Potluck of Cultures

Berni

This is Berni. She is from Chile. She is passionate about defending women’s rights, their empowerment and independence.

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One of Berni’s dreams has always been to live in another country, so when her husband Matias told her he was thinking of moving to Atlanta for his PhD, Berni didn’t hesitate long. “He let me make the decision, because I was going to ‘lose’ the most. I decided to come because it may be the best chance for me to live in another country.”Moving to the United States meant that Berni not only had to leave behind her friends and family, but also her job in HR as an organizational psychologist, in which she was in charge of hiring people with disabilities and women at social risk. She admits that the fact that she can’t work in the United States was a big challenge in the beginning and that she is afraid to lose her career because of the long time off; but at the same time, she appreciates the time that she has now. “I think that it’s good to have a time off, because otherwise you will work your whole life.” In Atlanta, she likes to spend her days going to Zumba classes at the gym with friends, improving her English by taking English classes and taking different courses on the internet to learn new things and skills. Berni also likes the Georgia Tech International Spouse group, as it is a great way to make friends, but also a much needed support system for foreign spouses who are new to the United States and she likes helping the other girls wherever she can. “Helping the other girls is important, because we are like each other’s family here. The only thing we have are our friends, so it is important to support each other. That’s why I help them whenever they need me.”

14523090_673200249495105_7999448773015370594_nFor Berni, friends and family hold a very special place in her life. At times, when she was afraid that she was not making the best decision, they encouraged her to take the plunge. “My friends told me that I had to do it, they encouraged me. They told me that I have to take advantage of this time and to do all the things I didn’t have the chance to do in Chile because I didn’t have time. My parents also encouraged me a lot.” In Atlanta, she still speaks with her Chilean family and friends every day. “I think with all the social media, you are very close to your family and friends. I speak with my parents and brothers and sister every day. I am very close to them, especially my mom. The ones that I miss the most are my grandparents, because they are old and I am worried something will happen to them… I also speak with my friends in our Whatsapp group every day, they write me all the time!” Next to family, she especially misses the food of her home country and the famous Chilean parties. “I didn’t know how to cook before coming to Atlanta, but now, I am learning to cook typical Chilean dishes like cazuela and empanadas.”

14859873_673200226161774_1585189349522228113_oWhile Berni feels that adapting to the American way of life was relatively easy for her, she tells us that the experience of getting to know the customs of other cultures has not always been without hiccups. Unlike Americans, Chileans have the custom to kiss when they greet someone or say goodbye to them. She jokes that, even after 1 year in Atlanta, she still hasn’t gotten completely used to greeting her friends without kissing them. “In Chile, we like to touch a lot… The first time was with a friend of mine and I didn’t think about it. When I was saying goodbye to her, I was going to kiss her and she asked me: what happened to you?! That was very awkward. (laughs)” Even though Berni didn’t have many challenges adapting to North American culture, she admits that she did have some trouble understanding some of her new friend’s cultures. She tells us that what she admires most about the women in her country is that they believe in  fighting for women’s empowerment. As such, it was challenging for Berni to understand the different ways women are regarded in some other cultures and the roles these women play in them. “I like that a woman has a lot of power, I believe in women’s empowerment. It has been a challenge for me to be tolerant with other cultures, because I like that women can do whatever they want. In the beginning, I was telling them, you don’t have to do that, you have to do whatever you want! But then I thought, maybe they want to live like that, so who am I to interfere? You have to respect all the different cultures and ways people think.”

Ultimately, Berni believes that moving to the US has changed her life and relationship with her husband Matias in a positive way. “In your own country, you have your family and friends, and here you only have your husband. Every weekend, we used to go to our families or get together with friends, but here we don’t have that option. It’s good and bad. As a couple, you become closer when you are alone.” She tells us that she feels that she has two homes now, one in Atlanta and one in Chile. “Chile is my home, because my family and memories are there, but my home is also here with Matias. My home is divided now, here and there.”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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