Growing up in the United Kingdom as a US citizen posed some unique problems for Matt Lehmann. While he was born in London, Matt is an American citizen sporting a natural British accent. “My father is from Michigan, but I was born in the UK,” he explained. At that time, the US did not allow dual citizenship, so Matt carried a US passport with a British visa. “It was always funny on school trips because the entire class had to wait while I went through the non-European immigration line. I wasn’t very popular on those trips,” he laughed.
Svetlana Lehmann hails from further east, born and raised in Moscow until she left Russia to attend university in Switzerland. “I am originally from Russia, but it was a long time ago,” Svetlana said. “Once I left, I left.” Svetlana prefers not to draw comparisons between her childhood experiences in Moscow and those of her children here in the US. “To be honest, my comments would not be fair because things have changed a lot and I haven’t been back to Russia to understand what’s going on there.” She said her “formative years” were spent in Switzerland, followed by an internship in Paris, a year in France and almost ten years living in London before she emigrated to the US with Matt. “It’s very difficult to relate back. People ask me where I am from, but it’s fair to say I am not an expert on what goes on there now.”
The couple met for the first time at a pizzeria in South Kensington near London. They both worked for different offices of J.P. Morgan at the time but had several friends in common. “When you work 12 hours a day, you make friends with people in your office,” Svetlana quipped. Was it love at first sight? “No, not at all,” they both recalled with a chuckle. In fact, it was almost a year before they crossed paths again, this time at a dinner party in Matt’s flat.
“I used to have dinner parties at my house in London,” Matt said. “None of our friends were really from London and would all leave town before Christmas, so I would usually host a dinner during the first or second week of December before they went home.” Dinner was modeled after a traditional Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey and fixings, and Svetlana eventually landed on the guest list. “At some point Svet got invited to the party,” Matt recalled. “She tried to help me prepare the food, but it was a dreadful mistake—although perhaps not entirely in the grand scheme of things,” he mused. Matt was a bit overwhelmed with dinner preparations, and when Svetlana sat down next to him to talk and asked if she could help, “I tried to be polite, but it was not what I needed just then.”
Svetlana must have made a good impression on Matt, however, because the two got to know each other over the next few months and eventually started to meet up on their own. Over time the relationship blossomed, and the couple married in April 2012. “We did the legal ceremony part in London and the fun part in Southern Italy,” he explained, an area that has become a sentimental favorite location for Matt and Svetlana.
A British-American teaching English to Italians in Scotland
Matt said that during summer 2000 he got a job teaching English to foreigners in Scotland. “A group of Italians were accidentally sent to the school,” he recalled. “The students were supposed to be 12 years old, but these students were about to start their last year of high school—my age, really.” A typical school day consisted of English lessons in the morning and activities in the afternoon. “None of the activities made sense for them so I took it upon myself to organize things for them, which essentially meant we played soccer and basketball and took trips to museums.” Matt made lifelong friends that summer and continues to visit Southern Italy almost every year, first on vacation with Svetlana and later on family vacation with their two boys.
Crossing the pond
About a year after they were married, Matt received a promotion that required him to move to the US. His new position was in New York City, so in 2013 the couple packed up themselves and their new three-month-old son and set off for the US. “There was no real immigration story when we came here because I already had a US passport and Svet came with me as my spouse with a three-month-old baby. I wouldn’t recommend moving with a three-month-old,” laughed Matt.
The couple cringed as they recalled the first time they tried to navigate Times Square with a sleeping baby, searching desperately for a private place to change diapers. “It was pretty much baptism by fire for Svet with US culture,” Matt recalled. “Having never been there before, it was really a challenge for her to adapt.” It also took some time for Svetlana to get her green card because the couple had just married in 2012 and, even though they had a child together, US Immigration required them to be married for two years before they would recognize the marriage as legitimate. Svetlana said her green card interview went smoothly because her son was six months old by then. “When you show up with a six-month-old at the interview, things go pretty quickly.”
A complicated career path
While Matt embarked on his new job, Svetlana ran into complications that prevented her from working. Although she completed the application process for a green card, she never received it in the mail so was unable to go back to work. It took nearly a year to replace the card, and in the meantime, she decided to devote herself to raising their son. The couple moved out of the city proper to Westport, Connecticut, then subsequently moved to Boston when Matt got a job in the Financial District. “We had been to Boston on vacation—we went to Walden Pond and walked the Freedom Trail,” said Matt. “It was nice to see some of the things we had read about.”
The couple settled in the South End, then moved to Cohasset where they resided until 2017. Matt lost his job when his firm ran into financial difficulties, and, unable to find a suitable position in the US, he decided to take a position in Zurich. Svetlana had attended university in Switzerland, so she was somewhat familiar with the country, yet she felt stifled by a conservative culture where women were not expected to work. They also had concerns with the school system, and with two unhappy boys in the system, Matt was on the lookout for something new.
Something new came in July 2020 when Matt took a position with a firm in Toronto. “It was an interesting opportunity and Toronto culture felt similar to Boston. I thought maybe we could be happy there, so I took the job. It was a challenging time to say the least.”
Blazing a new trail
Matt started his new job remotely so he never actually met the people he worked with. “Right after I started, they changed leadership and about six months later the new CEO told me that the function I was building was not really necessary, so there was nothing for me to do anymore.” Matt felt “a bit unlucky” when he was let go and the visa tied to his job was revoked. “We had to leave Canada but now we had time to really think about where we actually wanted to live,” said Matt. “It’s good to travel around, especially good for our kids because of the languages and the cultural influences, but eventually we needed a stable base to establish ourselves for the long run.”
