Coming to America is the dream of many around the world. Being exposed to a good dose of the American Dream on social media and seeing first-hand the support U.S. immigrants provide for families back home obviously makes America the destination of choice for many dreamers who want to radically change their lives and their loved-one’s. Like the Holy Book says, many are called but few are chosen. The same rule applies to those who dream of coming to America because, while many want to immigrate only a selected few are allowed in.
After living in the United States (U.S.) for more than 6 years and experiencing its excitements and stresses, I have come to realize that coming to America is a lot like going for a swim. For anyone getting ready to come to the U.S., I hope you’ll take note of these observations I have gathered over time. For those who have been here for a while, this distinct perspective of America will likely resonate with your own experiences and my last point will be most beneficial for you. So without further ado let’s dive into the pool!
Getting Past the Gate
When you go to a pool there is always someone at the gate who makes sure you are the appropriate age and satisfy all the requisites for entry. These guys usually say it’s for your own good as they have to ensure that you won’t drown once you get in the water. Or you might just be showing up at a private pool that doesn’t allow strangers to get in. This access granting at the pool gate is similar to acquiring the necessary paperwork (visa) if you intend to come in legally and go through the US Custom and Border Protection.
Receiving a visa interview email/letter is the beginning of the process. Sometimes that letter or email can get you so excited you spend the night seeing yourself in Disneyland or walking down a suburban neighborhood like the one you often see in movies. That dream usually comes true when the pool keepers say, “Congratulations, you have been issued a visa….” Those who sit in the lobby waiting for their turn to be interviewed become professional face readers. They become experts at identifying those who were granted a visa or not. Trust me, it’s not fun identifying those who were denied a visa.
Now, let say you get the visa. The next checkpoint is to go through the border once you get into the U.S. When my plane landed the first time I came in, I thought I was all set, until I saw two ladies in an administrative cubicle who were escorted to take the next plane back to their country. Seeing those girls on their way back made me think of what I would tell my community if I got deported. Thank God I made the cut, which is the reason why I am writing about this experience for you. Therefore, the important takeaway is that you’ll have to get a visa and be accepted at the immigration border before they let you into the pool (U.S.).
Ensure You Have the Right Swimming Gear
You can’t dive into a pool if you don’t have the right gear. Getting the right gear here refers to getting all the appropriate clothes for the weather. I don’t know about you, but before I came to America I never experienced snow. I will let you imagine how I dealt with my first snow in Massachusetts. So, if you are getting ready to come to the U.S., make sure you get a few of all the seasons’ clothes, that is Summer, Fall (Autumn), Spring, and Winter. That is to say, get yourself a big winter coat, some turtlenecks (light sweaters that cover the neck) a couple of light shirts (long and short sleeves), and a couple of jeans and shorts. This may sound strange to you but I’d say it’s better to come well-prepared than to have to suddenly acquire all you need once you get here.
Sometimes promises made to you might not be fulfilled or you might not find a job opportunity as soon as you think. This is similar to going to the pool and expecting your friend to have an extra pair of goggles for you or discovering that he forgot to bring the ones he promised. Oh boy…. You’ll eventually figure out the process.
Entering the Pool
Hallelujah! You’ve made it through inspection, and now it’s time to get your feet wet. Since you fully understand how intense the immigration process is, entering the pool (the USA) is a major accomplishment that many in your country may never experience.
At this point, the way you jump into the pool depends on if you know how to swim or not. In reality, what I mean here is how you integrate into American society depends upon having a basic cultural understanding to help ease your way in your new community. For instance, someone who already speaks and understands English, or has someone who already referred him/her at a job, will join the race a little faster than one who doesn’t speak or understand the language. That’s why some dive into the pool, while others enter with their feet first. Whatever the case may be, either having some knowledge of the language with a support system in place or not, I will still suggest you take things step by step. Because when you finally get into the water you might hit the pool floor with your head and get a concussion, one never knows?
How Shallow or Deep the Pool is
Like I said previously, because you don’t know the density of the pool it’s better to take some time and observe how others are swimming before choosing the technique that works best for you. You might be swimming too fast, unaware that you are heading to the deep end that might require a different skill to successfully swim in. Don’t worry if you can’t catch it the first time as everyone has to do it by trial and error. But remember that every error comes with a price: it could be fines, heartbreaks, emotional wounds, depression, or most importantly time!
What I am trying to point out here is the unhealthy habit of comparison found among most immigrants. Before coming to the U.S. you might have heard the story of an immigrant who sent a car to his parents back home after living in the U.S. for three years. Once you get to the U.S. you strongly want to do the same or demonstrate an even bigger accomplishment in a shorter period of time. This is an example of what a newcomer might have in mind. Those who have been here for a while might also be tempted to compare themselves with others who arrived at the same time. Oh, Zara posted that she bought a new car on Facebook, I need to get myself one. Sometimes this type of comment or mentality comes from your relatives and friends back home who spent their time monitoring others’ progress and report back to you as a way of indirectly asking what have you been doing since you got there?
You now listen to them and sheepishly get a car loan, forgetting that Zara might be making enough money to take care of her car expenses while you are just making enough to take care of your current bills, and that getting a car will make you stretch too thin which will result in unnecessary debts, overworking yourself, stress and bitterness. So, it’s very important to understand how the American capitalist system works. Take risks which consequences you can bear and use others’ achievement as an inspiration and not a challenge you are being put up against. Remind yourself of the adage of “It’s not how fast you go but how far you get.” And your progress shouldn’t be measured by Zara’s standards or anyone else’s. It’s okay to go through this stage at some point in your stay in America but I urge you not to succumb to it.
I will leave you with American actor Denzel Washington’s quote: “Never confuse movement and progress because you can run in one place and not get anywhere.” Once you are in America, focus on building your foundations, that is, identify what you want to do and where you want to be at a given time, get the necessary training, certification, or diploma that will get you there — and once in a while reassess your achievement and set new goals for your life while balancing attention you give your peers and that which you need to invest on yourself and in your future.
You know what happens when one side of the balance weighs more than the other? That is where we started this blog — to help you manage your integration, settlement, family, and enjoy your new life in America.
Once again welcome to the United Pools of America!