by Ben Goebel
For as long as I can remember I always wanted to come to America. Maybe not to live here at first, but this country had always been on my mind since my uncle told me how great it was. I finally received my Green Card a couple months ago. I am not American (yet) but I feel like I am where I always belonged. Before coming here, I moved around a lot. I lived in Poland, China, Denmark, and Canada, but I felt like I was supposed to be in the US. Everything I liked was linked to the culture here. I watched U.S. TV Shows, religiously watched the Daily Show and the Colbert Report and listened to American political podcasts. I was crazy about American comedians and followed many different American thinkers. I thought I hated reading but I was always just reading the wrong things. What sparked my love for reading was reading biographies based on Americans such as Steve Jobs, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin. As you can see, no French figures here. Because of all of my specific interests in American culture, I actually know a lot more about America than France, the country where I was born and lived for the first 20 years of my life.
“I couldn’t pick my place of birth but I am lucky enough to be able to choose where I want to live.”
When I received notice that I would be transferring from Canada to the USA for work, I was ecstatic. However, when I finally moved here, the first months were more of a struggle than I could have ever anticipated. I thought that getting in the country where I always dreamed to live in, I would not have to face the same barriers that I went through in the other countries I lived in. The difficulties included, finding a place to stay, letting go of my old habits, moving further away from friends and family, and having to rebuild a new life. It takes time for immigrants to find their place and it did take me some time (about 8 months!). It even scared me, why was it this hard to feel good in the place where I always thought I belonged? Then I looked for social contact where I could find it, which is just like most immigrants, in the people that come from the same place as I do. This created even more isolation from the American life I had hoped for, as I spent almost all of my time with French people. I didn’t come here for that but I did as I could. What made it even harder was the fact that group isolation is not easy to get away from. I was only able to do so after I found the love of my life in a bar, an American woman, who eventually became my future wife. She helped me to get out of my French bubble. Since then, I now have American friends, family, and coworkers. I am finally able to live the American life that I always wanted to live. I couldn’t pick my place of birth but I am lucky enough to be able to choose where I want to live.
Ben (second from left) at the Immigrant Leadership Institute graduation ceremony at City Hall with some of his fellow participants
However, all of this was almost jeopardized when the US government took my visa away in early 2017 (even though they renewed it in 2016 until the end of 2018). This was such a shock as my life was finally becoming what I always envisioned it would be. I had no interest in going back to where I was born. Fortunately, I was able to apply for the Green Card that I now hold in my hands. As I didn’t have the means to get a lawyer, I filed on my own, which was not as hard as I thought and provided me with intimate knowledge regarding Immigration laws and issues.
“I always wanted to get more involved in my community, but I never did anything to actually take that first step. This was my opportunity and I finally decided to take it. So I applied [to the Immigrant Leadership Institute].”
While waiting for my Permanent Residency, I was not allowed to work (until I got my EAD in August 2018), which gave me a lot of time to read, explore the city, and realize that I should use this opportunity to change my professional career and do what I always wanted to do—working for a good cause. However, I didn’t have any experience in working for a Non-profit or community organizations. Realizing this, I started going to every free training I could find (thank you Free Library, SERVE, PICC) and gaining knowledge on any non-profit related topics. I was lucky enough to find a training on how to market yourself from the Welcoming Center where Manuel Portillo came by and introduced us to the Immigrant Leadership Institute which was starting a few weeks later. I always wanted to get more involved in my community, but I never did anything to actually take that first step. This was my opportunity and I finally decided to take it. So I applied.
In the meantime, I was still looking for a job and I was running out of money. I only wanted to accept a job with a link to nonprofit work though. I applied to everything, from canvassing to Associate Grant Manager positions yet I had no experiences in either types of jobs. Once again, I was lucky and I was hired by a company to do street fundraising for different nonprofits. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And I was definitely not good at it, but I believe thanks to my good humor and my will to improve, I was not fired. I cannot thank my team enough who allowed me to do something good, have a great experience and be able to sustain myself. But this was not my calling or my passion so I was extremely happy when I was finally called for an interview for a job I applied to 2 months earlier. After 2 interviews in one week, I was hired as Project Associate at a local Nonprofit, which helps to improve the literacy of children all around the US. Everything I was looking for.
I was still participating in the Immigrant Leadership Institute at that time. This training was one of the most interesting and beneficial things I have ever participated in. I met a countless number of immigrants from all over the world (which was a good change from all the French people I spend time with), the program was very instructive and we had to take action and make our own event. Six months earlier I would have never imagined I would ever make a Public Event! So we made an awesome event, which brought about 25 people together to talk about community and immigration.
“I don’t know how to explain it but being in this country and having had the fortune and pure luck I have had, I feel empowered to make a change. And I can confidently say now that I am just where I belong.”
From this event, we received a grant from the Philadelphia Foundation to organize another one, which we are currently preparing for and will be held on Saturday, June 22nd. This experience made me realize that we, as inhabitants and immigrants, have to do everything we can to bring our community together. We cannot wait for governments to bring us what we need, we need to bring it to ourselves. It is easier said than done. I am very lucky, I chose to come here, while others were forced to or had to come because of dangers back home. I am also lucky because not only was my wife able to provide financial support for us both during my unemployment but also I come from a family that was able to support me as well. I am also lucky because if it was not for my accent, people wouldn’t care that I am not from here. People love French, so when I speak I do not get stigmatized or ostracized like other non-European immigrants do. Even with all this in my favor, I am always scared when cops sirens are approaching, I am always scared at a Point of Entry or U.S. Border Control, I felt isolated for a while and I still struggle to get myself understood sometimes. I also faced other barriers in the different countries I lived in. So I am aware that many of the immigrants who are here or come here are not as fortunate as I am. This is why I feel so much empathy to immigrants who came here by necessity, without speaking English and are struggling to find jobs that match their qualifications. This is why I am gladly volunteering my time to help as much as I can. I don’t know how to explain it but being in this country and having had the fortune and pure luck I have had, I feel empowered to make a change. And I can confidently say now that I am just where I belong.
PS: If you want more information about the event that we are organizing, please click this link.