Next time you are at the library or your local coffee shop, take a close listen and perhaps you’ll hear a British or Brazilian accent. No these aren’t tourists visiting New or North Castle but instead they are expatriates (also commonly referred to as expats) who have chosen to make our lovely slice of Northern Westchester their home. While some plan to remain long-term others have defined job assignments and a specified duration of time here. The Inside Press wanted to spotlight some recent expats to our community and hear their unique perspective about what makes living in the ‘Castles’ so special….
Meet the Mansfields
Meike Mansfield, originally from Germany and her British husband, Luke and two children, Heidi and Robin most recently hail from Kent, United Kingdom. A place that she describes as “picturesque with fields and horse paddocks.” Their life was hectic though with both Meike working for a multinational food company and Luke working for Samsung and having an arduous daily commute to London. When Luke received a call from a headhunter for a job for another multinational company in innovation based in Purchase, she was initially hesitant. But she also knew that she was frazzled and stressed in the U.K. working a job with two young kids, and no sitter or support system. After watching a close friend’s battle with cancer and ultimate death, she reevaluated. “It made me think life is so short. We have this amazing opportunity and you only live once, so let’s do it.”
After accepting his position, the Mansfields moved here in 2015. Her husband was on a local work contract with an “O” visa. This type of visa is for workers that have a unique skill set or expertise. The visas that expats receive to work in the U.S. vary from individual to individual. As an expert in the field of innovation, Luke was well-qualified for an “O” visa but it meant that Meike and her two children were “just attachments. We were allowed to be here but I could not work here.”
Pinpointing a Town to Call Home
Relocating is a difficult process but luckily Luke’s employer has housing and school consultants at the ready for expats. The Mansfields looked at many towns all over Westchester including Scarsdale, Larchmont, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Pleasantville, Briarcliff, Armonk and Chappaqua. Towns in Lower Westchester including Scarsdale, Larchmont and Rye are expat hubs, according to Expat Exchange, an online resource for expats but as more businesses expand or open in Northern Westchester such as Regeneron, Pernod Ricard and IBM, expats are slowly starting to discover that the towns of Northern Westchester offer ample space and great schools. The Mansfields also considered Greenwich and seriously considered Ridgefield, CT which has an easy commute to Purchase. But when Luke learned that he’d have regular travel to New York City, Ridgefield was knocked off the list and Chappaqua rose to the top. “It was the perfect compromise where we would get land and still have that feeling of being surrounded by nature. Plus it’s beautiful with reasonable proximity to NYC and great schools, so it ticked all the boxes for us.”
A Rough Start
Like many expats, they had to live in temporary housing in White Plains upon arrival to the U.S. because their house wasn’t ready. It was the winter of 2015 and the snowy weather was relentless. Meike had to drive her daughter Heidi to Westorchard Elementary and her son Robin to World Cup Nursery School in a rental car without four-wheel drive. “I wasn’t used to driving in the snow and I got the flu too. Plus it was my daughter’s birthday and we knew no one here. I had to somehow make her a party and I definitely doubted if we had done the right thing by moving here.”
But those feelings of doubt quickly dissipated once she moved to Chappaqua. Meike’s outgoing personality was key to helping her and her family settle in. “I emailed all the parents in Robin’s class and said we just moved here. I don’t have any friends. Want to come out for a drink? What’s funny is a lot of people got back to me and said they were in the same boat and home with young kids all day. Many of those ladies who I met that night are still my friends to this day.”
Meike is currently a stay-at-home mom and an active member of the Junior League of Northern Westchester. She chairs the human trafficking committee, which supports minors who have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. She is also a Girl Scout troop leader. In order to preserve their German heritage, her children attend German school in White Plains on the weekend.
The family enjoys living on Hilltop Drive, which has neighborhood barbeques and dinner parties. “We have no plans to go back to the U.K. We have a great quality of life,” she notes. The family also recently received their green cards and Meike is now able to accept freelance projects and legally work here.
