Anette Freytag is a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at SEBS.
Our arrival in the U.S.: Story of the Freytag-Furrer Family
We immigrated to the US from Europe, to be exact from Zurich, Switzerland. As my spouse Patrick is luckily a great romantic and our daughter Flora was three years old at that time, we took a ship from Southampton UK, to New York and immigrated with a Transatlantic crossing. It was the best decision ever. We took the train from Zurich to Southampton with changes in Basel, Paris and London. As we traveled with four huge suitcases and three backpacks, we had friends coming to help us at a very city where we had to change trains to catch our correspondence in time, sometimes driving us from one train station to another. It was such a memorable experience. We started at 8am in Zurich and arrived at 10pm in Southampton and had all these lovely goodbyes in person on the way. The next afternoon we boarded the ship and had a wonderful crossing with Herbie Hancock playing three concerts on board. On the last day we got up at 4:30am to sail by the Statue of Liberty. What a great moment!
Once we arrived and settled into the Rutgers Inn awaiting our stuff to arrive with a container ship the sobering experiences began. This is the sixth country I live in and of course, I immigrated from Zurich, the city with the best administration you can wish for, so I could not have been spoiled more for the ten years preceding my arrival in the US. Thus, it is still painful for me to deal with any kind of state or federal administration and hanging in phone lines or queuing for hours, often with little result. I still cannot believe that the Motor Vehicle Administration is sourced out to the best bidder! I became a big believer to put more money into publicly funded administrations and not defund them so terribly and privatize them. We could not have survived the first year without the continued guidance and positive attitude of the Landscape Architecture Department´s business administrator Gail McKenzie, who is one of the greatest women I have ever met.
The second thing that stroke me was the immense production of waste in this country, even in an environmentally conscious school as SEBS. The plastic and carton waste production of all the dining hall and coffee places completely overwhelmed me. In all European universities, we used real cups and plates and cutlery that was then washed and used again. I have become radical about waste avoidance, however, the pandemic stroke me a bit down. The third thing was how kind we were welcomed. We never made friends so easily and in great contradiction the prejudice of many Europeans that Americans are always smiling and nice but not deep and sincere, the friendships we forged early on, stayed with us und help us now to get through this pandemic. I also need to mention the Douglass Child Study Center and the amazing job they do in integrating foreign children with the utmost kindness and care. They really saved us multiple times as our child was thriving already six weeks after our arrival. I also love the Rutgers students. They are so kind, unpretentious, motivated, and decent, without chichi, it makes every teaching semester a joy despite the challenges of teaching in a language other than my mother tongue.
The last surprising thing for me to discover was the extent of systemic racism I observed. To me as a native Austrian, I had a glorified view on US America as their soldiers were willing to give their lives to free my country from National Socialism – something I will be eternally grateful for. Seeing tendencies from fascist playbooks surging in this country still leaves me deeply troubled, even heartbroken. However, since this summer, when I undertook a couple of anti-racist trainings, my view of Europe changed. I can detect white supremacy acting strongly in Europe, however less deadly, but this might more be due to the fact that police in European countries rarely uses force of arms and the civil society is almost without guns, except a few radical right wing and Islamic terrorist groups. Now, that I had the chance to “awake” to detecting white supremacy and how it is acting, I have the impression that it would be extremely painful for me to go back to Europe as there, the conversation has rarely started, and here, at least, it is in full debate. I truly hope for a deep transformation of our society at large, I hope for the effective implementation of policies to stop global warming and to realize social, racial and environmental justice at a global scale.