Jan/Feb
2015

Grow Where You Are Planted: Life as a newcomer in Rochester

Written by Shweta Raikar Anavekar
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In December 2008, I arrived in Rochester, Minnesota. When I stepped out of Rochester International Airport, the first thing I noticed was the bitter cold. It was so cold that I felt I would be warmer in the freezer with the frozen vegetables. The Minnesota cold is a cold that you just have to experience. I knew that my life would be different. I was excited to be embarking on a journey from India to the land of opportunity and freedom, but there were aspects of this transition which took me by surprise. 

The first surprise was when I finally reached my new home. It was different. There was no longer the smell of the hot Indian summer or the scent of incense in the air. I did not come home to a kitchen overflowing with the sounds of my mother and sister coordinating the preparation of a three-course meal. I realized that it was just my husband and me. I was also apprehensive when I realized that he would be working and would be apart from me for a significant portion of time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I appreciate the sacrifices he had made for me. 

Letting Go

I had to let go of my prior carefree existence. I could either let the isolation consume me, or I could stand up to the challenge. This was the greatest challenge that I had ever faced. I had always had the company of others to entertain me, whether it was my mother yelling at me for keeping the cupboards in the pantry open or my cousins conspiring with me to play a trick on the neighbor kids. Now, I had to become accustomed to the fact that I had limits, many due to the weather. For me, to venture out was an expedition of unprecedented proportions. Making friends was like trying to climb Mount Everest, a cultural challenge that I had never anticipated. I always made friends easily, but now, I froze when trying to enter conversation, much like a leaf in the frigid weather. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone was polite to me, but I had the greatest difficulty trying to connect. 

An Angel Rescued Me

In my life, I had come to depend only on my immediate family, but in Minnesota, in the middle of the brutal winter, an angel found me. Marcia is a quiet, unpresuming nurse. She gathered me under her wings and took care of me in a way that I could not do justice with description. She saw and understood the struggles on my shoulders. She would come unannounced to our home, and it was usually on those days when I needed her most. I most fondly reflect on our many excursions to nearby cities. In addition to these little adventures, she taught me to drive. Although I am sure this was a daunting prospect for her, not once did she flinch, and all the while, she maintained her gentle composure. When I received my driver’s license, we were able to continue our little adventures. These days I enjoy putting the pedal to the metal! 

Where am I now? With the help of my husband and my angel Marcia, I was able to resume my education. I realized that making friends in Rochester was indeed easy; most people just wanted to get to know me. Now I try to connect to young women like myself, who have traveled far from home, who are quietly struggling with their transition, so that I can make them aware that they can reach the highest heights and enjoy the richness of this diverse and open community. I told myself, “Shweta, grow where you are planted. Everything will work out.” 

Shweta was an intern with Rochester Women magazine and graduated from Winona State University in December 2014.