What It’s Like To Be An Immigrant in America

For those of you who have ever moved across the world for a better life, or even across the border to the country next to you, this won’t come as a surprise: being an immigrant is hard. For those of you who were born here, this is a friendly reminder that you really don’t have it as hard as you think. 😉 I am an immigrant or an expat as some call it. I almost had to create a new version of myself. Because the culture I left was so drastically different from the one I moved to, adjusting wasn’t easy. I have gone through immigration twice in my life. The  first time I was 10 years old so it wasn’t really my choice. It had its own challenges but I went back to Belarus with my mom and sister one year later, so it is a story for another day ( I will have a post about that coming soon).  The second time I moved to US I was 20 years old and at that point it was my decision.

I  decided to move to US as an adult for several reasons:

  • I missed my parents. I was very unhappy without them and wanted to help my parents financially. I thought by doing so they wouldn’t have to work so much and we will finally be able to live in the same place (as a side note my parents were living in US and I was living with my sister since I was 14, more about that coming soon).
  • I wanted a better life. Although I didn’t really have a clear plan on how I was going to make it better. I decided to try out for modeling and acting (naïve dreams of making big money quickly by sacrificing eating and health, more on that coming in later posts).
  • I wanted to go to college. I was  going to music college back in Minsk and dropped out of the program to come to US. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would  have been had I not done that, but I remind myself not to have regrets. When I came to Dallas I knew I wanted to go back to college, I just wasn’t sure where and how to go about it. In hindsight going to Business school was a really good decision, and I’m glad I finally figured out how to get it done.

So what happened when I moved to Dallas? To make a long story a little shorter 😉  I didn’t make it in that modeling/acting competition I tried out for (shocker, as it was a giant scam to begin with). So my story just like for thousands of other immigrants is the one of struggle and resilience. I was struggling with body issues, lack of purpose and meaning in my life, and self-worth issues. All of this expressed itself through an eating disorder (more on this coming later). I was pretty distracted with that. If any of you have ever been involved with an addiction personally or have someone you’re close to struggle with one, you would agree that addictions take a lot of time and energy to sustain themselves.  So school was out of question at the time being, I wouldn’t have been able to focus. Instead I did what I knew best. I knew how to work so I got a job. I started working at Neiman Marcus at first and then at Ted Baker. It took me another two years before I finally was ready to make some changes, seek help and work on getting back to my plan of going to school in the States. Earning a college degree was one of my biggest dreams. So I told myself  that I would do whatever it takes to get it and build a life here. But even when I started going to school and started working on my recovery I didn’t do a really good job at adjusting to the culture and building the type of environment I so missed. What I missed the most  about home and one of the reasons I felt so stuck between two worlds was spending quality time with people. In my culture communalism is much more prevalent than the individualism  that is so common in western countries.  Back home we spend more time in each other’s houses versus going out to eat, we are very close to our neighbors and friends, we leverage each other’s networks  and lean on each other for help, we  also don’t plan everything to the tee three weeks in advance and spend  a lot more time outside and in public places. Dallas  and American culture felt very different. It felt very isolated. I  struggled with the fact that I had to plan everything at least a week or two in advance and still wasn’t sure if the people would show up or not. I felt like I couldn’t just call some friends on Friday afternoon and have them over that night, that my neighbors wouldn’t knock on my door and ask for a cup of sugar, etc.  And then I  finally realized that I had to create all of things I missed about my culture and seek out people who would be interested in these kind of connections and interactions.I also realized that I had to adapt and adhere to some of the American ways, such as planning a get together at my house and sending everyone Facebook and email invites. So  here are some of the things I have learned about immigration  and on how to adapt to a new culture:

  • Stay true to yourself and your values but recognize that there might be some adjustments that you will  need to make with respect to the new culture.
  • Networking is key even if it means getting out of your comfort zone. As immigrants we don’t have the privilege of utilizing the networks built by our parents and relatives. We have to build those networks. It will be easier for our children, but we have to lay down the foundation.
  • Always be hustling. America rewards those who work hard and most importantly smart. As much as I messed up and made mistakes over the last 8 years, the ability to get back on my feet, figure out solutions as well as find answers has helped me out tremendously.
  •  Focus on building relationships and don’t be afraid to ask for help.This follows up on the point above. I had no idea how to do things at times, so I looked for people who could help me and some of those relationships I will cherish through my entire life.

I would like to hear some of your thoughts if you ever had to move to a different country on what that experience was like for you.

