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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 🙂

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,


Finding A Job in America: A trailing spouse from Sweden’s story of success


If you’ve ever looked for a job, you know it can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience.  If you’re from another country, finding a job in America can be even more daunting.  You’re immediately at a disadvantage because you don’t have American work experience, your social and professional network is in your home country, your understanding of “how things are done” in the new culture is limited, and English is not your native language. That’s enough to keep some people from even starting to look for a job!

These challenges, however, did not deter Asa, a trailing spouse from Sweden, from looking for work soon after she arrived in the United States.  Asa came to America in December 2011 to follow her husband, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley.  She immediately applied for work authorization, and once she got her two small children settled in pre-school and received her authorization, she began her search.

I interviewed Asa about her job search and how she successfully landed two job offers within four months. Here’s a summary of the interview:

What type of job and how many years of experience did you have in Sweden?
I had 12 years of experience as a product and project manager in telecommunications and IT software.

When you first started to look for work, what job search strategies did you use?
I looked at Monster and Craigslist to find out about companies.  I saw that there were many positions available and applied for a few, but I never got any response, not even an acknowledgement that my resume had been received.  In Sweden, this is how we look for work and I thought this was the way to do it here.

What made you shift the way you were looking for work?
I started talking to other people who had applied for jobs and learned two things:

  1. You have to network.
  2. You should tell people that you’re looking for a job.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of in this country.  When you tell people you’re unemployed, they start thinking about people in their network who might help you.
  3. I took some free job search classes at the Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco.  I learned how to write an American resume and how to network.

What is the difference between a Swedish resume and an American resume?
In Sweden, we use a CV, which can be 6-7 pages long. It’s like a novel of each job because you list your whole career.  An American resume is usually one page and focuses on what’s essential for the employer to know about you.  It shows your key qualifications, accomplishments, and results.  The focus is on what YOU accomplished, not your team.  The purpose of the resume is to convince the employer to meet with you; it doesn’t get you hired.

What were the main ways that you began to build your network?

  1. At UC Berkeley, I attended a monthly evening social for spouses. At first I didn’t want to go.  I thought there would only be other unemployed people like me who lacked a social network, were new to this country, and only here for a short time.  I immediately realized that this was silly thinking and that I could learn from their experience.  Some of the spouses had jobs, and some had contacts that I didn’t have and ideas that I hadn’t tried.
  2. I went to a weekly morning program for spouses at the Berkeley YWCA. An older woman there gave me the business card of her son, who worked in the IT area.  I called him, and he referred me to a recruiter.
  3. I joined a network of Swedish people here.  They gave me information and tips on how things work here.
  4. I used Linkedin.  First I looked to see how many of my contacts in Sweden knew someone in San Francisco.  Then I asked them to introduce me.  Once we were introduced, I would have lunch with the person in San Francisco.
  5. I did cold calls and emails.  I would find a company I liked on Craigslist and then go to their website to read about their products and management team.  I found out that one company had two Swedish guys on their management team.  I emailed them to ask if I could meet with them to get more information about the company and ideas about how to get a job.  This is the company where I eventually received a job offer!

What advice do you have about networking?
You can meet people anywhere! It doesn’t have to be at a professional seminar or job search workshop.  People here are willing to share. In Sweden, you have to know a lot about a person to recommend them.  Here, people are friendly and want to help.

What is the one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?
The importance of networking!  Also, you need to have your resume done in the American style and you need an elevator pitch [a short, 30-second commercial about yourself].  When you develop your elevator pitch, you have to think about what makes you unique and how you can benefit the company.  They don’t care about your personal needs.

Many people claim that it’s hard to find a job in this economy, and that there aren’t very many jobs. What is your response?
I would say it’s not true!  In my field (telecommunications and software), this is the perfect place in the world to be.  There are so many different kinds of jobs. You don’t have to do what you did before.  Change your idea of what a good job is.  Change your role or line of business. You don’t have to start at the top.  You may need to start at a lower level.  Convince people of your capabilities.  Also, be prepared to spend a lot of time looking for work.  I spent 60-70% of my day looking for a job and never even took the time to visit San Francisco!

What advice would you give to other spouses or people looking for work?
Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re looking for a job.  Try to be positive, and show energy and interest! That’s how Americans do it.  Also, don’t just sit behind your computer to look for jobs – go out and meet people!

What is your new job and when do you start?
I’ll be working as a senior project manager for a company that sells mobile television services to telecommunications operators.  I start in June!