When I came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo three years ago, I bounced around temporary homes in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. Even though moving around a lot was difficult, I liked the pace of big cities.
I was 16 and had graduated from high school in the DRC, but my case manager told me I needed to complete a whole year of high school in the United States to be eligible for college here. In 2021, I was sent to a family in the country near Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, which is 90 minutes away from Philadelphia.
When my manager told me about moving, she said, “I want you to understand that where you are going, your high school has 98% White students and 2% Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. How do you feel about it?’’
I was blindly optimistic. I said, “Miss, I’m very happy to try it. Whether I turn out to be another entrepreneur like Oprah Winfrey or civil rights activist like Ruby Bridges Hall, I want to go and experience it.”
I Miss the Sounds of the City, to Me the Sounds of Life
Many teenagers in foster care are sent to places outside of their comfort zone, and for me, a move to the country was exactly that. When I moved to Bucks County, I observed the neighborhood was quiet and our house faced a road without much traffic. I could hear the noise of birds in our backyard. Sometimes I sat outside to listen more closely to their sounds, but I’d get bored and go back inside.
I don’t like to sit in one place for long. I prefer moving around and being exposed to a lot of people and conversation to stimulate my mind with positive energy.
In New York, I often hopped on the subway with friends to places like Times Square and Radio City Music Hall. Sometimes we took self-guided walking tours, exploring the theaters, landmarks, and huge buildings. I liked hearing the noisy traffic and my neighbors talking on the streets all night.
When I moved to the country, I lost touch with city friends. The only people I talked to outside of my foster family were people from the agency and some of my previous foster parents. I felt lonely and missed life in the city.
Me and My Alpaca Neighbors
In my new high school, I did not make close friends. I’m attracted to people who stimulate my mind, and the students I met only seemed to talk about small things or gossip.
In my neighborhood, I rarely saw anyone outside; the only action came from the alpaca farm next door. Sometimes I walked over there to visit them. They had natural shades of fur in brown, white, and black. They made silly humming sounds and mostly ate grass and hay. When they chewed the grass, their mouths moved from left to right; it gave them this funny-looking face, which made me laugh.
Although this wasn’t the most stimulating activity, I visited often and began exploring my surroundings more. I realized that in order to succeed in my new life and achieve my goal of graduating, I needed to step out of my comfort zone. I had to adapt to my new home by trying new activities. I began reading, dancing, writing, studying, and going for walks and hanging out with my foster family more.
I Finally Find a Deep Connection
In October, I agreed to go with my foster mom to have my hair braided by one of her ESL students. There were a bunch of people hanging out at the house and I met a guy from my country and he asked me out.
He lives nearby in Allentown, about 30 minutes away. He plays soccer, is responsible, and lives with his grandmother and cousins. He is really funny and makes me burst into laughter that sends me onto the floor, something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
One time he told me how hard it was for him to ask me out, and that he is actually introverted. We went on a movie date and it was his first time at the theater in five years. I realized I wasn’t the only one having trouble acclimating to new surroundings.
My boredom has gone away because every weekend we go out to different places like the shopping malls, amusement parks, and movies. Most of all, we love going to parks. Peppermint Park is nearby with a rain garden and meadow plants and is my favorite place to be with him. I am starting to feel like my old self again.
It was tough, feeling like I didn’t belong in the countryside, but I never lashed out and I think that helped. Taking a few minutes to walk outside allowed me to find small moments of joy in an unfamiliar area. I may not be able to be that open with my foster family, but I appreciate their willingness to help in small ways. That kept our relationship solid and made me comfortable to travel with them to places like getting my hair braided; if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend.
I am now talking to a psychologist once a week to not get too depressed and feel isolated, which I would recommend if you’re placed in a secluded area that seems unfamiliar. This has been another step in trying new things and that has given me more confidence. Talking with the doctor and being with my boyfriend has helped me refocus on my goals to go to college. I’ve also become more outgoing at school and auditioned for a musical. I will have a part in Mamma Mia! this spring.
I look forward to graduating this year in June 2022 and finally moving into a semi-independent life. I’ve decided I want to go back to the city where I feel most alive, but I’ll enjoy my time in the country while I can.
1. What shifted for the writer when they moved out of a city and transitioned into their life in the country? Have you ever experienced a big life move, and how did that impact you?
2. Although the writer’s comfort zone was living in the city, they were immediately optimistic to try something new. What new experiences opened up to the writer after leaving their comfort zone?
3. The writer uses therapy as a way to take care of their mental health through this life change. What are some other ways that we can take care of ourselves during life changing events?