“America is a dream country full of great opportunities!” This is what many of you have probably heard from all sorts of people around you. It’s really amazing how eagerly some people make judgments about things and events they have very little understanding of. And how eagerly we, in turn, are inclined to believe whatever we are told without even spending a short time for critical evaluation of the information that has been fed to us.
Before I came to the U.S., I also fell in this trap of thinking that life in the U.S. is a paradise, and all you need to do is just enjoy it.
This is not surprising, since the vast majority of people in Ukraine, where I come from, strongly believe that all Americans own beautiful houses and brand-new cars, have well-paid jobs and solid bank accounts, spend their vacations in Hawaii and go traveling around the world just after they retire.
They live happy lives and don’t worry about their future, because the future must be even better than the present. It’s a pretty weird perception if you just take a moment to think a little deeper. But it does exist, and perhaps not only in Ukraine.
However, once you are in the U.S. you face the reality and the pain of broken illusions.
What struck me, perhaps, most of all was a homeless beggar I saw near a local grocery store. He was holding a piece of paper saying, “WWII Veteran—20 years sober. Help me please. God bless you.” It was my first disillusionment. Not all Americans are rich and live in beautiful houses; in fact, some struggle to make it to the next day.
I have a wonderful friend here who is an American but worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine for two years. When she offered me a ride to visit some neighboring towns I gladly agreed, but when I saw her car I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, my God!!!” It was older than dirt. Actually, I wasn’t sure if we would make it to the closest car shop. Another disillusionment: not all Americans drive brand new cars.
It took me a while to get a better understanding of the reality around me, but I eventually realized that though life in America is not as glamorous as I thought, it does offer you a lot, and you just need to put in some effort. And now, a year later, I find myself trying out new opportunities I’m presented with. In fact, I’m learning to drive my friend’s old car, which still runs and runs pretty well, by the way. This is an opportunity I wouldn’t have back home just because neither me nor most of my friends have cars. Owning a car in America is a kind of necessity, in Ukraine, in most situations, it’s a way to demonstrate your social status.
I am a linguistics major, and I’m learning a lot about the use of technology in teaching languages. I have an opportunity to just borrow an iPad2 from my department and use it for my studies and work. My brother, whose knowledge of technological devices is quite advanced, hasn’t even had a chance to hold it in his hands.
America IS a land of fantastic opportunities, but it’s not a place where things come free. The opportunities are there for those with curious minds, who are willing to learn and adapt to a rapidly changing life – those who choose not to be couch potatoes but active members of their community, contributing to creating a better world around us. It’s a country where people work hard to live well. No pain, no gain. Period. This is just how things work here.