The Immigrant Blog
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
I found a beautiful poetry in the fact that, legally speaking, I became an immigrant to the USA in New York City. The words above are taken from The New Colossus, a poem written to fund, and later inscribed on, the Statue of Liberty. While I wasn’t quite the huddled masses, arriving as I did via a comfortable leather seat in the premium economy section of a Virgin Atlantic flight, rather than caked in dirt on a boat to Ellis Island, I couldn’t help but take note of the fact that I was following in the footsteps of so many who had journeyed to this city in the pursuit of their American dream.
While New York was not my final destination, it was home for the next five hours thanks to a delayed flight resulting in a missed connection. I wandered through the airport, delighting in how American everything was. I had to remind myself that this was, for now, the new norm. I was no longer a tourist, I was officially a resident. The multicoloured candy boxes that adorned the cabinets were going to be a part of everyday life (well, maybe not every day, I don’t really want diabetes).
I have been a resident of the US for the past ten days, and I thought it was about time I journaled some of my thoughts, experiences, and observations. I’m going to assume most people reading this will know me on a personal level, and thus I’ll spare you all a repeat of why I’m here. Instead, I’ll just list some random points, both annoying and amazing, with a little explanation under each.
- Immigration has some unexpectedly stupid pitfalls.
I have long been of the thought process that immigration may be one of the most wildly misunderstood and misrepresented issues of our time. It’s too easily emotive, too easily used as a scapegoat and explanation for other problems that we often fail to examine it as its own issue, instead trying to use it as an explanation for unemployment levels, strains on the public purse, or a lack of access to service.
I am extremely fortunate in a number of ways that I have no option but to be blunt about. I am the “right kind of immigrant.” I am white. I am Westernised. English is my first language. It is the law here that I carry around my immigration papers at all times as I may be asked to present them to prove my right to be here, and so I do. That being said, I am highly aware of the fact that I am very unlikely to be asked for them than someone who is, for example, Latinx or Asian.
The immigration issues I have faced are distinctly more first world problem than that. Possibly the most frustrating for me is your credit history does not follow you abroad. I have spent years painstakingly building an impressive credit score. It’s gone. All of it. I can’t even get a phone contract here in my own name. Thankfully I have a supportive wife, and her family are all helpful and wonderful, but nothing says “hey you’re starting from scratch here” than having to rely on someone else to sign a phone contract for you.
- You will have to explain yourself, a lot.
Foolishly or not, I am someone who bet heavily on the education system being the path to success. I am here on a family visa, meaning I did not require an offer of employment to come here, and indeed I could not legally begin the employment finding process until my visa was verified in New York. While I’m yet to have an “interview” I have networked and met with people to begin to spread my name out there. With that comes the need to explain my qualifications, which don’t quite translate over here. That’s fine, and totally understandable.
What I didn’t quite expect though was the need to ask for water 3 times on a flight, because apparently in my accent “water” sounds more like I’m asking for a “Waldorf” salad.
- Turns out it’s possible to take personal growth for granted, after all.
I learned to drive when I was 17 years old, but I’ve always been somewhat of a reluctant driver. Partially due to cost, partially due to environmental and urban planning beliefs, I’ve always been someone who will choose public transport options whenever possible. That really is not possible here in the vast majority of cases. In the UK, driving somewhere as opposed to taking public transit can often save you 15/20 minutes. Here, the difference can be a 45 minute car journey or a 4 hour journey involving two trains and three busses. It is truly startling. A surprising number of jobs also require car ownership. If you thought the “requires experience to get job, requires job to get experience” circle was vicious then this is like that, only worse. Not being able to drive here feels like I’ve lost a significant amount of independence, and that’s not a feeling I’m used to.
- People are amazing.
Every email I have received from people I have reached out to for employment begins with “Welcome to the US!” Every cashier I have had to ask for a couple of minutes while I figure out my change, the library clerk who helped me apply for membership using nothing but my visa paperwork, and the Urban Planners who have volunteered their time to help me negotiate my new surroundings. With all the uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and general anxiety that accompanies uprooting yourself, and transplanting into a new country, never underestimate the power of a reassuring smile and a “welcome.” The skeptical social scientist within me can’t help but wonder how much of it is due to my being the “good” immigrant, but the warmhearted fuzzy liberal within me wants to believe that this is just the norm, especially considering I’m living in the Chicago area, notoriously welcoming to new migrants. You’d be amazed at how forgiving and helpful people are when you smile sheepishly at them and say “sorry, I’m new here.”
- Technology is amazing.
I am exceptionally thankful for the sleek, black, Samsung branded piece of glass I carry in my pocket. I haven’t had this level of free time since I was a child, and the fact I can keep in contact with my friends from home at any time is all the reassurance I need. As someone who was never the best at staying in touch, there really is no better motivator to keep a friendship alive than suddenly being 3000 miles away from it.
- Anxiety and excitement are irrevocably intertwined.
It’s all too easy to shut off during periods of great change and uncertainty, but thanks to advice I’ve received from the people I’ve met with since being here, and the constant unconditional love and support from my wife, I’ve been able to harness this energy and turn it into genuine unbridled excitement for the future. I have come to realise that you can choose to feel like you have nothing, or you can choose to feel like you have the opportunity to have everything, and one of those choices feels better than the other.
I promised myself this year I’d keep two goals. Be consistent and be persistent. Sometimes I might fail, but I will pick myself up and go at it again, just as hard.
The past ten days have been an experience. I can’t wait to see what the next ten bring.