Immigration can provide you an opportunity to completely redesign your life.
I will start by sharing my personal experience. To be frank, my first year in United States was a complete mess. I was confused. I had a hard time figuring out where i fit in and i had a lot of doubts about staying. I also was in pain. The pain came from change. Too much change all at once. The most painful change was my loss of identity.
After I immigrated I realized, I was no longer, successful, financially self-sufficient, autonomous person. I felt like a child. I could not drive, had no status in the country, had no permission to work, I also did not speak English in the way that others could understand me. My sense of self was deprived. I doubted who I was in the past, who I was now and whether I could ever become someone in US. I definitely did not view my decision to immigrate as an opportunity to redesign my life.
You know by now, immigration will come with pros and cons.
- The truth is, after your arrival to United Stated most of the facets of your life will be impacted and/or changed. It will get messy.
- The truth is, you might enjoy some changes and hate some other ones.
- At times you may feel off track, or you might wonder whether you made a good decision.
- You might feel lost and misplaced, excited and overwhelmed by number of new opportunities.
- Remember, you are not along. I felt that way too and so as many millions of immigrants before you. You can do it!
This post will examine our lives before immigration and discuss new opportunities and challenges you might be facing while in US.
There are seven key areas of your life that might be impacted by immigration:
- Community and family
- Language and culture
- Career and social status
- Money and income
- Food and cuisine
- Mobility and transportation
- Systems and laws
Next, let`s review your life before immigration. We all come from very different backgrounds, so pardon my generalizations. I will use examples from my own life to communicate some of the points. To describe myself before immigration: I was 22 years old single female, business owner, lived separately from parents.
Your life before immigration
Community and Family. Depending on your circumstances, you most likely personally knew many people. You also were connected to hundreds of other people through work, school, hobbies, groups and clubs. You may even had a small circle of close friends. Chances are, your extended family may have lived in the same state and you were able to see them frequently. You may have had a solid reputation as a student, citizen, neighbor or an employee.
Language and culture. As a native speaker, you were able to communicate with family, friends, and clients. You were able to express your thoughts through speech, writing and comprehension. Your understanding of right and wrong, and many of the common social norms was shared with other people around you. For example, respecting to elderly folks and to offer a seat to expectant mothers in the public transportation.
Career and social status. Most likely you were a very busy person before you immigrated. You may have attended school, was employed or ran your own business. You also possessed a social status of a citizen, with all rights and responsibilities. More likely than not you made your own decisions about your time, and resources.
In my case, I lived on my own for six years. I ran my own business. My business was very fulfilling, and I loved what I did every day. Additionally, I was actively contributing by helping my family. My life had a rhythm, routine and structure. I knew who I was.
Food and cuisine. The food in your home country was known, familiar and tasty. The food brought comfort and was source of pleasure. More likely than not your family shared meals and you were able to spend quality time during holidays, birthday and other family celebrations.
Money and income. Most likely you were earning a moderate amount of income from your primary job, or maybe you were supported by your parents. In any case, whatever little money you had, it belonged to you. If you had needs that surpassed your current income level, you would commit to save money and acquire the item at the later time, for example saving for an annual summer vacation or new winter clothing.
Mobility and transportation. You were able to commute almost anywhere you wanted using public transportation. For a relatively small fee you were able explore some local sites, travel within your home country or even travel overseas for a vacation. Having a car or a driver license was not a prerequisite to your day to day activities and life in general.
Systems and laws. From the time when you started elementary school you started learning about various systems. By the time you were an adult you probably had a pretty solid understanding of how education, healthcare, taxation, local government, common laws and other systems worked. More likely than not you were able to navigate those systems and deal with obstacles posed by those systems.
Your life after immigration
Community and family
Challenges. You might struggle with isolation. Unless you immigrated though a relative and arrived into existing family, you will have no network of friends to start with. Your extended family now will be located 10,000 miles away. Most American folks will not relate to what you are going through.
