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15 Things I Understood After Living Abroad For 5 Years

Every year, around a million people move to the US. When I was 20 years old, I decided to join them and left Saint Petersburg, Russia, where I was born. Packing my suitcase, I thought that it was so cool to find a reload button in the program of my life. I thought that immigration was nice and easy. I realized how seriously my life had changed standing in JFK airport in New York. In this article, I’m going to tell you what happened next and how it changed my life.

The author of this article claims that this is her personal experience. You can agree or disagree. Here at Bright Side, we hope that you’ll find it exciting and, perhaps, inspiring. Enjoy the article!

Flying over the ocean wasn’t as scary as being “on the other side.”

Even the shirt of my boyfriend that I’d put on on the airplane as a talisman didn’t help me to calm down. At the airport in New York it was hard for me to understand what the American flight attendants were saying. I felt panic-stricken and ran from one gate to another after every announcement I heard. I was afraid to be late for the next flight.

My airplane on its way from Moscow to New York.

When I got inside the small American airplane, I felt even sicker. It was so tiny! Only 2 rows with 1 seat in each. I asked other passengers, “Is it OK? People actually fly on these planes?” People kept smiling reservedly and responded that it was fine and even operated regularly. No matter how many travel books I’d read and language courses I attended, nothing could prevent me from looking like a scared little girl.

My life began changing during my first hours in the new country. Even though I’ve studied English and watched a lot of American comedies, I felt like an alien from another planet.

When I moved into my new apartment, the feeling of anxiety peaked.

During my first night in the United States I had nightmares scarier than anything that Stephen King has ever written. There were zombies, axes, and all other kinds of scary stuff. It turned out that American houses were created to film horror movies: floors creaked after every single step, there were a lot of little closets that made me feel like some creepy creature would jump out of them.

In the beginning, I converted everything: prices, weight, time. My brain had to do a double job. 20 dollars — how much is that in rubles? If now it’s 9 in the evening, what time is it in Moscow? Oh, my God, my weight is 120 pounds, how much is that in kg? Did I gain that much in these 2 weeks in the US? 70° Fahrenheit — is it hot or cold? It took me a long time to memorize everything.

These neon-colored cakes from the local supermarket are my biggest stress reliever. Unfortunately, they don’t help me lose weight.

In the beginning, the language barrier prevents you from talking to people. It’s difficult to understand both locals and immigrants. It may put you into an awkward and funny situation. For example, at the movies, a person who knows English on an intermediate level will understand the jokes in the movie Ted. However, the same person will probably have trouble understanding the jokes of Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool. There’s that awkward moment when everyone around you is laughing and you just blink your eyes and smirk.

Only when you leave, will you understand how much your home country’s culture meant to you.

You miss every single blade of grass. You miss books and signs in your native language, and you miss your local food. However, the food can be easily found in the nearest Russian shop, but you won’t find the spring of your native city there.

Advertising in Brighton Beach — a Russian district of New York.

Living in Russia, I loved everything Western and snorted scornfully when I heard Russian music. Many people told me that I’d miss our birches and mint-flavored gingerbread when I moved to the USA. And I didn’t take it seriously until I moved and realized that I really miss it all. When I eat black bread with kefir here, I’m on the top of the world gastronomically.

Illusions that I had to forget about.

Before you move, you have to prepare. In order to do the same job you did at home, you need to be “better than average.” It means sleepless nights and working nights and weekends. When you finally come to the country of your dreams, you feel that you deserve some rest. But it’s too early to relax. The hardest part begins after you move and you have to understand that.

Immigrants in the United States shouldn’t be confused by the politeness of the locals. For Americans, it’s a natural habit to ask how are you doing or compliment you. They’ve done it since childhood and it doesn’t mean that someone is really interested in you. Nobody needs you here. It’s important to understand that nobody waits for you here with open arms like your family does in your home country.

Because of the crowds of tourists, I couldn’t take a nice picture of Niagara Falls. Expectation and reality didn’t match.

Immigration is a great filter for friends and relatives. After you go away, you are separated by long distances and time zones. I stopped communicating with the majority of people I knew within the first 2 years. Some of them just stopped responding to my emails and calls and disappeared eventually. However, I have a couple of true friends that have always kept in touch and provided me with a lot of support in my hardest moments.

Moving to a different country you realize that the world is a small place. For example, going from New York to Moscow takes 10 hours. This equals to watching Titanic 3 times. Just imagine, you watch the love story of Rose and Jack 3 times and you are on another continent.

The disadvantages of immigration

The hardest part is losing the feeling of home. Making short trips back home, you feel like a tourist. You are surprised by new shopping malls that pop up in the places where you used to play when you were a kid. You are shocked by new fashion trends. Life here doesn’t stop when you leave. You are stuck between 2 worlds: you don’t belong to your old home anymore, but you are not local in your new place either. You become psychologically homeless.

Graffiti in one of the suburbs of Chicago. When I took this picture, the characters seemed sad and tired to me.

After 5 years of living and working in the USA, I can think in English and I can understand Chinglish — the Chinese accent of the English language. However, I began forgetting my native language. I ask my relatives and friends more and more often: “Jeez…How do you say this in Russian?” With some words it’s difficult for me to find an equivalent for them in my native language. And my writing is even worse. I make unbelievably stupid mistakes writing in Russian.

The advantages of immigration

For me, immigration became a trip to my own “self.” After I moved, I stayed alone more often than I did at home. It helped me to analyze my own fears and understand what was really important to me. This forced psychoanalysis helped me to see my goals clearly.

I became more mobile and leaving my comfort zone doesn’t seem scary to me anymore. Every single day in a foreign environment is a little kick in the butt that motivates you to learn, assimilate, and find new opportunities.

Times Square in New York. Here, for the first time, I felt calm in a crowd of people.

Another big advantage is that you get rid of prejudice. Living in a different culture, getting to know traditions and habits of the locals and other immigrants, you become more and more tolerant. It doesn’t matter what religion a person is, whether he or she eats with a fork, hands, or chopsticks, whether someone covers their body from head to toe or wears a turban, we all want the same things: happiness and peace. Understanding this erases the borders in your head and sets you free.

I realized that a suitcase should always be light. This can be said both about the suitcase with your clothes and the load of emotions about the past. If your life gives you a new opportunity to travel, it’s better to go with light baggage, physically and emotionally.

The conclusion

Despite the difficulties described, immigration is an experience that one should dare to have. In a new country you make discoveries every day: a new word, a new fact, and a new acquaintance. At a certain point you realize — you have no more boundaries and you are capable of doing things you could never have even dreamed of. You only need to want it and take the first step.

Have you ever experienced immigration? Share your impressions with us in the comments.

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