"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Starting from scratch in a new country

By on March 1, 2018 in Articles with 0 Comments

Kathy Hirschel learned her art skills in Peru, but started her face and body painting business after arriving in the U.S. when — as an immigrant — she needed to create multiple sources of income.

By Kathy (González) Hirschel

Living in a country far from my home land (Peru) has not been easy. Despite having lived almost 10 years in the state of Washington I still miss my country, it seems to call me to “return to my roots” year after year.

I am Kathy (González) Hirschel. I was born and raised in Lima, the capital of Peru.

Growing up in such a huge city with over 8 million inhabitants, you understand the meaning of a city that never sleeps.

I grew up surrounded by buildings, the bustle of traffic, with people everywhere you look. This was all I had seen and experienced, until years later when I emigrated to the United States.

In 2003, I was studying to complete the last few months of my architecture career while at the same time working for a construction company.

My life was my home, my job, my classes in the university and my church until it came time for me to leave “my little world” when I got married and moved to this country.

It was in that same year that I met my husband Leland who was visiting my country on one of his trips to do missionary work at a church that he supported from the United States. It was the same place where I served for many years in one of the neediest areas of my country, offering breakfasts for more than 50 children along with Bible classes.

For me, Leland was like any other foreigner who came to Peru, spoke little Spanish and I took the opportunity of meeting him to practice my English. It took only three days to realize that something “magic” was happening. After that he traveled to Peru twice per year to see me and after two years of dating, we got married. And WOW, my life took a radical turn, not just 180 degrees, more like 360 degrees.

When you come from a Latin American country, you always hear about the United States as “the country that has it all”, that expectation captivated my thoughts. However, after arriving in a small, very rural agricultural town called Quincy, Washington that couldn’t even be found on the map, it made me think, “Is this the paradise that everyone talks about?”

As I was coming to the United States I imagined the whole country would be like the pictures I had seen of New York or Los Angeles, full of skyscrapers, traffic, noise, people, similar to what I was accustomed to seeing in Lima. But the reality was quite the opposite. A reality that cost me many tears and depression trying to understand this “new world” away from my family, the friends I grew up with, my customs, music, language, the change in climate and all the missing details that you can only find in your home country.

It was my private suffering that I thought no one else had felt (only me) and that it was the cost of adapting to life in a new country starting from zero.

Having studied English for almost two years in my country, it should have been easy. But it did not help much because I had a hard time understanding people, and worse yet is that sometimes they did not understand what I was trying to say, being a Latina with a Spanish accent.

Again, starting from scratch, I enrolled in English classes and little by little the shyness of speaking a new language was disappearing.

Then came the cultural shock of the way people greet each other here. In most Latin countries, it is typical to be greeted with a kiss on the cheek and a hug from each of the members of the family and close friends. Here it seemed when I used this approach it was a bad thing.

I think that is what brought me the most tears, because I felt that this country was very cold and indifferent. But then I understood that this is the culture here and I had to adapt to those “small changes” that I did not understand before.

Every year I travel to Peru to visit my whole family. I have to do it. It’s a chance to “recharge my batteries” not just for renewing my mind, my soul and my heart, but also for my stomach because I miss Peruvian food very much.

As the years go by it has been more bearable, not as difficult as the first years. But the fact of “the constant goodbyes” in my life, has been difficult for me every time I have to get on a plane.

In 2014 Leland and I made the decision to move to Peru to live for two years, during which time he and our children Gabriella, 11, and Daniel, 9, learned a lot of the Peruvian language and culture.

For the first time I felt that they would be able to “get in my shoes,” to understand me a little bit better.

Those two years flew by, and the moment when we got ready to go home, we did not want to do it by plane, but by car, yes, driving from Peru to the USA.

The journey took almost six months, 14 countries, 22,000 miles and has been the most enriching experience we have had as a family.

Now we are preparing to go to Alaska and fulfill this dream of traveling almost the entire length of the American continent by car.

Starting from scratch in a new country taught me to be open to learning new things, to savor the time spent with my family and friends who do not live close to me.

It has taught me to be patient and to identify the needs of my community, being bi-cultural gives me a unique perspective on the needs of all sides.

This experience has caused me to be the woman that I am now and to do what I love the most —  to serve in my church, making music, creating designs and art.

We moved to Wenatchee a year ago and so another change came. No matter where you come from, you have to deal with the reality of change forever. I ended up belonging to both cultures.

My desire is that my struggles will be an encouragement to others going through difficult times in their life.

I promise you good times are ahead, you can be happy in any situation if you persevere, even “starting from zero.”

Currently, I run two businesses, Happy Faces Art doing face-body painting art for parties and events travelling all over the state during the summer and LIMA33 doing translations of documents and websites.

I also work for a local Spanish radio station as a community reporter and writing and editing videos for my travel blog. Also, serving my community through the Hispanic Ministry of my church.

I am a very active, busy and blessed woman.

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