Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles in the Humans of Wausau series, which is funded in part through a grant from the B. A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation. Follow the Humans of Wausau Facebook page here.
By Kelli Oligney for Wausau Pilot & Review
Sangita Thapa, 36
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m from Kathmandu, Nepal.
How did you end up in Wisconsin?
I married my husband; he is from here. After marrying, I moved here 7 months later.
How did you meet your husband?
We knew mutual people and had an arranged marriage. I did not know him before we were married and then took our time to get to know each other after. It was hard moving to a different country. It was a culture shock plus gaining a husband and step-kids, but we made it work.
What are some of the cultural differences are there between living in Nepal and living here?
Everything is different. In my country, it is a very different culture; having a joined family and celebrating festivals together. Over here, it is different and took me two to three years to understand what Christmas and Thanksgiving are, and what the culture is all about.
What was the biggest shock of moving here?
The cold and the snow! In Nepal, the coldest it gets is about 60 to 65 degrees. On average, it is 75 to 80 degrees. I never saw snow before coming here. I enjoyed it for the first two months, but then got sick of it.
What do you miss the most about Nepal?
I miss celebrating festivals and making a variety of food. Dessert is very different here; it’s all flour and sugar. When Americans make food here, they open a box and put it in the microwave and it’s done. In Nepal, we take a lot of time with our food and add a lot of spices. My favorite festival there is Diwali; it lasts five days. The festival involves food and a lot of colorful dresses.
What keeps you in the Wausau area?
The kids go to school here and my husband works here. I have visited 13 or 14 states in the U.S., but I like it here. People are very nice, kind, and caring in this city. In larger cities, people don’t care if they run into you. After my husband retires, we may move to a bigger city to live closer to an international airport. I have been able to travel home several times in the last 10 years of living here, but my husband has only been able to go to Nepal twice. On a plane, it takes about 22 to 26 hours and once you are there transit can take anywhere from 12 hours to 24 hours depending on your ticket.
Was it a difficult transition for you to move to a different country?
Yes, before I moved here, I didn’t speak any English. I arrived here on January 21, 2011 and there was a lot of snow.
Since moving here, what are you most proud of?
My husband made me proud because he taught me how to drive, survive over here, and how to speak English; my step-kids helped me a lot too. For the first two years that I moved here, my husband was always with me; he was like my shadow because I couldn’t speak the language. I’m proud of myself for being able to be by myself, go anywhere I want, and talk to others. I lacked a lot of confidence at first, but now I have it and go with it.
If you had to give advice to anyone, what would it be?
I had a lot of struggles because of the cultural differences and the lack of education. Doing things that seem simple to others such as watching the news, understanding the culture, and talking to others would make me cry because I wouldn’t know what was being said. It was hard to understand because people would talk too fast, too slow, or too different. My advice would be to not give up and push yourself to do better because you never know what situation you will be put into. If you try your best and put everything you can into it, you will be ready to tackle those challenges and be prepared for anything.
What was the hardest moment in your life?
The hardest thing for me was learning the language here and the culture. Even now, sometimes I don’t understand what my step-kids feel for festivals here because they’re so happy and jolly, but I don’t understand it so I don’t know how to react.
What did you learn about yourself from that?
I knew I was a strong person and had a lot of potential, but since it took so long to understand a different language and culture, I didn’t know how to bring that side of me back out. After being here for 10 years, it comes easier to realize what people are asking me and I’m able to communicate better with others and feel more confident with myself.
Do you have any special hobbies?
Yes! I love making food, dancing, and once in awhile I like to sing; though it’s not very good. When people give me a headache, I sing even louder without any cares. I also love doing outdoor activities such as biking and hiking. I don’t like being in water though.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I love to dress up others and do their make-up; including threading.
What are your favorite memories from living here?
I will celebrate a Hindu festival with my whole family and do a lot of cooking, dancing, singing, and giving of gifts. It’s similar to Christmas except it’s a Hindu festival.
What changes would you like to see in the community in the next five years?
There are not many diverse restaurants that involve different ethnic cuisines. We would also love more cultural events in the city so people can come to learn and mingle with different cultures. Anytime we get a chance to go to different events, we don’t miss a chance.
Do you have a favorite quote?
No matter what, always be happy and stay healthy. My husband always wonders how I can always be smiling when I come home. No matter what, I’m always smiling. I could work 13 hours a day and I would still be smiling and happy.