Coming to America

The Pacific Ocean is safely behind us and we’ve arrived in California. We flew in last week and tomorrow will mark the first week of us being here. So far things are going well, we’ve found a place to live and are in the process of settling in. Even though the place is furnished, there is still a fair amount of shopping that needs to be done. And of course new things to get used to. But more on that later.

The last few weeks in Seoul were pretty hectic with packing everything, cleaning, meeting friends and relatives, etc. Funny how many of the meetings were crammed in the last few weeks (days, to be honest) even though we were there for 6 months. Then again, in the beginning it didn’t feel urgent since “we still have plenty of time”, but 6 months is actually quite a short time. Now we have 5 months of California ahead of us and I can already tell that it will feel short.

I’ve lived in the USA for a total of 1 year, although spread into three stays of 3, 3, and 6 months, but the Better Half has been only here as a tourist for 1 week (and that was New York and Washington DC), and the Kids had not yet set foot on this continent. The two 3-month stays for me were in the Bay Area, but they were both around Palo Alto, whereas we’re now living in Berkeley, which is a fair distance away. The good thing is that most of the stuff is familiar to me so in a certain way, things are relatively easy since I know how things work and where to get stuff (maybe not the best price, but at least I’ll find it).

Getting here turned out to be an extremely painless operation. I had been worried about our visas, since we were applying in Seoul and I know from my own foreign students in Finland that getting US visas for conferences is a major ordeal. Well, cue in a Finnish passport (actually 3 Finnish and 1 Korean passport), J1-related paperwork from UC Berkeley, and it took a grand total of 48 hours from our visa interview to the time we had the passports and visas back in our hands. This pretty much matches my experience with getting US visas on my previous stays, so my worries were completely unfounded.

We managed to get on a direct flight from Seoul to San Francisco, which obviously was very nice. I had promised the Kids that they can watch as much TV as they want on the plane, but then it turned out that the video system on our seats (and a couple of seats around us) was having problems. The flight attendants kept on rebooting the system until it eventually worked, but by that time both kids were soundly sleeping. 🙂 In the end, they didn’t mind and didn’t complain about it, so no harm done.

On arrival into SFO, we were met with an insanely long line at immigration. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen a line that long on any of my visits to the USA. We were on the line for close to 1 hour and were still about 20-30 minutes away from being processed, when “The Magic Priority Trick”, i.e., a child in a stroller, worked its magic. One officer was directing people with small kids to the US citizen line which had by now emptied. Further, we got into a line where the officer processing us was just about to go on his break, so he didn’t even ask a single question and just mechanically stamped all 4 of us in.

The next good news was that our bags were of course waiting for us, all 8 of them. 4 of them 30 kg, 4 of them about 20. (Yes, that in theory means a pretty hefty overweight fee, but the checkin agent in Seoul had done us a favor by charging only half of what we should have paid; very much appreciated. :)) So, since there were a bunch of porters hanging around the baggage belt, I asked one of them to give us a hand. After collecting all of our worldly belongings, we made it through customs with no questions asked. Then, a shuttle to our hotel where we stayed a few nights, and on Sunday we finally moved into our new home in Berkeley.

So, that’s it for now. All is going well, but the next challenge in finding schools for Kids. The older one is eligible for a kindergarten in a public school and tomorrow we’re going to register her for that. The younger one will need some other kind of day care and that is still an unsolved mystery…

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