Menu Close

Moving Through Transition

Share

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y work as a career consultant and intercultural trainer brings me into contact with many people in career and life transition. At UC Berkeley, where I have been working as a consultant and teaching a course called “Creating A Fulfilling Life in America,” I have met many international spouses and partners going through intercultural, career and life transition.

Some have never lived or even traveled outside their home country, and living far away from friends and family is a daily challenge. Finding a place to live, setting up the apartment, opening a bank account and knowing where to shop or get a good haircut are some of the practical challenges of living in a new place, but there are also psychological challenges. Most people from other countries experience some degree of “culture shock” and loneliness, while others can get paralyzed with fear, depression and anxiety, and not know how to “get out” of what may feel like a big, black hole.

I often refer people to William Bridges’ book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Every transition, according to Bridges, begins with an “Ending.” When you move to another country, you experience many endings: an end to your job and to the sense of identity you got from your work, an end to time spent with close friends and family, and an end to being in a culture where you know the norms and can feel safe and comfortable, to name a few. You may go through a period that Bridges calls the “Neutral Zone,” where you feel lost and confused, unproductive, and not sure who you are anymore. It’s not a comfortable place. But in this period of confusion, there is growth happening as you begin to sort through who you are, what’s important in your life, and what you need to have to feel fulfilled. Your new identity is trying to take shape. Eventually, you will experience a renewed sense of energy as you begin to get new ideas and take action. You have moved through the neutral zone to a new beginning!

I have witnessed this process with the spouses and partners at UC Berkeley with whom I have had the privilege to work. To them and to you, I say, “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.” It may feel scary because you don’t know the culture, your English isn’t perfect and you have an accent, or maybe you’re not used to starting up conversations with strangers. I understand, but don’t let this stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Take your inspiration from some of these spouses:

Satu, a spouse from Finland, applied for work authorization but her application was denied. So, she decided to form the “Language Café,” an informal language exchange where people meet weekly at a coffee shop to practice different languages.

Mila from Mexico is a marine biologist. After volunteering at a nature center, she applied for a grant from UC Berkeley and received a sum of money to start a program on sustainable living called “Nature Village.” (http://www.naturevillage.org). She received an award for her work from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Ernani from Brazil is a high school physics teacher and musician. Since he couldn’t work on a F-2 visa, he decided to join a band and volunteer at a children’s science museum.

Doro from Germany didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in the U.S. and wanted to meet new people. She started a social group called the “Berkeley Wives” and created a website (http://berkeleywives.jimdo.com), and now she has a membership of almost 300 spouses.

Kathy from Chile is a veterinarian who volunteered at an animal shelter for several months before getting a part-time job as a veterinary assistant.

Kirsty from Australia loves to sew and make her own clothes. She started writing her own blog, “Tea and Rainbows” (http://www.teaandrainbows.com), to show off clothes she has made and talk about sewing techniques, patterns, fabric and anything else crafty.

These are just a few examples of spouses who have created or seized opportunities, taken risks, and stepped outside their comfort zone. You can too.

If you’re a new mother, find a mothers’ club to join where you can meet other moms to share the joys and frustrations of motherhood. Or, start your own new moms group.  

If you’re looking for work, learn the American way of networking and asking for informational interviews, and begin to make contact with people who can help advance you in your career. Take job search classes to learn how to write an American style resume, interview for a job, and “toot your own horn.”

If you are unable to get work authorization, find other ways to make your time in America meaningful and fulfilling. Is there something you’d like to try that you’ve never had the time to do? Is there a class that you could take or certificate that you could get to upgrade your professional skills? Can you think of some ways that you could be of service to others and volunteer your time? Or perhaps you’ve been too busy with your career to just take the time to have fun and relax. Allow yourself to do what makes you feel good and what makes you come alive.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your life in America!

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Yvonne Lefort

Creating a Fulfilling Life in America

Share
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

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Yvonne Lefort

Breaking into a new chapter of my life!

Share

[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,
Marie

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Yvonne Lefort