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Starting Life Over Again in a Foreign Country


By Jolanda Heijnen

Jolanda is an international spouse from the Netherlands. She followed her husband who is doing a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Before moving to Berkeley, Jolanda worked at one of Europe’s largest steel manufacturers as a Product- and Process Technologist, combining aspects of data science and data analytics.

Here she talks about her transition of moving to Berkeley and the support she received from attending the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

As I’m writing this story on the 7th of November, I just realized I missed the year mark of my arrival here. On the 6th of November last year (2017), I arrived in the USA. In the first few months after arrival, I would have given you totally different expectations of this international adventure than I’ll give you now, in hindsight based on experience. It’s not over yet, but the difficult initial struggle is over. Though this was harder than anticipated, I don’t regret it at all, and I think I’ve personally learned more than I would have, had it gone according to expectation. Yvonne’s weekly Friday Morning Coffee at Caffe Strada has been a huge positive contribution to this.

My husband started his Postdoc in August last year, after backpacking around South America. At that time, we had been living apart for about two years due to necessity after having been together for nine years, and before that, we lived together for six years. It was about time we started living together again. In November, I joined my husband, after quitting a good job with nice colleagues just a week before departure, and lots of stress related to finishing my job, packing and moving out. In the first month, my youngest sister, who happens to be called Yvonne as well, accompanied me and we spent a lot of time together. We got to do the touristic stuff, mostly using public transport. For example, we visited Pier 39 and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, and we rented a car to see the Monarch butterflies in Santa Cruz.

Within a few weeks after she left in the beginning of December, reality hit me: I was extremely bored. I no longer had a job, and my main hobbies in the Netherlands were either too expensive being on a budget (a common issue for many in the Bay Area) or hard to get in contact with people to start (i.e. playing bridge). Later I found out that UC Berkeley students were about to go away for the holidays, and the other bridge club required more patience. While still processing quitting my job, and officially becoming a dependent spouse (the requirement for my visa type), I struggled to find things to do.

Cleaning isn’t really my thing. I see it more as an annoying necessity, and also cooking more elaborately starts to get boring when there’s plenty of time to do that every day. In order to find something to do, I decided to try and improve my English writing, focusing on improving writing structure, something I generally struggle with. I’m hoping you’re able to notice a difference. If not, just imagine what it was like before!

Luckily, I had lots of support from friends and family back home through frequent Skype calls, and from my husband here. He arranged for a few meetings with other international couples for the evenings. In one of these meetings, a spouse, working at that time, mentioned the support she got from the Friday Morning Coffee group before getting a work permit. Friday Morning Coffee is not advertised clearly, unfortunately, as UC Berkeley does not promote it. Referrals to the group are often by word of mouth. I’m attempting to send in anyone who I think might benefit. I’m also hoping this piece might help contribute to getting the word out.

Friday Morning Coffee, promoted through the Facebook group Creating a Fulfilling Life in America, consists of a group of international visitors, many with links to UC Berkeley or the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Most are spouses or partners of postdocs and scholars, or graduate students. Some are long-term residents by now. Many in the group are, or were, in a similar situation: either waiting on a work permit, being ineligible for a work permit at all, starting or raising a family, or a combination of those. For most attendants, it is a good excuse to get out of the house and talk to people, reduce loneliness and learn from each other. Here I met others in similar situations and was able to put my own situation into perspective.

Yvonne founded these weekly meetings and is like the glue keeping it together. She suggests local activities, highlights interesting topics as they come up, and the different cultural approaches to a certain situation. She also held a potluck-style gathering in her garden in the summer and arranged for pumpkin carving for Halloween. She sometimes brings interesting books, or even children’s tales to help people learn about American culture. A few months ago, she brought a book called the “Little Engine That Could,” representing American values taught to children. Since then, I’ve seen and heard it been referenced on several occasions, one of which was an episode of the Big Bang Theory.

Friday morning conversations, infused with some pointed advice, helped me fight through this initial difficult period and appreciate, and eventually start enjoying, my time in the Bay Area. Right now, I think both my husband and I have developed a stronger bond, and I have become mentally more resilient by learning to occasionally let go.

After a few months, my work permit got approved, and though I worked part-time, I worked on Fridays, and therefore did not get to attend these meetings for a while. To me this was the biggest disadvantage of working: I wasn’t able to attend these meetings regularly anymore. Being off on Fridays was not an option due to scheduling problems, though. After a few months, my work permit had to be renewed, and the process started over again. This means I was attending Friday Morning Coffee for a few months again, until I got the new work permit.

A word of caution depending on your cultural background: Friday Morning Coffee is said to start at 11:00 a.m. but generally starts somewhat after 11:00, more like 11:15 or so. (As I’m Dutch, I showed up exactly at, or even slightly before, 11 a.m. the first time, and didn’t see anyone.)

