I met Graham via Twitter and our mutual friend @leoraw from Here in Highland Park. On Twitter, Graham asked others to share the role that organizations play in cross-cultural adjustment. I offered to write about my experience immigrating to Israel from the U.S. with my husband and oldest child eighteen years ago.
Moving across the street takes a period of adjustment. Moving across cultures takes a lifetime. I went from being someone whom others consulted, to asking for help with the simplest tasks. When do the stores open? Where do I get a driver's license? How do I open a bag of milk?
Operating in a new language added another layer of difficulty. I spoke and read Hebrew. Yet I found I couldn't argue with the bank manager, or make small talk with the woman in the elevator. I could tell that the news was reporting on a sports game, but didn't catch which team won. Unless someone took pity on me, I had to ask for help or remain frustrated.
Besides my husband, who worked long hours, his aunt and uncle were the only people I knew in town. In the US I had many friends and could make new ones with confidence.Now I was an outsider, and forming new friendships took effort.Still, I made it a priority.
Humans want to feel needed, not needy. And the best way to feel needed is to become part of a community or group where you can contribute your time and skills to others. I was lucky to have a ready-made community that welcomed me.
A few days after I arrived a woman named Annie brought me to a talk at the local English-speaking chapter of a women's organization. The next time I was called about a program, I offered to make phone calls. It didn't take long for someone to invite me to join the chapter's committee where we organized meetings and fund-raisers, and had a great time. Annie and the women I met there are still my closest friends in Israel. They are my community and substitute family.
I reached another level of inclusion ten years later, after training to work as a volunteer breastfeeding counselor. Helping mothers allowed me to connect to women on a basic level and to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers. I remember when I ran into a native Israeli mother who had recently discussed her difficulties with me. She smiled warmly and held out her hand to take mine. At that moment I did not feel like an outsider.
I wish I could report that the warmth she shared remained with me until today. But after eighteen years the "Israeli" mentality can still drive me crazy. There are days I miss my family and old friends and wonder whether I will ever "belong." Then I remember that everyone feels misunderstood, displaced, or lonely at times. And I recall that through my role in local organizations I have made a difference (I hope) in the lives of others in my new, imperfect country. And that has made the difference for me.
Thank you, Graham, for giving me the chance to share my story.
You can read more about cultural adjustment, mothering, Israel and the Jewish community at my blog, A Mother in Israel. Or follow me on Twitter: @mominisrael
For those who want to read more from Hannah, here are a few posts from her blog that I particularly recommend:
Interview: A Christian Mother in Israel
Your Daughter is Smart, But . . .
Between Two and Four
When Neglect is "Normal"
As always, I'd love to hear from you. I'll make sure that Hannah sees any comments you leave here for her. Also, I'd like to hear from others who are living in a country other than the one they were brought up in. I'm thinking of starting a little guest post and/or interview feature.