For this essay, I interviewed Eve, a young Russian woman that migrated to the United States in 2014. It was a turbulent time for Russian citizens. The first half of the year was dominated by the Crimea Conflict, during which Russia annexed Crimea, much to the disapproval of the rest of the world. Some even called this period “a new Cold War” (Tsygankov, 2017). The conflicts in Eastern Ukraine that started shortly afterward only increased the tensions both inside and outside the nation (Tsygankov, 2017, p.9). It was during that time that Eve decided to move halfway across the world. When asked about why she chose to move so far away, Eve said that she “needed a change”. Her life had stagnated and she was beginning to feel trapped. She hoped that the States, which she had heard so many wonderful things about, would give her the fresh start she desired.
Eve’s journey started long before she arrived at the gate. “The decision to move halfway across the world,” she says, “is not to be taken lightly.” There is a good chance that one will never see their family face-to-face again. Modern technology has moved far, and means of communication across vast areas are available, but nothing will be able to quite fill the loneliness that one feels when away from loved ones. She spent much time arguing with her family members that did not agree with her decision, and some of her older relatives still refuse to speak to her to this day. Aside from that, there was also the issue of what to do with all the things she owned. Parting with her possessions was nearly as difficult as parting with her friends and family. Knowing that she would not get to take everything, Eve had to pick what she wanted to keep and what would be lost forever. The flight itself was relatively stress-free by comparison, though it was long and tiring. The most stressful part of immigration was passport control at the entry gate. Though she knew her paperwork was in proper order, she still felt like she was doing something wrong. For several days after she made it into the country, she says, she still had the feeling that it was not real.
The next difficult step on her journey was an adjustment to a new environment. Everything was in a new language; billboards, signs, and radio stations were in English instead of Russian. At first, it was rather confusing, but eventually, it became the new norm. Yet a more difficult challenge waited ahead: adjusting to the people. America and Russia have two very different cultures, and people act disparately in some situations. For example, she had to get used to her peers asking her how she was doing as part of the morning greeting or saying hello every time they saw her throughout the day, instead of greeting her once in the morning. To this day, Eve claims, there are things that she cannot quite get used to when talking to people. Most were rather welcoming and even enthusiastic about meeting someone from a different country, especially someone from as far away as Russia. Yet, there were always those that were less than cordial. Comments like “communist spy” and “go back to your country” were common. Some even went as far as to blame her for Trump’s election in 2016, even though by that time, Eve had not been in Russia in two years, nor did she have any affiliation with politics. Though those people were the minority, they were very vocal, and it took much time for her to learn to ignore them.
Even eight years later, Eve is still adjusting to her new life. She has gotten used to most of the ‘oddities’ of American behavior and learned to understand local idioms and sayings. However, she thinks that the image that the United States has overseas is greatly inflated. “After speaking with many common people and seeing how they live,” Eve says, “I find that it is not all that different here than it was there.” In Russia, the United States was presented as a place of infinite opportunity and endless resources where the common man has access to resources that an average Russian doesn’t. In reality, it turned out that the two countries have a lot more in common than she thought. At the end of the day, Eve says, all people are people. Whether you speak Russian or English, whether you live here or there, people are the same everywhere. She even had similar problems at work in the States as she did in Russia, which she found quite amusing. Yet when asked whether she would change her decision, if she could go back in time, she said no. “This is my home now,” she said. “And I love it here, for both the good and the bad parts. Being an immigrant is difficult, but it can be really rewarding, too. I can appreciate everything I have so much more now because I have a comparison. And I can more clearly see the flaws in the system that I can work towards changing.” Eve considers her immigration journey to be a positive experience, despite the hardship. Though America turned out to be less idyllic than she expected, she still found a way to make it her home.
Tsygankov, A. P. (2017). The dark double: The American media perception of Russia as a neo-Soviet autocracy, 2008-2014. Politics, 37(1), 19–35. Web.