Local News

Global Strangers Become Chapel Hill Friends

Posted November 4, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— They come as strangers but often leave as life-long friends. For more than 35 years a Chapel Hill woman has opened up her home to women from nearly every corner of the world who are new to the Triangle.

The women live in and around Chapel Hill, but to them the home of the Tar Heels is a foreign country.

"Did anything happen this week that you wanted to talk about?" Betsy Chamberlin asks her guests.

They come from Japan, Liberia, Poland and everywhere in-between. Their husbands are professors and doctors at UNC and every week they get together looking for fellowship and advice.

"We think if we give them an opportunity to meet each other, if we give them some help with their English, if we help them know what's going on in the community, that they will have a happier time here," Mary Ellen Hayman said.

Hayman started the program back in 1964. Her friend, Betsy Chamberlin, offered to be the hostess.

Even they never imagined the impact this group would have on so many lives -- such as the young women who lost her husband.

"The very nextThursday -- I couldn't believe it -- she came to us and walked into all our arms -- literally -- and wept in our arms. She felt that close," Chamberlin recalled.

The faces change nearly every year, but the constant is the fear and isolation the women feel when they come to America. After spending time here, they say they leave with more confidence.

"When I came here two weeks ago, I was afraid to go shopping but now day after day after day I feel better," said Joanna Miczkowska, who moved to North Carolina from Poland.

"It was the best gift for me, the best present. Because now I feel inside the community. I have my new friends here," said Claudio Chaparro, who arrived in the Triangle from Colombia.

The teachers say they get back much more than they give the women.

"We've been two very fortunate ladies, would you agree?" asked Chamberlin rhetorically.

Sharing American culture, they have learned much about the rest of the world.

Betsy Chamberlin was recently honored as an outstanding volunteer in Orange County.