P.S.  If you’re considering joining: Yvonne usually brings a small sign that says “Friday Morning Coffee” and puts it on the table to help newcomers recognize the group. If you don’t see the sign (sometime Yvonne forgets it), look for a group of women (occasionally there are men in the group) and ask if they’re part of the Friday Morning Coffee. Also, be sure you join the Facebook group Creating A Fulfilling Life in America as Yvonne posts a reminder about the Friday Morning Coffee as well as lots of other good information!

My Support Group


By Ruth Weinhold-Heße

Ruth is a journalist and an international spouse from Germany who is currently living in Berkeley while her husband does a post-doc at UC Berkeley. Here she talks about the Friday Morning Coffee, a group for international spouses/partners facilitated by Yvonne Lefort that meets weekly at Caffe Strada in Berkeley.

Friday mornings, my mood generally is in the pits: getting up early, the long week, trying to convince my 2-year old for the fifth time in a row to leave the house quickly… and, as I mentioned recently, I feel lonely. For friendships with the locals are still quite sparse. My husband and my child are gone during the day. So what to do when one (unfortunately usually the woman) is in a foreign country, the partner is totally occupied with his job, you yourself have no work permit, and the children finally are well taken care of?

Drink coffee? All day long? That’s what I do on Fridays. I meet with other women who, almost all, have accompanied their scientist-husbands. I call it my support group. Because every time I’m there, I feel so much better afterwards. I get to know other women, all of whom are in a similar situation and have to cope with similar problems, and they all have very interesting stories. Even the mix of cultures is exciting:

Miki comes from Japan, Diana from Italy, Anna comes from Poland, Berit is Norwegian, Sarina is German, Xia originates from China and Yvonne is American.

When Yvonne was a young woman, she lived in Germany and out of this cultural experience grew her life’s work: to support women from abroad in adjusting to the United States. Every Friday at 11, she is at Caffe Strada across from campus and listens, asks questions and gives a few little tips. It may not sound earth shattering, but here I’ve learned that there are compostable plastic cups in America that are made from corn, or where you can park and for how long. This gives me the feeling of understanding American life just a little bit better. (Americans don’t just give up their plastic cups but manufacture more environmentally friendly ones instead… although this is not true for all disposable cups. But that’s another topic.)

My Support Group
My Support Group

And even though it’s a pity that I haven’t hung out yet with more Americans, it is perhaps only natural to feel attracted to those who have a similar or live in a similar situation. Almost all of the women have children or have used the time abroad to have children (which is the only thing mostly left for accompanying spouses to do!). We’re allowed to get irritated about American customs and learn, on top of it, how the same things are handled from China through Poland.

Recently, we even took ​​a small day trip. We went to Sonoma, a town north of the Bay Area that is known for its vineyards . Of course, we also did some wine tasting at a small winery whose founders were two Germans, which you can still see by the name (Gundlach Bunschu).

Here’s a picture of my support group, in no longer completely a sober state (except for the drivers who were nursing, of course!).

Note:   This blog post was translated from German into English by Yvonne Lefort.

The original blog post in German can be found on Ruth’s blog:


Getting a Job in America – A UC Berkeley Spouse from Portugal Shares Her Story


Patricia is an international spouse from Portugal who is currently living in Berkeley while her husband does a post-doc at UC Berkeley. In this interview, Patricia talks about getting a job and describes what it has been like for her to work for an American company.

Briefly describe who you are, where you’re from, why you’re here and for how long, and what your professional background was before you came to the U.S.

I’m Patricia from Portugal and I’ve been living in Berkeley for 1 year and 7 months. Before I lived and worked in Barcelona for a licensing company for over 3 years in the Product Development Department. I decided to move to USA together with my husband when he got the chance to do his post-doc at UC Berkeley. We both thought it was a great opportunity in a great university we couldn’t say no. At the same time it was a tough decision to leave all friends and family behind but when you travel together with someone you love everything is just easier. We initially came for 1 year and decided to take advantage of everything to make this experience very valuable for both of us.

Where are you working, what does the organization do, and what is your current position? How long have you been there?

I am currently working as Project Marketing Manager at a confectionary company in the Bay Area. I’ve been there for a year and a half and fortunately I can tell this has been a great true to life American experience. I’m essentially responsible for new product development, social media and launch of online campaigns.  Since I’m the only foreigner working at the corporate office, this experience has been a real challenge and is helping me grow as a professional.

How did you find this job and how long did it take? (i.e. What methods did you use to conduct your job search? Which were the most effective? Least effective?)

