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Settling into new surroundings: Families that relocate ease into life in Los Altos

Photo By: Eren Gknar/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Eren Gknar/Special To The Town Crier

Heidi BK Sloss and husband David moved to Los Altos four years ago.
By Eren Göknar Special to the Town Crier

New to town approximately four years ago, Heidi BK Sloss sat next to piles of boxes while professionals installed closet organizers in her family’s Los Altos condominium.

As she glanced through the Town Crier, an ad for the Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Newcomers’ Club caught her eye. The club has welcomed new residents and encouraged them to become part of the community since the 1950s. A veteran mover, Sloss said “the dilemma in being someplace new is how you meet people.”

When she logged on to the Newcomers’ Club website, she discovered a host of activities, from book clubs to couples’ dinners. She signed up immediately.

Since then, Sloss has met many friends from “different economic backgrounds, maybe some who have not been raised in affluence although they are now, and others who have worked professionally.”

It’s that kind of mixture that has provided a rich social life for Sloss and her husband, David, now in their mid-50s.

She has participated in the Explorers group – touring the Marin Headlands, San Francisco’s Mission District and even AT&T Park, home to the San Francisco Giants. A casual dining group might revolve around Indonesian food, with each couple given a recipe to make for eight people.

History of moving

While her husband negotiated arms-control treaties for the U.S. government, Sloss joined the Austrian-American women’s club in Vienna, where they lived.

Although the wives often had achieved great success on their own, they couldn’t secure working papers. Sloss got to know Vienna well and spent time indulging in her needlepoint hobby. Elaborate and colorful Gustave Klimt needlepoint panels now decorate her Los Altos living room.

By 1990, the newlyweds had moved into the first of nine different homes they would inhabit in 23 years. They have two children, Dakin, who graduated from Stanford University last year, and Kamala, a senior at Los Altos High School.

Dakin is one of the founders of the nonprofit California Common Sense, which targets government spending to make it more accountable to the public. Kamala keeps busy with Los Altos High’s Main Street Singers and Advanced Placement classes.

“We’re all achievement oriented,” noted Sloss in a recent interview in her living room.

Eclectic furnishings from their world travels line the walls, including a Tibetan Buddha poster.

 An accomplished keynote speaker, author and marketing expert (www.heidisloss.com), Sloss put her own career on hold to follow David’s international law career and to raise a family. In the 1980s, she worked with her father in a family business in the menswear manufacturing field, where she learned the ropes of sales and marketing.

She majored in women’s studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., where she met her future husband. David went on to study at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, then earned his law degree at Stanford. A renowned scholar, he now presides over Santa Clara University’s Center for Global Law and Policy, specializing in international human rights and overseas law.

Sloss, who has lived in Washington, D.C.; St. Louis; Rochester, N.Y.; and the suburbs of New Jersey, said it’s rare to find a Newcomers’ Club as active as the Los Altos branch. Most members continue participating, even after they’ve lived here for years.

“It’s harder to make connections when your children are grown,” she said.

The couple lived in the area from 1993 to 1999, when Sloss met many friends through the schools. She also headed the La Leche League of Northern California, which “helped me get a toehold in the community.”

Most “trailing spouses” – the technical term used by relocation managers to describe those who follow their life partners to another city because of a job – try to bloom where they’re planted.

Those who experience success in their new environment may have had to overcome culture shock, a lack of family ties and losing their career identity.

Even with a lot of human resources help, it’s not easy. Adjusting to a new environment without a job of one’s own can seem daunting, and often occurs in the realm of academia, international and domestic business transfers.

Following in corporate footsteps

Los Altos resident Mansi Bhatia, whose husband works at Cupertino’s Apple Inc. as a hardware engineer, moved from Iowa City, where she studied journalism, to be with him in 2004.

“My professional network and his personal friends – all of whom were bachelors and had accompanied him from the same college in India to Apple – these were the two big ‘buckets’ that helped me acclimatize,” she wrote in an email.

When Bhatia first moved to Los Altos, she didn’t know anyone except her husband’s personal network, primarily Indians.

“It was an absolute contrast to my devoid-on-Indians professional network, and I’m not sure if it was comforting or felt intrusive,” she said.

Employed by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s philanthropy department, Bhatia said she likes living in Los Altos. She’s worked for four organizations in eight years and has made friends through work.

When asked what advice she would give other newcomers, Bhatia replied, “When and how they transitioned from colleagues to friends, I’m not sure, but it’s probably just a matter of finding common ground regardless of where one is from.”

For more information, visit www.losaltosnewcomers.com. n

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