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Creating a Fulfilling Life Everywhere!

Takako Fukasawa with Kota Fukasawa
in Los Angeles 🙂

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y very first memory from childhood is of seeing the Statue of Liberty from a ferry, glorious and divine. I was three years old. My family and I had just moved from Japan to a small suburban town in Connecticut accompanying my father’s job transfer. I suppose we had visited New York City over the weekend. The next four years are full of warm and radiant memories of my friends and their moms, my ESL teachers, our neighbors, of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We were taught bits and pieces of American history at school; of its independence and the gradual assimilation of its immigrants. My family and I encountered charitable considerations at every turn. Within four years, I had perceived U.S. as a country of equality, liberty and hope, exactly what the Statue of Liberty seemed to symbolize. My family and I stayed in the U.S. once again when I was 11 to 13, this time in the suburbs of Chicago. The population was even more diverse, in terms of religion, ethnicity and social class. Sure, there were conflicts and tensions, but there was a place and also hope for everyone.

I always felt an obligation to give something back to society in return for all the welcome that I had received in the U.S. Upon returning to Japan, I noticed that Japanese society was an extremely difficult place for foreign residents to acculturate to. More than anything, it is an extremely homogeneous society (foreign residents only constitute 1.6% of the population). Partially because of this, English education in Japanese schools is extremely bleak and does not enhance fluency, making the society practically monolingual. In addition, traditionally, everyone is expected to think and act the same way, therefore there are many unspoken and unwritten customs. Despite the fact that Japan is a rapidly aging society and desperately in need of younger and talented personnel from outside the country to boost its global presence, the society as a whole does not offer the necessary services and systems to overcome all these difficulties and accommodate foreign residents. I wanted to help develop cross cultural understanding in Japan and construct a support system for foreign residents. Once I entered University, I participated in non-profit activities to support foreign students adjust to Japan during their short-term stays. However, as the years went by, I got caught up in all the trivial but urgent matters that needed tending in order to secure my everyday life and career path in a corporation. During these years of confusion and hectivity, the vision I had once embraced seemed almost unreachable, and had all but diminished.

After 15 years, I was back in the U.S., this time tagging behind my husband. Berkeley was a country of its own. Once again, I was a stranger struggling in a new place, this time with no occupation other than “a housewife”, experiencing cultural and transitional shock. Taking Yvonne’s classes not only steered me towards recovery, but also helped me rediscover my goals and reset my life. Everything is finally beginning to make sense. I realize now that I still want to achieve my long-term goal of building a more foreign resident friendly community in my home country, especially for women and children who have less contact with the society. In the short-term I am preparing myself to become slightly marketable in the intercultural communication field in Japan, by taking training courses for teaching ESL to adults and also for translating. I am also participating in a volunteer consulting project (“pro bono”) for a local non-profit organization, in the hopes of applying my business skills effectively to management of non-profit/social sector programs. And of course, there is much to gain from meeting people from all over the world and hearing wonder things about their cultures. Berkeley is just about the best place to be to meet people with different backgrounds and values!

Finally, I am forever grateful to my friends, mentors, and teachers, both present and past, who have motivated me to create a fulfilling life in America thus far, and I truly hope that someday soon I will see more creations of fulfilling lives across the ocean in my own country.

Creating a Fulfilling Life in America

Yvonne Lefort during her workshop with the spouses
of international students and visiting scholars
at International House in Berkeley

Three months in Berkeley/Albany and I have this feeling of happiness. That is great to feel. My family and I have got a nice start here – this year we have been planning for almost one year back home in Norway.

Shortly after we arrived there was an information meeting at CAL for visiting scholars and their families. There, Sam Castaneda talked about the work they do for families of international students/researchers. He said: “The research will be bad if the wife is unhappy”. At the same meeting Yvonne Lefort was telling about the course “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America.” The course is once a week for 10 weeks and every week we have a nice lunch. Only the first 25 persons asking for enrollment get the possibility to join. The university supports this course financially.

Workshop participants carve a pumpkin
during the Halloween week

Now I have been in this course for 7 weeks and I want to tell about my experiences. The course makes a difference in my life here, it makes a difference for other people and I guess later, in my life in Norway. It accumulates action and energy. And I hope – a difference in the quality of the research of my husband. The wife is happy.  🙂

Yvonne Lefort is a qualified coach with skills, a good heart, interest in cultural topics, knowledge of networking, and she makes a great effort for us also in her spare time. She challenges us and makes us take risks in communication with each other. You learn that if you want something, you have to take the initiative.