If you immigrated through marriage you will face the fact that common definitions of many social roles, such as wife and mother are different in United States vs in Eastern Europe. Many 1st year immigrants don`t feel belong in the country and experience cultural shock. Personally, I immigrated though marriage, and in 90 days after my arrival to US I became a wife of an American citizen.
Opportunities. You have a second chance in forming your community and building a brand new family. This is great news, since now you will have an opportunity to surround yourself with completely different people. For example, in my home country, I was an outcast among women. My drive to start new ventures, earning more income, grow professionally or travel the world were not common aspirations for a typical 22 years old female.
After I relocated to United States and started working I met many other professional, accomplished, highly-educated women. I connected with some amazing females who inspired my growth, mentored me and supported my advancements over the years.
The same goes for your new family. After you relocate to US you will have an opportunity to build new connections and relationships with your spouse, your extended family or build a brand new family of your own. You will be in charge on forming new relationships and create a completely new environment for yourself.
Language and culture
Challenges. American English for most immigrants, including myself remains one of the strongest barriers to assimilation and achievement in a foreign country. This applies even to folks who deliberately studied English in school, college and/or had a English tutor prior to arrival to United States. Personally, I hardly could speak any English and the fact really held me back.
Another facet is American culture and mindset. Everything from parenting, to common understanding of decency in terms of wardrobe will be different. Most of us, had to learn new social norms and western culture after arrival to United States.
Opportunities. Let me be abundantly clear- one factor that will have the biggest impact on your success in United States is your language skills.
We will dive into more details in another post on how you can start learning English the moment you get off the airplane and drastically improve your language skills in a very short time.
The most important point I would like to make here is the following: great American English skills will open every imaginable door to ALL your opportunities in US. Your language skills will define you career opportunities, abilities to learn new skills, communicate your needs, and form new networks.
Career and social status
Challenges. Unless you immigrated though a work visa, you will find yourself unemployed. Upon arrival to US you will get a social status of an immigrant from Eastern Europe with no legal status. You are a person in transition. The realization might be a welcome break from your pre-immigration crazy busy life, or it might be a big downside if you wish to get a job and earn income.
Most likely you will not be eligible to work in US at least for the first 6 months after your arrival. Chances are, your first year in US will be centered around USCIS paperwork and you might find yourself fairly idle. Your days will be free, and you will have no routine or anywhere to be. Again, depending on your personality and your aspirations that could be a positive change or unwelcome idling.
One common challenge- stepping down in your profession. Most people I know started their employment in US with simple jobs in food service industry (cook, food service clerk) retail (sales associate, merchandise associate) or entry-level healthcare (CNA, nurse assistant).
The type of jobs are easier to get, however they usually don`t earn much and tend to have grueling work schedule. For most of us it is a giant step down. You might yourself bored and sad since you most likely will feel underemployed and under compensated for your years of prior work experience and your education level. You might even resent your new jobs.
Opportunities. I wish someone would tell me this upon my arrival, that would really change my mindset on my career in US. Here is the biggest truth about your future career: you could pick any career you desire.
You don`t have to have same profession as you had back home, you can re-train, re-certify, re-license and or just get into a completely different industry/line of work. For example, in Ukraine I used to work in wholesale, wellness and multi-level marketing.
For the past 15 years in US, i explored opportunities in a variety of industries in a variety of roles, such as local and international logistics, exports management, warehouse management, freight management, manufacturing, procurement, personal finance services, retail management, consulting and real estate.
It is hard to believe, but with the right amount of effort, time and resources you can learn any profession you want, from a doctor, pilot to a financial adviser. You can do anything.
Second, point I would like to make is, as much as it seems counter-intuitive, you might wish to take this gift of time. The amazing opportunity lies in the fact that since you can not work now, you will have time to do other things, such as researching, planning, learning language, recreation, immigration paperwork, fitness activities, and hobbies.
For example, after I arrived to United States I spent first year mostly researching potential job markets and professions, exercising, researching degrees and school application criteria, completing my immigration paperwork, connecting with my family back home and exploring local sites on my bike.
