Immigrating: Home is Where the Heart Is

By Sabine Ehgoetz

What makes you feel at home at a particular place on earth? The roof above your head? Not necessarily. Your family? Most likely. But isn't there something else you need so that your world feels complete? Something important that you may not even be aware of until you move to a different country and leave behind all that you considered to be your life up to this point.

Personally, I was extremely lucky when I came to Canada. Unlike many people, I had my husband with me and I had my cats (and trust me, they would have chosen to stay behind if they had known what kind of journey they were getting themselves into). I even had some of our belongings from Germany that I probably would have left behind if I had known when we decided to have them shipped over, what kind of problems we were stirring up. Yet, even when we all settled into our new home, I still felt somewhat uprooted and hanging in mid-air for the first six months.

As I caused even more damage to our finances, which were already in a bad state because of the move, by racking up the phone bill with endless international phone calls, I became aware of what I was really missing: friends! I needed a social network. The chance to make a local phone call and arrange to meet someone for coffee or just to chat a little on the line without being limited by different time zones. I missed the occasional girls' night out involving too many drinks and silly giggling. I wanted to find someone I could talk to about the state of the world and the state of my soul, the Gucci fall collection or the nice bottom of the cute guy standing at the bar counter. What bar, anyways, when you feel tied to your living room because you have absolutely no one to go out with?

Of course, there where the people my husband knew from before he moved to Europe, but common friends are just not the same. For example, how could I complain about him about someone he had known since he was five, or go on a secret shopping spree with a person who usually talks to him about everything? It was quite clear: I needed to find friends of my own.

At first I was a little shy about it. All the people I came across at the yoga studio I had joined seemed to be busy with their work and social lives. If I asked them to go out for a drink would they find this a little weird and would I - the stranger - come off too strong? As my fellow yogis didn't seem shallow enough to hold this against me, I took a chance one day before class and started a conversation with a girl who seemed friendly. It was easier than I thought and after a quick chat we arranged to meet for dinner.

We had a fun time until at some point between our second and third Vodka Martini she "confessed" to me that she was Jewish and asked me whether I would have a problem with that. I was quite astonished and rather shocked. First of all, if I got my German history right, wouldn't she rather be the one to have a problem with me instead of the other way around? And secondly, being born in the mid '70s, I never expected that this issue could affect me on a personal level. In the end, it didn't. A few very politically incorrect jokes and a good laugh on both sides led us past this odd moment and we became good friends. When I was driving back home through the city after this first night out by myself, I felt oddly at peace - like I had finally arrived "home".

This first experience made me more courageous. I figured that if even a Jewish person was able to like me despite world's history, I couldn't be all that bad at making friends. When I started a full time job shortly after that, things got much easier. I met a lot of nice coworkers who would invite me to go out for the occasional visit to the pub after work. I got to know people from various countries like Brazil, Spain, Eastern-India and France. This helped me to realize that at some point they all had left their former lives behind and come here to make Canada their home. My best friend though, was an Italian girl who I also met at the office. Now she is not only the first one to read this article because she is an excellent proof-reader, but she is also the first to know about any ups and downs in my life and someone I can trust completely. Although each of us is very busy with our daily schedule, we both know that when times get a little rough, we'll be there for each other no matter what. And the best of it all: we are only a local phone call and a short drive apart! My old friendships back in Germany never ended, yet it is wonderful to know that any place in the world can become your home as long as you manage to meet some people who open their hearts to you.

CNM