Even before getting my work permit which took about 2 months, I start looking for jobs. I tried not to be too narrow on my search as I knew I was in disadvantage comparing with an American native. Unfortunately we all know companies try to invest on their employees to keep them as long as possible and for non residents this may be the biggest obstacle. Here we are temporary employees waiting for someone to give us a chance to prove what we professionally capable of. From my experience applying to offers through recruiting agencies was more effective than directly to the companies. Surprisingly it wasn’t me finding the job but the recruiting agency finding my resume online.  It took me over 2 months to find this job. Besides applying for existing offers, I also did spontaneous applications. It is important to adapt your CV to the standard resume. Talking with career centers or even asking American friends/colleagues for advice will help you get your resume done.

What is one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?

Now I understand how important it is to mention you’re authorized to work in the USA on your resume to keep you on the candidate’s selection, since it’s very unlikely that a company will sponsor a working visa.

Given that you’re from another country and didn’t have American work experience, how were you able to sell yourself to your employer and get hired?

Essentially you have to be honest and try to best communicate your international experience. It took me lot of interviews to gain experience and confidence on myself so I was able to mention the highlights from my previous experiences. It takes time for us to understand how things work so you better go to as many interviews as you can even if they don’t perfectly match with your profile.  Additionally, here interviewees perform in a very different way – you have to be really self confident on your statements. Takes a lot of work even more when you’re not used to act like that but that’s how it works here.  Having worked with other international companies around the world (including USA) had helped me on my application. At the end it wasn’t the first time I was contacting with this market. 

What have you learned about the American workplace from your experience at your job?

Here I found a more organized, responsible and proactive environment when compared with the European companies I’ve worked for. It’s also a very competitive workplace, even internally, which motivates you give your best. There’s no time to stop – time is money! A quick lunch or even a meeting/lunch is quite common and help you keep moving. Also there’s a great sense of punctuality so you better watch the clock.

In order for you to be successful in your organization, what is necessary? (i.e. what qualities/skills does your employer value?)

In my case you need lot of good communication skills to be able to present your proposals and convince your colleagues of a great idea. A lot of planning, proactivity, attention to detail and organization mixed with politeness are also very important skills for my position.

What advice would you give to other spouses who are looking for employment in the U.S.?

Immediately apply for the work permit and start looking for jobs when you get to USA as it may take longer than expected, post your resume in LinkedIn as well as the different job search websites as Monster or Career Building, let people know you’re actively looking for a job and organize yourself with a daily plan for your job search. If you try hard, one day you’ll make it.



A new home away from home!

Sole Consoli with her husband Raffaele Saggio
Sole Consoli with her
husband Raffaele Saggio

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]iving a life experience in the States has always been a dream for both my husband and me. However, when the time comes, it’s hard to say goodbye to people you love. It’s hard to put your life in a bag and leave your previous time behind you. But you do it because you keep hanging on to hope and to that rational part inside of you that says you are going to live a fabulous experience soon. And so it was! At least for me.

I moved to Berkeley almost 6 months ago with a luggage only. I hadn’t a place to live, I hadn’t a place to work, no friends, no points of reference. Nothing. But today I look at myself and I can see that many things have changed. I’ve found an apartment, a job and new friends. I wake up every morning and I’m happy.

Things started to change for me when I realized that I had to stop thinking about my previous life in my country as the only one suitable for me and started to look at the present life in an active and energetic way. I’ve been lucky to find a job very soon. I came into America with a J2 visa and I applied for a work authorization. However, time for bureaucracy at the immigration office is very slow and I’m still waiting for it. But at that time I wanted to look for something anyway. I couldn’t see myself as an accompanying spouse anymore but I wanted to recreate my own routine. So after many weeks of researching, I finally found “the perfect job”. I found this nice and very familiar Italian language school that was looking for teachers. I prepared a resume (in the American style!) and I decided to go to the school to introduce myself. It didn’t take much time to let the headmaster think about it and welcome me in. I was the happiest person in the world. I remember that day printed in my memory as a new beginning of my American life. And so it was. Few weeks later another Italian school contacted me. This time it was an Italian kindergarten located in North Beach, San Francisco. So, I started to work there too, as a part time job.

However, the biggest improvement in my new life wasn’t about my job. It was about my friends. Meeting Yvonne and attending her course for partners and spouses here in Berkeley was amazing. I was able to find new friends to share my experience with, new friends to have fun with and new friends to live fantastic adventures together. Everyday I wake up and I feel blessed for all of that. For this reason I really hope that sharing my experience with the new Berkeley wives could help them to find the hope and the bravery at the beginning of their journey. Because sooner or later we are all able to find ourselves here, creating the so-called “fulfilling life in America”.

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,