Previously on “Moving Countries was the Most Challenging Thing I’ve Ever Done Part 1”:
Then, when you finally land, you walk out into this foreign land and walk into the arms of your favourite big sister and dad. I loved seeing them after being apart for so long, but that was one of the few good sides of the long journey over the sea. And also, finally being able to take a shower, put on fresh clothes and sleep in a bed.
My first week in the United States was very much like my very own Christmas. In one week, I had been set up with a new phone, new laptop, new bed and a previously-owned SUV. It was overwhelming but it was great and it was a joy I needed to distract me from the feelings of home-sickness.
I spent two nights at my father’s house and then my sister and I set off to move into our new apartment together. Within two weeks, I had enrolled in community college and roamed the local mall to secure my first retail job. For the following five years, I would be a sales associate for Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store. By immersing myself in the American community through working in a customer-focused position, I really made my adaption a whole lot smoother and unavoidable. I was the shy girl for the first three months on the job, too foreign to know what my coworkers were referring to in their conversations, not sure how to get invited into their social circles, and not sure how to even be a part of the labor force in the first place.
The first year was the worst. I grew very depressed and lonely. This may be TMI for some, but my period stopped for four months due to the stress on my body. It was a hard time, but I had some relief coming home to the familiarity of my sister at the end of the day. I had a new job, I faced my fear of approaching strangers, and I started college with a completely new educational system to figure out. Netflix was my social life and safety blanket, for those few hours I didn’t have to try be part of something I didn’t understand.
Friends came and went over the years. My career at Ralph Lauren saved me as my coworkers became my extended family. My current boyfriend was one of the people who first invited me out to a housewarming party outside of work. (Who would have seen a relationship four years down the line? LOL)
I really appreciate how patient and helpful everyone has been on my journey. People have tried to explain football and baseball to me, multiple times. People have helped me figure out these weird American foods and helped me navigate the best routes around town. People have been curious about the world I came from, while being accepting and appreciative of my differences.
One of the most frustrating things I remember about my early years was the simple task of grocery shopping. I’m an indecisive person and it was the hardest struggle trying to find a toothpaste (for example) and staring at the shelves faced with, what felt like 300, different brands, all claiming to be the best toothpaste for me. I just wanted damn toothpaste, I didn’t want to weigh life’s great decisions! And then finally giving up and picking one, only to find that it leaves my teeth feeling fuzzy but I’m committed to finishing the tube because I work retail and money doesn’t grow on trees…
Overall, these past five years have been a journey, however I feel like it really forced me to look at myself, my values and the direction I wanted to aim my future. I am honestly grateful for the opportunities I have had here in the United States and I know for a fact that I would not be half the woman I am today if I had never left that small valley in Cape Town, South Africa.