Video: Adjusting to 'Minnesota Nice'by Molly Bloom, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — They came to Minnesota for work, for love, to be near family, to find a better place to raise children, to escape civil war. But sources in our Public Insight Network who shared their experience adjusting to life in Minnesota all said it wasn't easy.
Many were surprised by the number of people they met who were born and raised here. Ron Johnson, whose TV news career forces him to change cities often, said his move to Minnesota was his most difficult adjustment. Having grown up in the South, he was accustomed to people smiling and making eye contact, but found Minnesotans to be closed off.
Kristina Smith, who grew up in Texas, had a similar experience adjusting to the indirect communication style of many Minnesotans.
"Where I'm from, people would say, 'You're really burning my biscuits right now!' But here, it's hard to tell when people are actually upset," said Smith.
Many of the transplants are now married to Minnesotans and raising Minnesota kids. Alpa Goswami moved to Minneapolis from Iowa the day after she graduated college for a job. She had very little money and no support here. The friends she made were transplants like herself. But now she is married to a man who grew up in Apple Valley.
"Our group of friends is an interesting mix of people my husband has known for forever and my friends who aren't from here."
Ron Johnson's Minnesotan wife made him finally feel like Minnesota is home. He and his wife are expecting a baby, and after moving around a lot he is looking forward to putting roots down here.
For Emiliano Chagil, who came to Minnesota in 1980 to go to college and escape the turmoil of civil war in Guatemala, the language and culture took some getting used to. For Latinos, he says, going to a fiesta means dancing, music and fun. He was surprised to find gatherings in Minnesota to be a little more subdued.
"People will just sit around and talk, and for many here that is what 'fiesta' would imply."
For him and other Latinos that he works with in his role as director of Hispanic/Latino services at Augsburg College, language is the real barrier. Given the difficulty of communicating, he sees many socializing with other Spanish speakers, but he encourages immigrants to look past their own communities. If you immerse in the new culture, "you will struggle with it but also learn from it."
There's a similar issue in the Somali community, said Fathia Absie. She moved to Eden Prairie from Washington D.C. to raise her daughters closer to extended family and to be part of a large Somali population. But she thinks there is a level of misunderstanding with the larger community.
"The Somalis have been in the news...and I think that's given them something to be afraid of." Her daughters have had no trouble making friends at school, but Absie has struggled to make friends outside of the Somali community.
When asked how they went about breaking into social circles, the people we spoke with agree that you have to put yourself out there. Fathia Absie invites people over for Somali tea. Many have found friends at church or through career networking groups.
Adam Nafziger met his friends through a group of stay-at-home dads. Kristina Smith recommended trying to break into social circles during the spring and summer when Minnesotans are happy and planning outings and barbeques. Alpa Goswami said, "Get involved with something you care about and meet like-minded people."
Lydia Hinojosa moved to Edina from Chicago to find a better place to raise her two children. She offered advice that was echoed by many newcomers.
"Be patient. When you find the right people, they are so much more open minded, supportive and wonderful than people in other parts of the country."