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  • Recently, I ran into my co-worker while walking home. It always baffles me when I see a familiar face here as I assume no one wants to come above 59th street. However, a few months ago I ran into someone I took a public speaking class with, also on my street. I am always shocked when I see people I know, even though Manhattan is a relatively small island.

    But what does it take to see a familiar face? While to me its always a surprising interaction, to others its seemingly insignificant and common. People who grew up in the same town or have lived in the same neighborhood might run into someone they know all the time. It didn't dawn on me the significance of this insignificant interaction until I no longer saw familiar faces.

    When my family immigrated from Russia to Brooklyn in the winter of 1993, we were a small unit of just me and my parents. While some people form my dad's side of the family were already living in NYC, I did not know these relatives yet as they immigrated in the 70s, so as far as I was concerned, we were alone.

    In the summer of 1994 I attended a Russian summer camp. The bus driver to the camp site was a sweet elderly Russian man who ended up becoming friends with all the campers. I will always remember him fondly and role he played in helping me understand the immigration experience at the young age of 11.

    A few months after the summer camp my mom and I were walking somewhere in Coney Island when I spotted the camp bus driver. We quickly exchanged enthusiastic greetings and wished each other well while my mom waited. After the exchange my mom remarked how lovely it must be to meet someone you know. She said something along the lines of how nice it was that I already had a familiar face in this country. It occurred to me that that at age 11 I already had an experience that my mother did not yet have in America, running into someone you know.

    My parents did make friends eventually and many over the years, but in the beginning it was just us. When I ran into a friend I experienced something that only locals get to truly experience. Its a comforting and familiar feeling that's foreign for foreigners. Its a reminder of how much we give up, even if its an accidental reunion. As strange places become familiar, it helps making the transition with familiar faces.

    When an new immigrant runs into someone they know for the first time, its a big deal. It means that now they're home.

    Week 7 of 52 - Story a Week in 2014
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