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Rebuilding Our Home

Katherinne Klattenhoff enjoying her new home.

They say that among the many things that can cause high stress in someone’s life is moving to another house, now imagine adding to this not only moving to another house but also another country, culture, leaving family, friends and job … and having to leave behind everything you once owned and that place where you spent so many good moments…Your home.

How can you fit your life in only one suitcase? You can´t, of course!

So then, how do you begin rebuilding a home if you have to start from scratch?

I used to have a pretty normal life back in Chile, working all day as many do, and coming home late to a small but very comfortable apartment which had everything we needed. Until one day we receive the big news, we were going to Berkeley! I was really excited about this new adventure, but didn´t really know how much work this was going to take.

So after figuring out everything, we started disassembling all that we had constructed in the last time. We stored all our belongings and memories in boxes, giving away many things and leaving behind all that once had a meaning in our life.

Ariel and I arrived here in August with a suitcase each and hearts full of dreams, expectations and some anxiety. After landing, suitcases, dreams and expectations took back seat and anxiety front, posing the first challenging question, “Where to live?”

We checked in a motel, which we have to agree is not the most home-like place, but was ok for just couple of days. Looking for somewhere stable to live became the first and most important thing to do, finding a place that not only fit our restricted budget and necessities but also where you could try to recreate the comfortable environment you once had.

So did our journey to find a house started, surfing endless hours on the net searching for rent ads and asking everyone we met for renting tips.

After many visits and marathon walks from one side of the city to another we understood that although there were many rent opportunities, all the good places where taken really fast. Especially after bumping into 7 people in the queue to see one apartment, we realized that we were not the only ones looking for a place, but just part of the thousands of students on the same quest. This had become a competition, where the fastest and slicker got the prize! …and you can imagine how slick new comers can be! This was being harder than expected, we were exhausted, with feet full of blisters, and starting to feel desperate. The thought of all that money being spent on a motel was a valid reason for stress. But we kept our hopes up and carried on walking and asking, until one day we nailed it! We got the perfect place for us, small but pretty cozy and sunny. We were so happy! 🙂

The second challenge was to furnish the house within our limited budget. I started looking on the internet for the basic stuff, bed, cooking supplies etc., and after buying a couple of brand new things I realized the expense was already crossing our limit. That was when I remembered the well known American GARAGE SALES! This was something completely new for us, and we were amazed of all the good stuff you could find on those places. Of course at our first sale visit, we were shy and we were not sure if we could touch the products or enquire about them. But we were fast learners and just after a couple of garage sale experiences, we were experts! We started visiting every sale close to our new neighborhood. We bargained for every item and made sure to choose just the right things. It was a funny sight; two crazy people walking around Berkeley carrying a table, 2 chairs and couple of night lamps under each arm! We were exhausted but slowly getting everything we needed.

I also have to admit having picked up free stuff from the street which I think was one of the best deals ever!

So after all this shopping and bargaining, we are still in the process of rebuilding our home, and I have to say it has been quite a journey but we have had a lot of fun doing it.

All the material things you can get will help fulfill your needs, but what really matters at the end is the way you feel when you are in your new place, to feel welcomed, comfortable, relaxed and familiar. Once the place starts giving you and your family a chance to build new memories and wonderful moments… you will know you are once again at home.

Katherinne Klattenhoff with her husband Ariel Utz Wirnsberger.

Breaking into a new chapter of my life!


[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ello Berkeley, my new home. What are you up to? Do you want to be my friend? I see you are confused. Let me introduce myself. My name is Marie and I am from the Czech Republic. Please, do not ask me what I’m doing here, because right now my answer would be that I am accompanying my husband who is a Physics grad student at UC Berkeley. I know what you’re thinking, “another wife coming into the city looking to find her own identity in the USA while her husband is pursuing his career.”
Well, you are right.

Marie explores Berkeley in Vatsala Shrivastava’s cooking class.
Photo credit: Maki Nishizaka

I have to say that I have been warmly welcomed by you and I hope we become friends. What do I mean by that? I know this might have different meanings for both of us. Let me explain it. I want us to get to know each other better, explore and enjoy each other, and maybe share a strong bond between us.

At this point you do not know anything about me and I know very little about you. So, let me take the first step and tell you something about myself.

Back in my home country I had my professional life as a trainee lawyer and I lived with my American husband in a one-bedroom apartment in Prague’s cool neighborhood. We were living a life of newlyweds (I guess that we are still newlyweds since we got married a year ago) and we loved to socialize with our friends. We were planning dinner parties, going out, training for a half marathon and enjoying daily activities. Nevertheless my husband wanted to pursue his career in Physics in the USA. He worked really hard and got accepted to UC Berkeley. We sold our furniture, vacated our cozy apartment and said goodbye to our friends and family. We were both looking forward to opening a new chapter of our life.

Let me be honest. The first few pages of this chapter were “challenging.” Even though you tried to make me feel welcome, I felt lost. I did not know where to go grocery shopping, how to get around or what to do with so much free time. I felt like a little child discovering the world, however, not always in a positive sense. It seemed to me that everything required an extra step and much more time. I used to be very productive back at home and here I felt helpless. I would very often compare everything with what it was like back home and refused to look at you with a pair of different lenses. There were various things in Berkeley that were familiar but different and I could not figure out how to fit in. Feeling frustrated and anxious that was part of my first weeks. It felt like our “honeymoon” phase was very short and the time after became very hard.

Most importantly, there was no one I could share my feelings with. My husband was overwhelmed by his school assignments and I did not have any friends here who would be willing to listen to me and be supportive. I have great friends and family like that back in Czech, however, I did not want to worry them. Overall I was supposed to be happy here and that’s what I would keep telling to everybody. Everything is great, amazing and how incredibly happy I am here. But I was far from feeling that way.

From the day I met my husband I knew that we are coming here. This was a commitment I had chosen and my husband is so important for me that there is no way that I would not be with him wherever he goes. It was our/my choice to come here and they did warn me how difficult it might be. Did I listen to them? Yes, I did but I did not want to accept it.

Even though you are so beautiful and exciting, I was not able to connect with you. I was truly looking forward to meeting you and becoming friends, but after being here I was confused. Happy for being here and lost at the same time. Is it hard to understand my ambiguous feelings? A part of me was still back in the Czech Republic with my family and friends, familiar places and habits. It was not possible to create a fulfilling relationship without that missing part.

One day I had a conference call with my mom and my sister. They asked me how am I doing and instead of telling them that everything is ok I spilled it all out, my frustrations, feelings of losing independence, not knowing who I am anymore. They were patiently listening and tears running down my face as I was speaking. Finally, open up and be able to say it to them felt like a big rock just fell of my heart. The support and love I have received from them was enormous. I realized that even though that my family and friends are not here with me, they will always be here for me and I will always be there for them. I did not lose them or left behind we will carry on our lives and friendship just in a different way. I have also learnt that there is no point in comparing you or my life here to the one I had in the Czech Republic.

Why am I telling you all this, Berkeley? I believe that friends should share their happiness and difficulties. To make the relationship stronger, they should listen and be supportive. I have come to realize that all my previous frustrations were laying the foundation for better understanding and have created the new relationship with you I now enjoy. So, let`s make it last!

To Berkeley with love,