The group eats out at a Chinese resturant

 First we got to know each other and made friends. I met women (just one man) from different countries: 8 European countries, 4 South American countries, 5 Asian countries and of course Yvonne from California. It made me understand how small my country is and how little knowledge I have about other parts of the world. We meet each other open-minded, asking and learning about cultures/experiences. We get tools to manage the life in America in a very simple way. You don’t narrow your perspective inside this group. We learn why Americans act like they do, which seems very mysterious for us sometimes. I like this sentence: “Always think that people have a good reason for their behavior; look for it.” I think this is very important when you live in a foreign country where values, religion, roles are different from yours. This is a heterogeneous group, people have different needs, they are in different situations and the group is helpful in different ways.

Bonding over history: Girls having fun
during Oakland museum trip

 Things happened inside the group. After a few meetings we had friends, a cooking class, Facebook group, a Friday meeting at a café with cultural discussion topics and this blog. As a member of the group I get a lot of information about what happens in the Bay Area.

Yvonne’s students volunteer at
soup kitchen on Halloween

But what makes me most impressed is what we learned about volunteer work. We have learned about the American volunteering practice, how to find work where you have skills, where you can get skills or where you can have fun. Yvonne went with us to Glide Memorial Church; nine people from the group helped serving lunch to people needing food. This was both interesting and fun, and we want to do more. We are a group of women with skills and spare time who wants to fulfill our life in America.

This society has welcomed us and the group gives skills and shows possibilities to give something back. It really makes ripples in water. Thank you CAL.

Doris Brauten

Hello Everyone!!

Paula (first left, white top) during Creating a Fulfilling Life in America workshop.

Hello everyone!! We are starting to blog! Yay!

I hope this can be really fun for all of us! I assume that writing this first post was a little frightening for me… What subject to choose? We are living such different situations; it isn’t that easy to decide which one I should share with you…

So here I am with a special subject that comes along with me since the last two years: my baby. I mean, for the rest of the world, he is already a toddler. For me (and thanks to a couple of brands that also considers the age group 0 to 36 months as a baby), he is still my BABY. As you can notice from this description, he is our first child.

We are Brazilians. In 2011 my husband thought it was a good time to take a break from his job in Brazil and to move abroad for a year. We are teachers and it wasn’t that hard to take a license from the universities we are attached with there and join here as visiting scholars.

When we arrived in Washington DC, in January of 2012, Mateus, the baby, couldn’t speak a lot of words in Portuguese… so we thought that he could easily develop the English as a second language. However, at that time of the year we didn’t find any places in the childcare centers close to our new home.

Then we hired a baby sitter. In fact, the third that we hired was okay (in 4 months we had three different experiences).

As we had to go the university, Mateus used to spend his afternoons with the sweet lady from Colombia. And we just loved it!

In a while, we realized that the baby was a sort of confused; parents speaking in Portuguese and some words of English, baby sitter in Spanish, TV and little friends in English… Hard to understand this world!

After 8 months living in Arlington, Virginia, we moved to Berkeley, California. The first question to help us on taking the decision of a childcare for Mateus was: Does he need a childcare? From his stage of socialization, we thought it would be very helpful.

Yes, we could just keep him at home and maybe hire again a baby sitter to help us here and there… But as he was turning 2, we felt that, first; his social life and communication skills could be better developed if he had the opportunity of interacting daily with other children of his age.

Second, we will be in Berkeley only for a few months, so seeking for play dates and similar isolated activities could not be that efficient for our purpose – starting an improvement in Mateus’ socialization.

On the other hand (certainly there are the disadvantages); he would be away from home for a long period of time (at least for us).

We kept the idea of the Childcare Center.

UC Berkeley has a childcare Center for the staff’s children. But there are very few places and we couldn’t apply anymore for this year. So I went to Google to look for some childcare centers lists and the best one I found was at Berkeley Parents Network website.

To be honest, the website needs a serious update, but it helps. I need to write down my experience at the Childcare, for example  🙂

From the information I got there and on Google, I called some 15 childcare centers and finally I found a place in a Childcare Center, 4 blocks away from the house we were renting.

Our principal criteria of selection were:

– It should be close to our new home;

– Their method should be, at least, similar to the Montessori one, which I think is a very complete system of education for the first years in school.

