Food Experiences as an Immigrant Athlete
As I watch the unfolding news of war in Ukraine and the human struggle for freedom, life, and safety; as an immigrant, I am reminded of my own memories. Although it was a time of vulnerability, I want to be clear that I did not leave my country of Lithuania because of war, nor did I leave because my house was bombarded, nor was I trying to find a safe place for my kids, family or loved ones.
I left because I wanted to have more opportunities for education and sports. It was my choice. My family sacrificed a lot for me to be in the USA today; and many good people, in addition to my family, supported me: coaches, teammates, teachers, friends, and people I never met.
As I landed at the Minneapolis - St. Paul airport, I was excited to be here but not prepared for the challenges I faced.
I arrived with two suitcases and only a few dollars on a card that my parents gave me. The challenges were many: not knowing the culture, not speaking English well, not having my friends, not having people who spoke Lithuanian, not having enough money to call my family and friends, not knowing how to type or use a computer, nor having money to buy necessities like toiletries & school supplies, just to list a few.
It doesn’t take much to feel overwhelmed amidst big challenges. Often people wonder what we can do to help. That's why I wanted to share a little bit of my own experience as a new immigrant so that you can hear about the very basic challenges that a refugee may be facing. I wanted to share some resources if you wanted to help or reach out. These resources focus on challenges related to food, my professional arena, with the hope that this may help at least one human to adapt to a new culture as a refugee or an immigrant.
You never know what a difference you can make in someone’s life.
Even the most basic things can really become unexpected hurdles. These are a few things that I struggled with and tried to overcome:
Abundance of foods in the dorm cafeteria
Overwhelming selection of unfamiliar foods in the grocery stores
Not being able to order food in the restaurant
Lack of money to buy groceries
Not knowing nutrition labels and orienting my purchases based on pictures on the food packaging
Not knowing where I can find help and support
Shame for asking to be helped. I supposed to figure out by myself, I am strong athlete, and I can’t show my vulnerability
I struggled a lot without asking for help and support.
I ran well in my first cross country season, won some major races, and became All-American in cross country; but underneath I had severe depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, and even attempted to take my life. Such tremendous life changes bring with them very mixed emotions.
I did not want to suffer, but I also did not want help. So many had sacrificed so much for me to be in the US and I was in a much better place than my family and friends. There is shame involved in not being able to adjust with ease. I was supposed to be happy but the challenges were overwhelming, even with the eventual support of my coaches and teammates.
Generosity and Empathy
Over time, in my own immigrant story, I pursued an education, sports, started a family and am now a business owner.
Many refugees are forced to leave their homes and may not have any support systems when they are resettled. They might struggle when adapting to their new country or city, long for some familiar culture, faced with income inequality issues and food insecurity. In fact, refugees have some of the highest rates of nutrition inadequacy in the US. Individuals alone cannot solve the problem of food insecurity, yet if we come together and do what we can, we will see real change around us.
How can we help those in need?
Here is a short list of things that one can do to help refugees and immigrants:
Be kind to everyone
Volunteer your time to organizations that provide support
Organize a food drive
Donate goods to your local foodbank or shelters
Donate money to credible organizations
Here are some websites to learn more about helping immigrants and refugees:
In the Twin Cities
In the US