Yours truly,


Working On Goals Despite Our Feelings

Behavior Despite The Feeling

It is really hard to do things sometimes even when we know we should and even when they are good for us. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I know I have. Whether it comes to diet, productivity, exercise or financial goals we sometimes set goals and plans but don’t follow through with them.Because we are all imperfect beings and we make mistakes, sometimes we fall off track from our goals and do things that contradict them. I know this is true, because I can think of so many things I wanted to do and then later didn’t follow through with my plans. For example:

  • I have started this blog once before, last year. I didn’t put the effort in it that I wanted to get it to where I wanted. I knew I should post something, but I kept putting it off. At first I didn’t do it because I felt uninspired, insecure, unsure of myself, discouraged, weak and a bunch of other emotions for various reasons. And then I made an excuse of not having enough time. Both of these were bad excuses because there is never enough time, we have to make time. And we will always have situations that may affect how we feel, but that’s just our feeling.So this is my effort number two and so far I’m happy with where it’s going.
  • I said I was going to do yoga instead of high intensity cardio because I knew it was good for me two years ago. I finally did it a few months ago and now I love it.
  • I said I was going to learn Spanish when I finished undergraduate school. I finally started learning it a few months ago, and I am now done with Grad School.

There are other things but I don’t want to make this post too long. 🙂 Throughout all these “failures” I realized that sometimes it’s ok to start over and try again. Sometimes the timing is not right and we are not quite ready for a change. However, there are times when we have to just suck it up and do it. Whatever the goal is, I realized that if I’m going to write about managing money, getting out of debt, self-improvement or anything else that requires discipline, I must first acknowledge that I struggle with this as well. I’m not perfect and sometimes I don’t follow through with what I said I would. But I’m learning to keep going even when “I don’t feel like it”, learning how not to base my decisions on my feelings, but instead base them on my goals and values. It is not easy, but totally worth it in my opinion.

Another important lesson I’ve learned when it comes to sticking to goals and commitments is setting  “SMART” goals. If you haven’t heard SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-Oriented and Trackable. I’ve learned that these kind of goals apply to everything from losing weight to saving money.  I want to learn Spanish is a great goal but not a SMART one. My new goal is: I want to have a basic conversational knowledge of Spanish by the end of this year is a “smarter” goal because it fits each of those definitions. Acting based on the goals we want to achieve is another part. To Sum it up here are a few things I’d like to point out as takeaways: “http://www.forbes.com/finance/” target=”_blank”

Personal finance

  • Yes, saving money and sacrificing our pleasures and habits temporarily for a long-term goal is hard. It’s a lot easier to just stay where we are. But what I’ve learned while I was getting my MBA DEBT FREE, is that the prize is worth the sacrifice when we want something bad enough.


  • “Behavior despite the feeling” My therapist told me this several years ago ( yes I have a therapist, I will write about this as well) and I will never forget this saying. I have to remind it myself at times when I don’t “feel” like doing something I’ve committed to. While we are entitled to feel the way we do, we are responsible for our actions, and acting based on a feeling can become a stumbling block on a road to reach our goals
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re off track, or like you’re not making progress. Realizing that we are off track by being aware and being kind and compassionate to ourselves is key to getting back on track.
  • There will always be temptations and some are easier to resist than others, but the key is to realize that we are the greatest decision-makers and no one makes the decisions in our lives except us. Knowing we have choices and alternatives is helpful in staying motivated to keep trying.

So,  please do not to give up when things get hard and to find support, because there are probably other people who go through similar experiences and challenges. Sometimes it’s easier to work on something when we know that other people have done it before and that it is possible. If I didn’t  find support and encouragement in my life from others, I honestly don’t know where I’d be now.


Yours Truly,



Money Cannot Buy Happiness (After a Certain Point)

BlackbirdThe first part of this post’s title may sound cliché, yet somehow most of us still try to buy happiness with money or get it through material things purchased with money.  And this attempt to buy happiness inevitably fails no matter how hard we try.  It is true that increase in income raises our level of day-to-day contentment and life satisfaction, but only up to a certain amount:

“The magic income: $75,000 a year. As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises. Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness.” WSJ

And even though we have these statistics, some of us still believe that more money will bring us more happiness. And we keep chasing it harder and harder.  A few years ago I also thought this was true until I realized that the more things I bought, the more unhappy I became. I was shopping almost every day and every new thing was exciting and thrilling but only for a few seconds. Underneath all this pursuit of happiness through material things was a really sad girl who was lonely, broken and dissatisfied with herself and her life. I hoped that all those nice things, clothes and makeup would cover up and hide how unhappy I really felt inside. But they didn’t.  I was over my head in debt and I was very lonely.  I was also very insecure. I thought that without my shoes, dresses, nice things, expensive makeup, blonde hair, and perfect tan, people would not like me. I judged myself and I judged others. I set these unrealistic expectations for myself and nothing was good enough. I always wanted more.  For the longest time I thought my only value was in how I looked.

