It seems like only yesterday I moved to Western New York and didn't know anybody or anything about this community and its culture. Now, 19 years later, I'm amazed at how many people I've met, how many places I've visited and how much I have discovered since my arrival.
It wasn't easy in the beginning. But my lack of English didn't stop me from meeting people and discovering new places. I quickly came to understand that if I wanted to build a new life here, I needed to speak the language of my adopted country.
On the day I arrived, I knew only two people -- my husband, who came to the United States a month before me, and his uncle. Uncle John, who was born in Lackawanna in 1917, arrived with his family from Eastern Poland -- now Ukraine -- to work at the Bethlehem Steel plant. He introduced us to his friends and members of the Ukrainian community in Buffalo and its suburbs. This is how my networking opportunities began and I reached new horizons.
We received get-together invitations and visited many local attractions. I knew that we were close to the famous Niagara Falls and couldn't wait to go there. I consider the day I first saw the falls as a historical event in my life. Do you realize how many people around the world want to see it?
I asked a lot of questions. Starting with simple universal ones -- "who is it?" and "what is it?" -- I became involved in a domino-effect networking opportunity. As soon as I met one person, he or she asked, "Do you know (such and such)?" or "Where are you from?"
These questions created other topics for conversations. It seemed like I was talking to only one person but, at the same time, that person was introducing me to a few more friends.
Our conversations touched all kind of topics, including community living, local and global politics, real estate and ethnic diversity. We discussed the power of knowledge and learning opportunities in order to survive, how to inspire and how to stay strong. We expressed our views and opinions, shared our personal experiences and focused on how we are all interconnected. We shared information and provided resources.
Having a foreign accent and living in this diverse community has great benefits. It sounds like everyone has relatives in another country and the question, "Where are you from?" is hard to avoid.
Throughout my discovery process, I was moved, perhaps a bit overwhelmed and often inspired by how local communities live and operate. I've recognized this community's strength is its people. As I got to know more people and understand the local culture, I began to see the links between various issues and politics.
I've met community residents from many walks of life and with many foreign accents who have helped me along the way. I've learned about their characters, concerns and challenges. I've seen the inspirational ways people come together to improve the lives of individuals and neighborhoods.
I'm amazed at everything I've learned since my arrival here. I continue to expand my networking horizons and travel to new destinations. The more I do it, the more visible and knowledgeable I become about this community of strong, diverse people.
Time flies fast, but I'm not a stranger to this community anymore. It is now part of my life. This community is part of my culture and history.