The Immigrant Experience

by a new immigrant in New York, Maryna (originally from Ukraine)

Imagine this situation: You are in the middle of an intersection and a heavy truck runs a red light; at the hospital doctors assure you about your ability to walk after multiple treatments, various procedures, and endless physical therapy. The rehabilitation process sounds easy. First,  you couldn’t walk, then walk on crutches, then without, clumsily and unsteady. At last, one day, only a slight limp will be a sad reminder of the accident. How long does it take? Everything depends on your perseverance, willpower, belief in yourself, and, last but not least, your optimism and a positive attitude.

This is what happens to every immigrant: it doesn’t matter how respected and important you were in your home country, how many degrees you hold, how good your previous job was, how many friends you had, and how much you meant to your family. The truck didn’t stop, and now you must learn everything from scratch: How to speak, how to read, how to behave, how to find a job, and new friends. For anyone it could take forever. Partly, it is a matter of a person’s flexibility and adaptability.

It has been said that life is a sequence of white and black stripes, like a zebra. I prefer to be less judgmental and allow my life to be more colorful, like a rainbow. I found a lot of hidden treasures by travelling on my “crutches”. When people speak with each other, more than 80% of information is non-verbal. In the beginning I didn’t understand a lot of words, only the main idea. I became more aware of the tone, tempo, gestures, facial expressions, and body language of speakers. Time passed and my vocabulary improved, but now I still pick up a lot of hidden information behind the words.  This struggle with a language made me intuitive and observant. My listening skills improved; moreover, I started to hear different sounds which I couldn’t distinguish before. As all immigrants who have a challenging path, I was getting more patient, more tolerant of other people. I think many immigrants help others absolutely willingly and with enthusiasm because they have understanding and sympathy painfully gained by their own experience.

Immigrants appreciate new friends, or new job as they would have never been able if they hadn’t been immigrants. Furthermore, some insignificant things could make only an immigrant smile. I was happy to understand brief fragments of talk from strangers who were passing me on the street, especially when it happened the first time. It was not buzzing noise any more for me, there were Real words with Real meaning. It is like you were deaf for two years and one morning you woke up and could hear everything again.

After a couple of years you may experience a light bulb flash occasionally. You realize how naive you were, how many dogmas and strange rules you followed in the past. Your value system is changing dramatically because you have a different perspective. It is similar to having a filthy apartment full of dust and old trash, but only now you could make up your mind what really matters.

Without a doubt, having left their home land, immigrants tend to be more polite and educated, tolerant, and open-minded. They are interested in various cultures and attracted to the unknown. After a lot of disappointments and frustrations, with a strong “can-do” attitude, belief in themselves, and good work ethics, some of them are not only able to walk without crutches, but even dance.

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