There finally came a point when I realized that the things I was buying  and the image I was portraying will never fix how I felt inside. I realized that I really needed to make some changes in my life. I also got sick and tired of being broke but looking like I had it all (think 30,000 millionaires in Dallas). So I decided to get out of debt and  get rid of all the anxiety I was feeling from having it. This was a good first step. I definitely felt better once I paid off all those credit cards. The next step was to figure out what happiness really meant for me. I had to figure out what was it that I really wanted since the material things weren’t doing it for me. This task took some retrospection and a lot of emotional work.

What I discovered was that I really wanted things that couldn’t be bought. I missed  real and meaningful relationships  and experiences with other people. I missed having those by not having them with my family. I also realized that my life lacked meaning and purpose. I was going to church but I wasn’t really buying into what was “sold” to me so I wanted to discover what spirituality really meant for me. I’m still figuring it out, but I know so far as it’s not about religious rituals and facades, it’s very personal and unique to each and one of us. Lastly I realized that I am the happiest when I am doing the things I love. For me this includes:

  • Doing anything outdoors ( I love nature and being around it really makes me happy)
  • Spending time with my dogs ( Their constant never-ending happiness is really contagious)
  • Playing sports with friends and making new friends while playing sports ( It’s a win-win)
  • Visiting new places ( travel is one of my biggest passions and really makes me happy)
  • Learning new things ( I really enjoy learning, I always have maybe that’s why I went all the way for an MBA)

There’s so many more things on my list that have nothing to do with material stuff. I might have to write a post about that 🙂 Your list might differ from mine and  I’d love to hear about some of the non-material things that make you happy. One thing I have learned for myself  is that true happiness comes from having meaningful relationships with others, doing work that we are passionate about and enjoy, helping others, and contributing to the world. I am much happier now that I have some of those and working on the others.  After all, this kind of happiness is priceless and can NEVER be bought.

Yours truly,


Why Give?

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” ~ Zig ZiglarThere are so many articles, books and businesses helping people make more money. And then there are tons of businesses and advertising companies helping people spend their money. There are also many companies out there helping people save money, partially this blog as well. However, I have found that there aren’t nearly as many resources helping people understand why it’ also important to GIVE some of your money away. Religious organizations of course make it very easy to make people do it, they simply say: “God told us that we must tide, it is his written in his word” However, when I was going to church, I found very little explanation given about why we should do that and more importantly where does that money go. On top of that, I have met many religious leaders who live and spend so excessively that it makes one wonder: How did they pay for all this? Since this isn’t a post about religion and everything that I think is wrong with it, I want to share my views on why as a spiritual not necessarily religious woman, I find that I receive so much in return when I give away money, things,  my skills or  simply my time.

  • The very first thing that motivates me to give away money, time, clothing, and other items is realizing how much better I have it than some people in US and then most of the people in the rest of the world. First, I have my health. Volunteering at Children’s hospital and seeing so many sick children makes me appreciate it even more. Second,  56% of Americans live on more than $50 per day, which is way more than 7% of the rest of the World according to a PEW study. If any of you have ever visited a developing country you would have noticed how much better off we are here in US. It is truly the best country in the World due to the high standard of living alone. But it’s also something that makes me more grateful and eager to help those who are less fortunate.
  • I’ve learned that giving doesn’t always have to mean giving away money. In fact, sometimes giving money to a person directly is actually not in their best interest. For example: if you give money to a homeless person, there is a high likelihood that they might spend it on alcohol or drugs. Or if you give to a “charitable” organization that you don’t really know much about, there’s really no way of telling what happens to the money. I found that when giving money directly it really helps (as with most things money-related) to do some research.
  • By giving away money, my time, clothes, or other things I feel a great sense of fulfillment knowing that this time, clothing, personal items, talent or whatever else has helped make someone else’s life better somehow. No purchase has ever made feel the same way and no purchase can ever do that.
  • I also found that giving locally and to a cause that we care about brings much more satisfaction, rather than just giving for the sake of it. I really care about women’s health, equality, safety and well-being, so I take most of my clothing and used items to The Genesis Women’s Shelter. They  provide shelter, counseling, and experts services to battered women and children. I am also a finance nerd, so I teach Financial Empowerment courses to women mostly from low-income households at WINGS center of Dallas.

I do realize that sometimes it’s not easy to give, especially when we’re struggling with money, have debt to pay off, don’t have a job, have a sickness in the family or a load of other reasons.  I do still think that it’s important to find a way to give that makes sense for you. If it’s not money, give your time. If time is an issue, give away some stuff you’re not using. I do believe that when we give, others give to us in ways we can’t imagine, it definitely has worked like that for me.  I want to share some great quotes I like on giving to close this post:

“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”Brian Tracy

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens

“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill       

I would love to hear some of your ideas and comments on how you find ways to give back and help others.