November 17, 2010 marked a big personal anniversary, my ten years in the US. Ten years ago when I was in my 20s I came in this country for the first time, without having any idea how long I would stay for. Ten years later, here I am, living in my adoptive country, my adoptive home. And I’m not complaining, not a bit.
Why did I come here? Well, I came here for a guy, an American I had met in Edinburgh, Scotland where I studied for my master’s degree. After we finished our studies in the UK, we wanted to stay together. We decided it would be easier if I would come to the US, to see if I liked it, and maybe we could start a life together. I landed in Boston on November 17, 2000. My first impression of the airport was that of a dump: it was under construction, no signs anywhere, it looked like a small town airport remnant from the 1970s. I was pretty sure Boston was a big city, it had to be better than that, right? This is the area that MIT and Harvard call home? Horrors! The then boyfriend picked me up and we drove straight to Maine. It was dark as we were driving out of Logan, and having caught a glimpse of East Boston only, I could not stop thinking how ugly Boston looked. We stayed in Bar Harbor, Maine for a couple of weeks. Lovely town, but I, a city girl, could not see myself staying there for a long time. I wanted to see more places, I wanted to explore the new country.
One of the first things I noticed in the US was how big everything was. Big roadways, big cars, big distances, big pieces of furniture, big portions of food, big people. And then I noticed that everybody drove everywhere, walking seemed to be an almost forgotten ability of the human body. Gas was astonishingly cheaper than it was in Europe. My impression of the Americans was that they were extremely friendly and open. Back in Edinburgh, we considered the American students loud and obnoxious, but visiting here I found Americans to be better than that. People that we didn’t know too well, would have us stay at their house, they would let us borrow their car. They would always be nice. Having conversations with them I discovered how removed they are from international affairs and situations. They would sincerely ask questions like “Have you ever seen snow?” (answer: yes, it does snow in Greece), “Have you ever eaten pizza?” (answer: Yes. I’ve eaten pizza in Italy, actually, which by the way, is next to Greece), “What language do you speak in Greece? English?” (answer: Greek, from which a good portion of English words is derived.)
Oh, yes, the language! I had studied British-English since I was 10 years old, so I had to adjust to the American-English spelling, the American accent and to same words having different meanings. I learnt that pavement here means roadway and not sidewalk, colour is color, kerb is curb, programme is program, tyre is tire, jewelery is jewelry, laboratory is pronounced quite differently, and oh, my God, these people don’t know meters and kilos! And, wait, what do you mean there are 12 inches in a foot? A measuring unit that’s not decimal-based?! Well, at least, there are 100 cents in a dollar, thank goodness.
In the beginning it amazed me how flat the Northeast is. From Maine, to New Hampshire to Boston I found the terrain pretty flat. In Greece wherever you are, almost always there is a mountain in the horizon. Here, it is almost difficult to find a place with a nice panoramic view. But I got used to it. The then boyfriend got a job in Manchester, NH, where we moved to. Same there, everybody drove everywhere. The lack of decent public transportation came as a shock. I used to walk to the center of the town, and I wouldn’t meet any other pedestrian. The center was dead and boring. It seemed that everybody was hanging out at the shopping mall. And with every visit to Boston, which turned out to be a very beautiful city offering a million interesting things to do, the need to move closer grew urgent.
At some point while living in Manchester, NH I got bored enough doing nothing and I started looking for a job. The task turned out to be relatively easy. (Those were the days.) Employers were open to hiring a foreign engineer, and the interviews weren’t that difficult. ( I remember I had an interview in Edinburgh, for a GIS position and the questions were very technical, detailed and tough, none of the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years stuff I was asked here.) I got my first job here at a South Boston surveying & engineering firm. The owner of the company was an older German gentleman, who confided that he prefers to hire Europeans, as they are more hard-working than Americans. Interesting, I thought. After a little while, I got used to inches, feet and miles, I learned the terminology, and a whole new set of rules and regulations.
After six months it was time to move. My crazy commute from Manchester, NH to South Boston had to be reduced, so we moved to Coolidge Corner in Brookline, and a couple of years later in Ball Square in Somerville. Lots of things were happening and time was going by. I met interesting and not so interesting people, people seemed to like chatting me up, especially when waiting for the red line or the green line, or the mighty No 7 bus. I made some friends. The personal relationship worked out until it didn’t. At some point tired from renting and moving, I bought a little place, and for the past three years I’ve been living in Cambridge. I also changed jobs, from the engineering firm in South Boston to an engineering firm in Somerville, and then on to the public sector, my third job now, where I recently had my fourth year anniversary, and I am pretty happy with it.
And I’m pretty happy with my adoptive city. The Boston area is, honestly, awesome. Sometimes we forget to appreciate its beauty. Just think of the view of the city and the Charles river, when the red line train goes over the Longfellow Bridge, and you’ll see what I mean. Boston seems to me pretty European, a walkable city with decent public transportation options. There are many parks and always some relaxing path or trail to walk or bike on to clear the mind. It’s a youthful city, all these college kids make it feel young. You get the opportunity to learn and try out new stuff. I took guitar, modern & jazz dance, drawing, yoga, photography and video classes in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge. There are so many things going on all the time. My favorite bands will always play in Boston, there is a rich theatre scene, plenty of galleries, museums, art house cinemas, restaurants, bars. This area offers high quality of life and top-notch options. In other words, you cannot be bored here, and I am deeply grateful for that.
Sometimes people ask me if I ever go back to live in Greece again. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but at this point I’m not planning on moving back. I visit Greece once a year, every summer to enjoy the beaches and the sea. Sometimes I look at a map and see how far Boston is from Greece, and only then does it occur to me that I live on a different continent now. Sometimes I think that I never planned on living on a foreign land, I didn’t plan on emigrating, but things just happened. This land is not foreign to me anymore. Home is where I stand, home is where I live. Sometimes when I say ‘home’ I mean Greece, other times I mean the US. Yes, home is 4,600 miles (that is 7,400 kilometers) away from home. And that is quite alright.