Money and finances
Challenges. Most of us arrived to US with some cash. After a few months in US, more likely than not, you might find yourself somewhat dependent on your spouse or another family member for financial support. If you used to financial independence back at home, you might find this limiting and demeaning. You might miss to have your own money and be able to make your own budget. I did.
Opportunities. This amazing but turbulent time, when you might not have your own income may help you to realize that you can contribute in other ways and have more value than earning money.
You can support your spouse`s career, learn new skills, volunteer, become a stellar home-maker. Additionally, you could assist your extended family in US with babysitting, yardwork, housework, and learn how to ask for what you need.
Personally, my first year was challenging, since I was raised to provide for myself. what i struggled the most with is I had to state my needs to another person and ask for what I needed. It was hard, but after a few months I brought myself to have a “money talk” with my spouse. It was a humbling, emotional and deeply educational experience.
Food and Cuisine
Challenges. Most food in United States will be unfamiliar. For some food may become a source of anxiety since you might be asked to try new things on ongoing basis. You also may find produce tasting very different than Eastern European home-grown produce.
I personally, had a hardest time with American cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes. My spouse recalls, while at the grocery stores, I would pick up and smell produce, trying to get a better feel whether the produce will taste as good as at home. It was hard to get used to new food and adjust my taste buds for a variety of salty, spicy and other food tastes that I was not familiar with.
Another common challenge for a lot of new immigrants is weight gain. Most people I know battle with their weight after their arrive to US. I am drafting an article about the topic and to discuss some easy weight management strategies that will help you to stay fit, after you arrive to US.
Opportunities. First, most of us in Eastern Europe grew up roughly eating the same dishes, most of the time. The food was fairly consistent and homogeneous. Second, selection of produce was fairly limited, since summer is fairly short and most off-season imported fruits and veggies were expensive and for most of us.
On the other side, most Americans used to variety of restaurant food options, such as Italian, Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern, American fast-food, American fine dining etc. Personally, I enjoyed the new options, and it was very exciting to try new things. In fact, I fell in love with Mexican food. It grew on me over the years! Give a shot to new food options, you might be surprised by new flavors and combinations.
Challenges. Unless you owned a car and carry international driver license upon arrival to United States, you will rely on your new family or your relatives for transportation. Personally, i did not have driver license, and had no prior driving experience. Since I arrived to US in November I was home-bound and used my bike to move around town.
Opportunities. When the weather permits, leveraging bus system and biking might actually serve more than just one purpose. First, if you use bus system to get around town you will be forced to communicate with other people, which will build you confidence and improve your English skills. Secondly, biking around town can be very exciting and fun. Exploring new sites, visiting local attractions, going to a store or a library can be a great way to break up your day and get some exercise.
Systems and laws
Challenges. As you may expect, all the rules, systems and laws work differently than back at home. Unlike in Eastern Europe most rules in US are strictly enforced and majority of US citizen obey the law. Corruption exists but not at the level or as obvious as it is in Eastern Europe.
For example, DUIs. In Eastern Europe, if you get caught driving drunk, more likely than not, you can resolve your DUI (driving under influence) issue on a spot with a small bribe. On the other hand, in America, DUY is a serious offense and might cost you your license, a huge ticket and quite a bit of cash.
Opportunities. Learning about new laws and rules will take some time and effort. The opportunity lies in the fact that once you understand the rules and laws you can use it to your own advantage. For example, unemployment laws.
In Eastern Europe not all countries offer unemployment support to their citizens. In US, if you worked for certain length of time you most likely will be eligible for unemployment compensation, which could assist you in transition from my job to a next and offer financial relief for some period of time.
Conclusion: After arriving to United States you may feel like your life I broken. The reality is all your challenges are also opportunities. Once you can shift your perspective from rebuilding what you had at your home country to take a “clean page” approach and re-designing your life in US from scratch you will find many opportunities to build a life you want and potentially be much happier and fulfilled.
Thank you for reading, providing feedback and leaving comments. You help me grow as a blogger.
Question to readers:
- Which three areas of your life were impacted the most after you arrived in US?
- Any tips to other readers on how to overcome challenges and turn them into opportunities?
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