From Au Pair Days to Homeownership
Claire Fletcher Gilvar, a British citizen and founder of Booked Parties, a children’s birthday party resource website and booking platform has fond memories of Chappaqua after spending four summers here working as an au pair for a family on Garey Drive while studying at Oxford University through a British Royal Navy program. Fast forward to almost two decades later when Claire and her husband Adam were living with their two young children in Long Island City, Queens, they knew they needed ample space for their growing family. They decided to come full circle back to New Castle. “Chappaqua hasn’t changed much since 1992. My time as an au pair here was definitely part of the pull back to this area.”
Introducing the Iyengars
Mrinalini (Mili) Iyengar and her husband Chaithra first came here from Bangalore, India with their now 5-year-old son Naman in the spring of 2016. Mili works in IT sales for Capgemini and her husband is in sales at IBM. Mili wanted to work in the U.S. since it leads the way in IT innovation. Initially, Austin was on their radar and friends suggested that they move to Texas for the lower cost of living but Northern Westchester was very attractive to Mili. Almost three months before moving here, she signed up for town e-newsletters for both Austin and New Castle. She loved that the New Castle one listed activities for adults and children. “I saw various avenues where I could integrate into the community. Something as simple as when the Farmers Market begins and ends and the fact that there was a kid’s hockey team was a real draw for me. The Austin newsletter put me in a black hole,” she commented.
Initially they moved to New Castle but now live in North Castle. “Good schools have always been priority number one for us” and when their lease ran out on their rental in New Castle they were happy to find another town nearby with great schools and accessible to Westchester County Airport, which they both use regularly for domestic travel.
Raising A Global Citizen
The Iyengars appreciate the educational system here. “We want to raise Naman as a global citizen.” While Mili feels that India has a strong academic system, she doesn’t like the fact that on the flipside you make career choices very early. “If you are training to be an engineer, there is no option to take any humanities classes.” She also appreciates the fact that Naman is now more “culturally aware. He now knows that there is a menorah and you light it on Chanukkah.”
Challenges for Expats: From Mortgages to the More Mundane
Mili is on an L1A visa, which allows her to work in the U.S. for up to seven years. They hope to buy a home here. “Beyond a three year horizon, it doesn’t keep sense for us to keep renting.” But getting a mortgage or making any large purchase has been challenging for her family. “Every time we have to bring money from India, we lose out on the exchange rate.” When they wanted to purchase a car, they only got a $600 credit limit from their bank. “It doesn’t matter that our combined salaries might be close to the upper 1 percenters in terms of income. Credit history here is just so important.”
While financial concerns are a big focus for many expats, more mundane problems can also be taxing for newcomers. “Last year a tree fell in my backyard and I had no idea what to do.” Harnessing the power of technology, Mili who is a member of Chappaqua Moms and Armonk Parents Facebook pages was able to find reputable tree removal providers. “I literally feel like these groups are watching my back all the time. These groups have been instrumental in helping me and my family get ingrained into the local culture.”
Moving from Isolation to Inclusion
Like most expats, there have been moments when Mili has felt homesick. The first year that they moved here during the Indian festival of Diwali she saw her relatives all celebrating on social media. Chaithra was traveling at the time and it was the first time that she realized that she was all alone in the U.S. That experience jolted her to maintain a connection with the Indian community here and propelled her to actively seek out other Indian families in the area. Again, technology came to the rescue and helped her connect with Indian families nearby. Mili is now part of a kitty party, a group of approximately 16 Indian women from nearby towns who meet monthly and socialize in each other’s homes. There is a very set social framework for these gatherings and no men or children are allowed. The group has helped her find Indian ingredients for cooking or advice on music teachers for Naman to learn to play Indian instruments. She now meets and celebrates Indian festivals and holidays with these families.
