometimes is still kind of new has already become another home.
Beverly Isenson says
A very nice story. Starting in 1928, newcomers in small towns and cities were welcomed by Welcome Wagon visitors, local employees of a nationwide commercial service. They knocked on newcomers’ doors with information about the community, coupons and small gifts from local businesses, etc. That stopped years ago in the US, but continued in Canada. Imagine being a newly-arrived family, getting a visit from a pleasant and knowledgeable person, with written information about local schools, youth recreation programs, youth and adult civic groups, local history and historic sites, special community holidays and more! What a wonderful welcome was shown!
What can we do now? For starters, when you have a new neighbor, knock on the door, introduce yourself and start a friendly conversation. Ask about their interests and tell them something about this community.