The first stop after they left Toronto was in Michigan to visit Matt’s aunt and uncle. “The lockdown in Toronto was very strict and we weren’t allowed to leave our homes or go to the playground, so we just wanted to be outside,” said Matt. The family was enjoying reading the Little House on the Prairie series at the time, so decided to recreate their west-bound journey. “We went to Pepin, Wisconsin, to the site of a replica of the original log cabin, then continued to De Smet, South Dakota, to the Ingalls homestead.” Matt said that “In the book everything seemed so peaceful and serene, but some of these places must have been really harsh.” Matt said. They also learned about pioneers at the time and what they went through.
From De Smet, Matt and Svetlana went to all the national parks in the western part of South Dakota—the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, then down through Wyoming to Denver. The family stayed briefly in Denver then went across Colorado to Utah and the Arches, Bryce Canyon, down into Arizona to the Grand Canyon, then stayed in Phoenix for a few months. After Arizona they crossed into Southern California to see the national parks there, all the while still trying to figure out what we were going to do.
“We got to the point where we were ready to go back to a place that we knew we liked rather than go on another adventure to a new place to explore,” said Svetlana. “We literally rolled out a map of the world and said ‘OK, let’s make a list of places that we’ve lived before and decide which ones we like, which ones we don’t like.”
Their list was long and diverse—London, Michigan, Boston, southern Italy to name a few. Eventually the couple narrowed down their choices and decided they wanted to stay in the US, with the exact location dependent on where they could find work and a home. Svetlana, who had put her career on hold to raise their two sons, wanted the opportunity to go back to work so she started to look for a job.
“We really wanted to be here,” said Svetlana, “and somewhere on the trip we made up our mind to focus on coming back to the Boston area and anchor ourselves here.” After that decision, everything else clicked into place. “I was very lucky to get a good opportunity that would give me exactly the career in banking that I had before having children.” The new job also grounded the family in the Boston area, so the only decision left was to debate which side of Boston they would live on.
Matt said he and Svetlana discovered Concord when they lived on the South Shore and used to come out to Walden Pond on the weekends to take their children to the beach. “We knew we really liked it here, so we concentrated our efforts on finding a house,” said Matt. “We didn’t know about Carlisle, but when we discovered it, we liked the sound of it. We were lucky to learn about Carlisle, to explore the school system and find out about the community, and it was definitely a place we felt would be a good fit for our family.”
Trying to purchase a home in May 2021 was no easy feat—inventory was low and home prices skyrocketing with homes selling in a matter of hours. With a little luck, Matt and Svetlana purchased a home on Russell Street. “The house needed a little work, but we really liked the plot of land and the location,” said Matt. “The house really had great bones but just needed a few things—like a roof and windows!”
Discovering all that is Carlisle
“It all has come together for us,” Svetlana commented. “As we are completing our sixth month here, we still have the right to call ourselves newcomers, and we are confident that we are exactly where we want to be. Our children are happy at school and have made friends. I think it’s all going really well.” Svetlana pointed out that her older son has lived in four different countries by age eight and the younger in three countries by age five, yet both boys feel at home here. “Alex remembers living in other places, but we knew from the first time we lived here that he was happy here. Now that we are back, he has definitely found a sense of belonging.”
“We like the way the town is organized, how the school is run, and the people we’ve met,” added Matt. “One thing I’ve found that I didn’t really expect is how different everyone’s background is. People are from all different parts of the world, and work in a variety of professions, whether it’s healthcare, technology, or they run their own businesses. It all makes Carlisle a really interesting place to live.”
“We love the outdoors, the number of trails, and we still haven’t discovered all the trails that the town has to offer,” said Svetlana. “We have heard about the Trekker Award…now we just have to walk them!”
With diverse cultural backgrounds, Matt and Svetlana agree they want to share their awareness of different cultures, holidays, and traditions with their children. “We celebrate everything,” said Svetlana. “I did not celebrate Thanksgiving growing up, but when I met Matt in London he always celebrated, so now I celebrate with him. And when we lived in Switzerland, we celebrated Swiss holidays since we were part of the community there.” Svetlana said there was no way she would try to pronounce the holiday names, like Räbechilbi, the annual festival where people artistically carve turnips into lanterns, or Klausjagen, when families line the streets to greet Samichlaus and Schmutzli as they hand out gingerbread and candy to children who line up to see them.
“At the same time, I obviously bring different cultural holidays and traditions,” Svetlana continued. “We celebrated Orthodox Christmas on January 7, but New Year’s is really more important than Christmas in Russia.” Matt added that, “We toast in the New Year’s with Svet’s family at 4 p.m. Boston time which is midnight in Russia, and watch Putin give his annual speech through the video call.”
While Svetlana has enjoyed returning to work, Matt is not sure what the future will bring for his career. “Things go the way they go in life,” said Matt. “It’s a little bit my fault that we’ve moved around so much and Svet hasn’t been able to continue her career along. Since she’s been able to get her career back, it’s important to me to focus on that. I’m happy to hang around and look after the kids while she does that.” Matt thought he may return to the world of finance or may even start something of his own.
“We are just happy that our adventures brought us here,” said Svetlana. “Maybe in a few years we’ll get the itch to travel again, but I don’t think so. For now, we will walk all the trails in Carlisle, then there’s more trails in Concord, and more trails in Acton.” Keep on trekking, Lehmann family.
Published February 9, 2022 in the Carlisle Mosquito.