Just as she’s made inroads within the Indian community, Mili loves the fact that half of Naman’s class at Coman Hill Elementary are new to the area. She’s met many families through school activities and she also has used technology to help her build an extended network of local friends that helped her recreate a family environment for her son. In Bangalore, they lived in a gated community and Naman would go to the park daily and interact with children and adults of all ages, so that he never felt like he was an only child. Robin and Gary Murphy who are Chappaqua residents hold badminton parties at their house and the Iyengars are frequent participants. “I love the fact that it helped us to recreate a family environment for our son with other kids from all age groups.”
It Takes a Village
Mili has a long laundry list of local folks who have helped her family with a warm welcome. In addition to the Murphys and Georgia Hobaica Frasch who was one of the creators of the Chappaqua Moms Facebook page, Kathy Boyle, a member of the Chappaqua Recipes with Friends Facebook page has been especially supportive. “Kathy posted that she needed an Indian recipe and I replied and then we began communicating. She doesn’t even live in Chappaqua or Armonk but she was enthusiastic and wanted to meet me. She helped me connect with the Murphys.” Mili also jokes around that she wants to provide a good citizen’s award to Roberta Offenhutter Lasky for having advice on everything from tree removal companies to restaurants. Chandana and Madhu Hugehalli and Jagruti and Neeru Patel also served as liaisons to the wider Indian community. “All of these people had nothing to gain by helping us. They just had a lot of goodness in their hearts.”
Taking Advantage of Living in Armonk
The family is very integrated in the community with Chaithra volunteering as an AYSO soccer coach and Mili volunteering at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show and Naman attending Breezemont Camp during the summers. With a very different climate than Bangalore, the family has been mesmerized by the wintry weather here. “When the blizzard was coming, we stayed up until midnight to watch it.” They’ve also taken Naman for ski lessons at Thunder Ridge. When they have free time, they also like to visit art museums in the city. One of the highlights of living here for Naman has been trick or treating for Halloween on Wampus Street. “Everyone in this town has been so forthcoming and helpful. We’ve really had a very warm welcome,” concludes Mili.
Like the Iyengars, Maira Roversi, an expat from Brazil, loves living in Armonk with her husband Ricardo and her three children, Caio (10) and her 4-year old twins Rafael and Beatriz. The family also brought their dogs Lion, a golden retriever and Minnie, a maltese with them for their Armonk adventure.
Roversi is working for IBM on an L1A visa like Mili and has a two year international assignment with the company. She has worked for IBM for the past two decades in various locations in Brazil. Her first stint in the U.S. was in Raleigh and she loved living in the U.S. so decided to make the move to Armonk in 2016. Ultimately, she hopes to return to Brazil after this assignment is completed but is used to the expat peripatetic lifestyle and is accepting of moving to another location if IBM needs her to transfer.
Roversi loves the fact that her twins saw snow here for the first time. Besides the snowy weather though, the Roversis are outdoor enthusiasts and take full advantage of biking nearby, the parks and playgrounds in town and playing soccer and tennis. Caio is enjoying playing music here and has even performed on the upper level at the local DeCicco’s supermarket while Maira and Ricardo enjoy a beer.
They also love the proximity to the city for family outings and have been to the Natural History Museum, Times Square, basketball games at Madison Square Garden and ice skating at Bryant Park. Like the Iyengars, Halloween happens to be a favorite holiday for her children too who also loved seeing the pumpkins on display at the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortland Manor.
Facing a Medical Issue as an Expat
Each expat faces different challenges and for Maira she faced a medical issue upon arrival to Armonk. “Even with a very good insurance plan, things here are really different than Brazil and it took a while until the doctors realized that I had kidney stones. It was tough to find some support knowing no one in the area: no referral, no previous experience in terms of hospitals but luckily we figured out how to deal with that and everything is calm again now!”
Maira still considers her family in the discovery mode and is eagerly awaiting the warmer weather. Ricardo practices down hill bike riding and Maira enjoys running outdoors. “With these freezing temperatures, I am not brave enough to go out on the street!” quips Maira. With spring just around the corner, feel free to give a warm welcome to Maira or any one of the expat families featured in this story.