Relocating to America: Your Guide to Making A Home Away From Home
“Your home is you – it’s who you are – where you’re from…”
Guest Blog Post by Kalpana Krishna-Kumar
“Your home is you – it’s who you are – where you’re from…”.
Those poignant words from 2014 Coldwell Banker TV ad Home Sweet Home that debuted Oscar night struck a deep chord bringing a flood of forgotten memories from 1999. To an immigrant from India, the ad literally spoke of my journey and perhaps of millions of others who came to this country in search of the American Dream and are now intrinsic to the multi-cultural fabric of United States of America. Relocating was perhaps the biggest life changing event for me and my family, second only to the birth of my children. What I remember most of my first year was the deep sense of home sickness and despair – like I didn’t belong. In one of his books, James Baldwin said, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” So I set out to find that “irrevocable condition”.
The process of turning “walls, doors and windows” to Home Sweet Home wasn’t easy and it took time.
I had to look beyond the memories on my walls, painted hopscotch on my driveway, and endless meals served to my family. I had to reach out beyond my comfort zone and into my neighborhood, community and town to find that sense of belonging. Here are the 3 things that helped me on my journey as I adapted and adopted my new country I call home now:
Learn, learn, learn: Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”
Arm yourself with knowledge and make “Learn, learn, learn” your mantra in your first year of relocation.
Everything you ever want to know – yes, you are right – is on the Internet. But don’t neglect the local library. Even better – talk to long-time residents in your area. Seek them out and don’t be afraid to ask questions. My 85-year old neighbor showed me how to cultivate a garden patch in spite of the rocky geological ground in my area. In recent years, social media has become a great resource to learn about your community. Look up your town’s Facebook page. You will gain great insights into the key figures in town, upcoming events and places of interest.
Reach out: Your neighborhood is your immediate support system (Read Avoid a Stroke – Get Good Neighbors).
Remember, it begins with you – what you put out is what you get back. Here’s a cheat sheet to get started:
- Immediate neighbors: If you haven’t already received a welcome batch of cookies from your neighbors, knock on their door and introduce yourself. I have fond memories of the bag of peppers from my elderly neighbor’s backyard. Even if you are shy, don’t stay away from block parties. Bring a dish from your home country (Hint: anything deep fried is always appreciated). In good weather, the entire neighborhood comes out on the street. Step out and meet your neighbors. You will find some excellent advice about the best place to get fresh vegetables or recommendations to baby-sitters.
- Your school ecosystem: If you have children, your school PTA/PTO is a great place to start. Attend PTA/PTO meetings and volunteer – there is no better way to understand the education system than getting involved. Some of my best friends are people I met through the PTA. Another great place to meet people is at school dismissal time – not only will you make friends but also hear the best of the grape-vine that will give you secret insights into your child’s life. If it so moves you, attend your School Board meetings which can be very enlightening (and quite boring) about the public school system. My biggest learning from the board meetings I attended were the complicated relationship between the school budget and property taxes.
- Ancillary Resources: Your local library is a treasure trove of information. The public bulletin board is a great resource to finding information on the local groups in town or beyond where you can grow your network. Ask your librarian about the local New Comer’s Club. Their welcome wagon will not only introduce you to the local amenities and help you get around but also show you hidden gems. And here is the biggest gem of them all – visit the local Coldwell Banker office to talk to the local experts in your community.
Get involved: Volunteering is the best way to learn how any system works besides building and expanding your network. Don’t forget you are also being a role model to your children.
- Your Town: Seek out opportunities available in your town. Best place to start is at your town hall. Call or email the town office (contact information is usually available on websites), introducing yourself and offering your or special talent. Many town websites also regularly announce volunteer opportunities from Garden Clubs to Planning Boards to help needed out at town events. Sign up and show up. Most importantly, when you are get your permanent resident / citizenship, register to vote. Exercising your vote is your way of having a voice in how your community is governed – be it local or national. Until then, ask questions and stay interested and voice your opinion through local publications or emails.
- Your School System: Yes, working the Book Fair or organizing the school play needs time, especially if you are working. Start with whatever activity you can afford to get involved in. For instance, with my computer skills, I started with the classroom list and then newsletters which could be printed or emailed.
- Your Local groups: Groups like Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs, Big Brothers and Sisters, Soup Kitchens, Meals on Wheels among others, are part of every community’s tradition. In many, they are an integral part of your community’s support system. They are the hallmarks of a thriving population. Get involved in any small way.
In my town, I know scores of people who grew up in the homes they live in and went to the schools that their children go to. I can see why they did that. They felt a sense of belonging beyond their own property lines. Today, I feel the same sense of belonging as I create my own “infinite memories”, fill my home with “endless waves of laughter” and know deep in my heart that this is where HOME is!
Kalpana Krishna-Kumar is a Project Specialist – Broker Platforms at Coldwell Banker Real Estate.