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Twin Cities Transplants
By Chris Roberts
September 20, 1997

Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

The Twin Cities, with its plentiful parks, shimmering lakes, vibrant cultural life, and booming economy is a pretty good draw these days for "out-of-staters," that is, as long as you can withstand the deep freeze of winter. But for some people who move here, there's another deep freeze operating that can detrimentally affect a newcomer's ability to make friends. That's one of the reasons the group "Twin Cities Transplants" was formed, to help take the edge off what can be an icy reception for non-Minnesota natives. Minnesota Public Radio's Chris Roberts, a transplant himself, went to a semi-regular meeting of "Twin Cities Transplants" to find out more.

Somebody once told me if you move to Minnesota, you'll absolutely hate it after the first year, but if you make it through the second year you'll never want to leave. It took me eight years. Well, make that six. No, I'd say seven. Seven years. Anyway, in a nutshell, when I first moved here I felt I'd lost one of the few skills bestowed on me at birth: the ability to make friends. I felt shut out. Almost all my friends were from outside Minnesota. So it was with great curiosity and maybe a sense of affinity that I went to a meeting of Twin Cities Transplants at a St. Paul bar. The first thing I noticed was the level of intensity in the conversation, like people hadn't had a heart-to-heart with someone in months. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But it was immediately clear that this group functioned as a lifeline for many of its members.

Kersten: I've made almost all my good friends through the group. I've met a lot of closest friends. It's the catalyst of my social activities. This is where I met most of my good friends, male and female.
In fact, for Twin Cities Transplants' founder - Business Consultant Lori Kersten - the group not only revived her social life, but led to matrimony.
Kersten: Actually we're the eighth marriage in the group. That's not the goal of the group, but it does happen when you put this many people together in a room.
Twin Cities Transplants isn't a business networking group, nor is it a single's group that warms up with ice-breaker games. It's just a gathering of folks with one shared experience. Some of the members are from the farther reaches of Minnesota, but most are from out-of-state. Lori Kersten started the group seven years ago with the most innocent of intentions. She was new here, from Iowa, her Twin Cities friends from college were moving away, her social circle was quickly shrinking, so she placed an ad in the paper.
Kersten: I figured if I was new in town and wanted to meet more people, there've gotta be more people like me looking for the same sense of community that they're not getting.
And it was that question that plagued me: Why, why, why weren't they getting that so-called "sense of community" here? Kersten offers a theory that all Twin Cities transplants eventually understand. You see, most people who live here grew up here and will be laid to rest here, because, in Kersten's words, "It's a wonderful place, and most people have already established their social connections. So there's no reason to reach out to new faces."
Kersten: There are only so many people you can have in your life. And if you started making these connections from age four on, you just don't need any more people. So, in a sense, I think it was more difficult for me than any place I had experienced.
When I tried to coax a bitter diatribe out of Kersten about the painful isolation a transplant may experience in the Twin Cities, she stopped me in my tracks.
Kersten: It's easy to do a lot of Minnesota-bashing. We always have to be careful about that 'cause we chose to live here, and it's a wonderful place.
As the evening wore on, it became easier to get the transplants to open up. Native Chicagoan Christi James has lived here eight years and doesn't mince words about whether she likes living in the Twin Cities.
James: Absolutely love it here.
Her affection for Minnesota didn't come easily. A year and a half after she moved here, the gregarious James still hadn't made any friends, and spotted a Twin Cities Transplants ad in a local weekly right next to a "Life in Hell" cartoon. She noticed many of her Twin City acquaintances were on a track which began long before she arrived.
James: So when you grow up, and you live with Mom and Dad, and you go to school, it's assumed you go either to the University of Minnesota, or one of the private schools around, like maybe St. Kate's or St. John's. Then you move back to the Twin Cities and live in Uptown. Then you have your friends and then you meet someone, maybe get married, and move back out to the suburbs.
On that track, you're surrounded by people you know, with family close by. In other words, the thought of flying home for Thanksgiving seems foreign. I asked James if she ever wondered whether her presence bothered Minnesota natives.
James: It's funny that you say that, because I had a roommate once say to me - we were talking about how difficult it was to meet people, and she said: "Well maybe, did you consider that we feel threatened that you might break up our group?" So that one particular thing has always stuck in the back of my mind. I thought, "Well that's silly. I would never want to break up your friends. Maybe I could enhance your group of friends."
Now, some Minnesotans listening might be feeling a little defensive at this point. But remember how Christi James feels about living in the Twin Cities.
James: Absolutely love it here.
And maybe it's just human nature to exclude new people from your group. Heck, Dan admits there are even cliques in Twin Cities Transplants.
Dan: We're a group that people have to break into, just as they would on the outside, but we try to be more friendly than - you know - (pause)

Dan: Your co-workers -

MPR: - your average Minnesotan?

Dan: (laughs) No.

MPR: C'mon, you were gonna say it, you were gonna say it.

I felt bad after I said that. Typical obnoxious mean-spirited interjection from a non-native. And I've lived here eight years. I am a Minnesotan. Suddenly I felt the voice of my conscience rising in me, and it sounded a lot like Lori Kersten.
Kersten tape with reverb: It's easy to do a lot of Minnesota bashing. We have to be careful cause we chose to live here, and it's a wonderful place.
All right, all right. Perhaps the most forlorn, unhappy transplants I ran into were Arrow and Karlene. Arrow is from Wilmington, Delaware, and came here three years ago by way of Virginia for grad school. According to Arrow, there ain't no Southern hospitality here.
Arrow: It's not Virginia, where people will come up and just talk to you on the street, and you come here and - it's not easy. It seems like everyone has everything in their life prioritized, and they have no space for anything new in their lives. Although there are many elements in the state I enjoy, it's just been frustrating and rather alienating, to be honest with you."
Arrow's girlfriend Karlene thinks she should have had an easier time over three-and-a-half years since she's from the Midwest. In her mind, she's still an extrovert, but the number of friends she's made here wouldn't indicate that.
Karlene: Since I've moved here I can count on a couple fingers who my true friends are, and even those people aren't always totally welcoming in every situation. I don't feel I have somebody I can just pick up the phone and talk to every day - except for Arrow, and that's because we're a couple. We were both in the same boat when we met. Two sad people actually, but . . . and depressed.
Arrow says where he's from - out East - it's two hours to New York, two hours to Washington, and there's a constant influx of new people.
Arrow: Out here it's - in two hours you can get to Duluth, and you get Duluth and you're like, this isn't much different at all. And then the next city, Chicago, is eight hours away, and I think they become so isolated they start to think that this is what there is.
Now I hope I'm not giving you the impression that all Twin Cities Transplants feel ostracized, because that's just not true. California native Julianna Benner found Minneapolis a refreshing change from San Francisco, where she didn't even know her next-door neighbor.
Benner: People say that Minnesota nice is actually Minnesota ice, and I've found that to be absolutely false. I find people to be very welcoming.
And B.G. from Bombay, India has fit right in. Heck, he even discovered a childhood friend lived here.
B.G.: I love the Twin Cities.
And don't forget how Christi James views her life in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
James: Absolutely love it here.
Perhaps I should let James be a spokesperson for all Twin Cities transplants who feel they're on the outside looking in.
James: We're not against people who live in Minnesota. We absolutely love the area and love the people. We're just saying, "Hey, welcome us. We're not a threat to you. We just wanna take part in your great state like everybody else does."
Enough said.