By Rupal Ramesh Shah
In my life as an immigrant, I became used to changes at an early age, and I never take the life I have for granted. Our family expected to move from Tanzania to the U.S. soon after my brother was born in 1984. In fact, for many years when we attended school in our hometown of Moshi, we would tell everyone we were going to the U.S. the following year – and the following year – and the following. Years passed, and we finally did move to the U.S. in 1994. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out seamlessly, so we moved back to Moshi within six months. And then again, four years later in 1998, we found ourselves back in the U.S. This time it was for good. We stayed, and have been here since then.
Growing up, I always wondered what those changes were like for my parents, although they always seemed to remain steady and focused. As I started to grow older, I realized that the lives of my father and his own father were similar. Grandfather was orphaned at a young age, left his hometown in India, and moved to the coast of Mombasa, Kenya, in the early 1900s. He was so young that many people, even those he didn’t know, helped care for him. As he grew older, my grandfather migrated to Moshi, Tanzania. The rest is history.
Over the last 10 years I have lived in Massachusetts, South Carolina, Haiti, Maine, and now Ohio. Each time I moved to pursue professional career opportunities – except this last move to Ohio, which was due to personal life changes. I have often heard the following comments since moving to Ohio: “Maine to Ohio is a big move with lots of changes to come,” or “The Midwest is very different from New England, that’s a big adjustment.” The truth is, I don’t think this is a big move, a big change, or that I am making big adjustments. The biggest change in my life was my own move from Tanzania to New York City about 20 years ago.
As I have reflected on this most recent change in my life, I have recognized some qualities in myself that may be true for many immigrants. I find value in them now and am thankful to have had such experiences.
• Change is the only constant. Immigrants everywhere are often striving to adapt to new communities, learn new languages and cultural norms, and be welcomed into new spaces. As such, we are constantly adapting and flexing to accommodate. Change comes to us easily.
• Life has many uncertainties. We often plan and aim to execute our plans, but life happens. Sometimes personal decisions supersede money and professional careers. Even then, we accept life as is and move along, knowing that we can live in the present moment and be grateful for it.
• Even as we change, and our lives change, relationships must not change. Maintaining and keeping relationships is key as one continues to grow a community and world. Ideally, communities don’t change, they just grow as you move to new places.
• Adapting and adjusting to changes makes us sturdier and stronger. As we flex and morph to live in new spaces, we learn a lot more about ourselves and what we are capable of. We grow stronger as we learn to embrace the new spaces and experiences and learn to make the most of them.
As I move and settle into my new city and state, I am adjusting to new surroundings, constantly meeting new people, and growing my community and world. I am excited about these changes and what’s to come next. Sure, I will miss my old environment, but I still continue to be a part of that world as I expand into this new world, too. I truly believe what’s to come will be just as amazing as what has already been.