I sat on couches with these three female friends hailing from very different parts of our world. They were nearing the end of almost two years being “strangers in a strange land.” America.
In this time of domestic and international turmoil, it’s easy to be fearful, to wonder, “How can we really come to a true understanding and appreciation of those who are different from ourselves?"
Just sitting down for tea or a meal, or going on a walk together, opens up avenues of understanding, revealing new perspectives on ways of life and situations we often take for granted.
Sakina, the hostess for the evening, wore her red scarf loosely around her raven-black hair. Hailing from Pakistan, she usually dons the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, quite tightly, with only her face showing. But this evening, in her home, she is more relaxed.
The men sit, chat and joke with one another on the couches located in a different section of the room.
The consummate hostess, Sakina invited us all to share her biryani and other special dishes and, through them, to express her love, friendship – and goodbyes.
Along with Pakistan, the two other women – Mariana and Margarites – hail from Brazil and Greece, respectively. Both were quite reflective on their time in the U.S.
I realized their international perspectives were part of my growth as an American. To learn from them. To open my heart and mind more, not less. So I asked them about life back home and their experiences coming to the U.S.
Perspectives from Pakistan: Sakina
Back home, Sakina is an OB/GYN doctor. Coming here for her husband to earn a Master’s Degree, her visa did not allow her to work. She’s been the main caretaker of their two sons, ages 11 and 3 at the time.
“At home, I am so busy. I never seem to have time. You know, I go from home to work at all hours. So I don’t have much time to pause and think. When I got here, it felt so strange."
The other women nodded their heads. Sakina continued. “You know, we have helpers back home. Here, that’s not possible. I have to do everything. It is hard. Being a housewife – I never imagined it could be so difficult, so much work.”
Again, the nods of agreement. “Still, I have learned to slow down and appreciate my life more,” Sakina shared. “I have new types of relationships with women here. Real friendships. It has been very good for me. Of course, I connect with women back home. They are my patients. But, you know,” and she winked, “I see them from a different angle.”
Perspectives from Brazil: Mariana
I turned to Mariana and inquired of her the answer to my question.
“You know,” she responded, “we came here when my baby girl was just six months old. I was so scared. How can I do? I worried because I could not go out. Really, I could not go anywhere! Oh, and I missed my mom so much! I wanted her nearby to help me. I cried every day.”
Back in her native Brazil, Mariana is a naval officer. “I had to give all that up. We came here. We were excited when we learned my husband was selected. But then when we got here, I felt so unsure of everything.”
“You see, I was born and raised in the same city back in Brazil. My husband and I had visited Orlando once. So we thought the U.S. was good. But I didn’t know about living here. It all seemed so…different.”
“When I came here, my English was very poor. I couldn’t speak my mind. I didn’t even know how to go to the store, what to buy in there. But my husband was patient with me; we did many things together. And then I met more people. In time, my English got a little better, and I became involved in groups like the International Wives Club (IWC). That helped me a lot. I could make many friends.”
I was encouraged to hear how these experiences had changed her perspectives on life in the U.S. And had grown her.
“When my mother visited me a couple months ago, she told me, ‘I do not know this Mariana. You’ve changed.’ She is right. I became more capable. Now I can do things for myself. I can drive and go anywhere. I am no longer afraid.”
Her comments hung in the air.
Perspectives from Greece: Maragrites
Margarites, a lawyer of 15 years back in her native Greece, shared next. “Well, for me, so much changed coming here. We have been married only two years. So becoming a wife and giving up my career – at this time – was a lot.”
“At first I just sat in my house. I felt depressed. Everything and everyone I love, other than my new husband, is back home. But then one day I realized, after 15 years working full-time practicing law, I have some new opportunity. I am free to try something else! Then I decided to develop my hobbies and improve my English. So I did yoga. I took an art class.”
“This time here has been so good for me.”
I looked at Margarites and her husband, Nikias recalling the time, now decades ago, when my husband and I were just starting out. We spent the first two and a half years of our married life living, working, traveling and volunteering in Asia. That start for our marriage laid a unique foundation, a reservoir of shared experience, serving us well till this day.
I could only imagine the value this season of life has been for this new marriage.
“Will you go back to law when you return?” I inquired.
“I’m not sure yet, really. Because we hope to start a family,” she admitted. “But, I don’t know. Things are so unstable right now in my country…. I'm not sure now is the time to bring a baby into this world."
Facing Change, Facing Challenge
All of these women were returning home to countries in the midst of intense change and challenge. We acknowledged that as we spoke. But for them, it is home, and they have come to expect those struggles.
In fact, Mariana’s husband, Bruno, says he relishes the experience. “Going home to an impeached president, a hurting economy and the Olympics? I think it is all good. Brazil will only get better!”
Indeed, I admire his optimistic perspective. It shows me why he – and the others – were chosen for this opportunity in the States, and why they are so successful in their careers. They have belief in a future that can be brighter.
Have you taken the time to really get to know what life in America might look like from an international's perspective? Given current challenges, now may be the time!
Image Credit: Gillnisha on Pixabay