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.