Mateus is very outgoing happy child, always smiling at everyone, friendly… So his adjustment time at school would be easy. …… NOT.

It was just a nightmare. At least for me. The boy just didn’t want to leave our arms, legs, us! Do you know everything we read on magazines/books/internet and people tell you about tantrums, drama, screams, etc? It just started to happen with us! Why? Are we spoiling him? Does he need more/less attention?

When it is happening, the drama may lead you to a surreal and irrational state: You cannot think because the little human being of yours is screaming and you just can’t hear or understand your own thoughts.

After a while (maybe when the child is sleeping…) you realize that there is always a reason for this “out of control” behavior. And it is up to you (sometimes with the help of someone else – teachers, friends, psychologist) to identify it and think about the best ways of dealing with the situations.

The adjustment phase was hard. The staff at the Childcare Center is great and patient. He is doing better, but there is still some drama.

As parents we usually hear: ‘it is just a phase, you are going trough it, you will see’.

And it is true.

The children are really in a constant development. It might be one of our challenges as parents: adjust ourselves to the child’s phases.

Do not forget to live and enjoy your own “phase”, though. We are in a beautiful country, with a LOT to know, to see, to visit.

Hope you all really have a great time here.

Thanks for your patience.
Paula LS Varella 

On The Road


A FOOT and light-hearted I take to the open road!
Healthy, free, the world before me!
The long brown path before
me, leading wherever I choose!
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune,
I am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more,
postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.
Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Susanne Wolf enjoying the nature’s beauty!

I blame it all on my grandmother.

As a young woman, in 1923, she came to the United States. Born and raised in Tübingen, Germany, she had to, because her family was in severe financial difficulties in a time of depression. Her father, being a doctor, hadn´t learned anything useful – like gardening, milking cows or anything of the kind – nor had my grandma. She had her good education, though, and an innate curiosity. So she and her sister were sent to the USA to earn hard currency and send it home in order to support the family. Her sister got married in the USA, my grandmother came back after three years.

Later, when I was a kid and listened to her stories – being a help, a nanny in rich families’ houses – I always thought that she must have had hard times, but then I saw her eyes shining with joy and contentedness. So, to me –ever since – the USA were a wonderland, a desirable destination, a place where I wanted to go.

And now I´m here – finally! I might soon be a grandmother myself, having a 25 year old daughter. My husband is a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley, and we settled down for half a year in a nice home in the Berkeley Hills. I´m not much of a risk taker. At home, I have my job as a teacher. A husband, a house, a garden, my family, friends, a very structured life. Coming here, I expected to see a lot of nice places, landmarks, meet new people (which I did) – I did not expect to meet this adventuresome person– myself.

How fun it is to travel! We have been on the road for many weeks in July and August. From my hometown, Hannover (Germany), I flew to Seattle to meet my husband there. He had left three weeks earlier in order to get things fixed over here. With our car and a travel trailer, we took the 101, the coastal highway. Our first destination was the Olympic National Park. Amazing! Snow covered mountains, all kinds of animals, a rich vegetation. We went for some hikes and enjoyed our stay on a State Park Campsite (they are very well maintained up there in Washington), although it was pretty freezing at night and we got to know this coastal morning fog that sometimes doesn´t disappear until sunset.

Driving on the coastal highway with a 42 feet long vehicle was a bit of a challenge sometimes, but all went well. California welcomed us with sunshine. We were so impressed by the Redwood National Park, I´ve never seen such big trees before! After a short “Hello” to Berkeley a few days later, we turned eastward. Of course we had all these National Parks on our agenda. I can highly recommend a visit to “Canyon de Chelly” – a not very well known National Monument in Arizona. Not only is it a beautiful place, but it is also Navajo tribal trust land with a resident community within the canyon.

One of the places Susanne Wolf
mentions in her story

Bryce Canyon was a fairy-tale-like feature. We saw the most impressing starry sky when camping in the Mojave National Preserve, whereas Las Vegas bedazzled us with all its synthetic beauty. We travelled on the Colorado River in a rowing boat for one week (breathtaking geological lessons included), and we watched dolphins close to a beach near Santa Barbara.

Now I´ve some stories to tell – to my children and to my (not yet born) grandchildren …

But most importantly: It´s not only about arriving. The journey is the reward 🙂


Susanne Wolf rows a boat 🙂