Editor’s note: In 1999, Claudia Topplep was a German exchange student at Auburn’s Edward Little High School who vowed to one day come back and live in Maine. Today, a four-part series continues — in Claudia’s own words — about the effort by her and her husband, Rene, to live in America. For the two previous columns, go to www.sunjournal.com.
By Claudia Topplep
Special to b+
That is exactly what my husband and I felt when we landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday, March 1. After nine hours of flying we finally arrived in the country we have wanted to live in for so long. But getting here was very emotional.
On Feb. 28, all of our relatives and friends gave a very warm goodbye party for us. We all gathered in my old school, exchanged memories and talked about our expectations for our new lives.
The next morning our flight was supposed to leave shortly before noon, but the day started off with a little problem. René and I had booked return flights. That was no mistake, because we knew a one-way flight would be at least twice as expensive. The problem was now we had to explain to the lady at the check-in counter that we are emigrating and did not need a return flight. After some convincing phrases we were allowed to pass and start our way to the U.S.
Arriving in New York, we were happy to see that an expected snowstorm didn’t seem to be close. That was a mistake. As soon as we were through immigration control we were told our flight to Maine had been canceled and the earliest one we could get would be 24 hours later.
Disappointed and tired, we rented a car and drove all the way up to Auburn. Five hours and many miles later our “second” family here welcomed us in Maine. Ruth Adams and Jim Sylvain have opened their hearts and home to us, as warm and kind as you can just imagine. They have made us feel at home, even though our families are far away.
The first days in our new home have been very stressful. To us it was important to get settled and to manage the most important things. On Tuesday we wanted to pick up our Social Security cards. But we were told we would get them by mail within the next three weeks. That made it a bit harder on us because now we have to wait to get our new licenses and open a bank account. We also started applying for jobs and went for our first American job interviews.
Now, it has been a couple of weeks since our arrival. We have had a great time so far. René and I did have a hard time finding a car we’d like and we could afford. Because we still don’t have our Social Security cards, we were afraid we couldn’t register it, but with the help of our “second family” (Jim and Ruth), we were able to manage that as well.
We also experienced some things that surprised us. For instance, even though America is known as one of the most advanced countries in the world, many people still send checks to pay for different things instead of just transferring money online. In Germany, pretty much every financial matter gets done online. I and my husband have never ever sent a check out before or even got paid by check.
Another thing, that we found to be different is that more people here like to spend their money without even thinking about it. Even people that drive a very old car and obviously do not have a lot of money keep going to their favorite breakfast places every morning, just because that is what they are used to. In Germany we don’t have Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in most of the cities. People eat breakfast at home and prepare something for their lunch break. Going out for dinner is something for special occasions.
What we enjoy the most right now is being able to spend as much time as we want with the friends we have missed for such a long time. Samantha Lefebvre has been my best friend ever since I got to know her in 1999 during my high school year here in Maine. Now, 10 years later, she is living in Waterville and is the mother of two children. Finally, within the last few days, I was able to get to know her kids, and she and I could catch right up. That demonstrated that even though people are sometimes far away from each other, if a friendship or relationship is really meant to be, you will always get back to where it was when you had to leave. That is a big part of what makes us feel at home right now.
At the moment we are still living with our second family. They gave us the opportunity to feel comfortable in their house and welcomed us to live here as long as we’d like. This gives us the chance to first set everything else up and then find our own apartment.
Within the next weeks, we hope to be able to both start working at jobs we like, get settled and enjoy our time here just as much as we have so far, thanks to all the great people we know here in America, our new home.
Coming in Part 4: Final impressions on finding a new home in America. A good fit.

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