Just to give you a little bit of context – Dmytro has never been a typical Ukrainian guy. I met him 4 years ago in Kyiv, he was 23 and he just entered the university, he was speaking English with Ukrainians and dreamed about America… Today he is living in the US and is sharing his story of an immigrant life in New York.
Where are you from and why did you decide to move to the US?
I’m from a small town in the eastern Ukraine. From the early age, I felt I’m not fitting in my environment. From the age of 12 I was fluently speaking English, learning about the world and particularly the U.S. Based on my research this country is built on the principles of freedom and equality of everyone before God and the Law, and it’s the most powerful nation in the world. I realised that you can be whoever you choose to be in America if you get yourself in. And I started thinking about moving there.
How did you move to the US?
I came here as a part of the Work and Travel program in 2012.
At the moment I am in the process of securing the status of political asylum. It means that I have committed the act of the state treason to Ukraine and if I go back I will face persecution and possibly time in prison. Not fun, I know. But I am not afraid of this possibility because I am not thinking of going back. I knew about this drawback long before coming to America but I decided to move here and apply for the asylum anyways.
What have you been doing all this time in the US?
After 4 years in America, my life’s going pretty well. Recently I entered the LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York – the biggest public university in the country. Classes begin in March, I am going to major in Social Sciences and Humanities.
For the past year, I’ve also been working as a waiter at one of the best restaurants in Brooklyn Vis-a-Vis. Before that, I was working as a busboy and a waiter in a couple of other restaurants, including the restaurant in the heart of Manhattan – aside of the Rockefeller centre.
Have you experienced any cultural shocks after your arrival to the US? Any disappointments?
United States is a totally different world from the region I grew up in. American society operates on a totally different set of values. I see individualism, rule of law, honouring contracts and the value of personal freedoms as distinctive features of the American nation. This is a very contrasting set of “rules” to those I’ve been observing for years in the Russian-speaking countries. Such as collectivism, the law serves to protect the state and the community, not the individual, intolerance and suppression of any dissent.
To me this is god and bad at the same time – the excess of personal freedom lead to the high number of clinically insane and homeless people on the streets of New York and in public transport.
Disappointments? Telling the truth it takes much more time and efforts to get the legal paperwork done and get the citizenship than I was expecting.
What are the best things about American culture?
For me, the most important things are the “rules of the game” in the society. I like America’s fundamental principles – power comes from the people; change is individual and comes from below; the importance of human rights; tolerance and pluralism; using reason and rationale in the decision making process.
On the everyday life level, I like American sports basketball (NBA) and football (NFL), popular music – hip-hop and rap, street fashion and food.
What are the benefits of living in New Yor City?
Life in a global melting pot provides a good number of benefits. Multiculturalism, everyday exposure to global society at school, work, etc.; high life standards that includes high salaries, comfortable housing, access to modern entertainment and art, great education and health systems, easy access to the latest scientific achievements based on the cutting edge research and technologies unavailable anywhere else in the world, independent media, the U.S. law enforcement and national security apparatus, to name a few.
How about the people? How would you describe Americans, and, in this case, New Yorkers?
Americans are mostly open-minded, pluralistic, accepting, friendly and hospitable. At the same time if you want to gain their respect or acceptance you cannot doubt core American beliefs and values such as law obedience, patriotism, belief in America’s exceptionalism, freedom and right of everyone to pursue his or her own destiny.
New Yorkers tend to be more selfish and some even arrogant, unlike the country folks. Probably because New Yorkers more than all the rest of the nation, are preoccupied with their carriers and have the bigger burden placed on their shoulders in terms of responsibilities(at school, work, family) and competition at school or work.
Generally, you can make American friends if you are a part of their community: college, workplace, religious organisation, etc. But if you are a recent immigrant, you will find it extremely difficult to assimilate and find real friends among Americans. Expect to be secluded in your particular ethnic enclave (for Russian speakers in New York it is Brighton Beach, for Chinese – Chinatown downtown Manhattan, Haitians – Flatbush, Brooklyn, etc.) and for the first few years be surrounded mostly by people of your national origin.
Even though America is very multicultural and people are very tolerant, kids at school still tend to hang out within their “familiar circles” (some sort of subconscious, self-imposed segregation) – Russians with Russians, Chinese with Chinese, Indians with Indians, and so on).
What are the things you don’t like about American lifestyle, living in New York?
Lots of homeless people in the streets, mentally unstable people, cases of extreme individualism. You are constantly being watched by the authorities in the name of the law and national security. No system of public support for an individual, you are left to take care of yourself.
How much should a young person expect to earn to live a decent life in NYC?
Median annual household (two working adults with completed B.A/B.S. degrees) income in Manhattan in 2016 was $67,000; in Brooklyn $35,000. I myself made around $40,000 with no completed B.A in 2015. Your income won’t always depend on your education level rather on how tough you are and whether you know the right people.
If you are a recent undergraduate and are looking for a job in the city, you should put in your calculations an annual (starting) salary of around $35,000-50,000.
How does your typical week look like?
Well, I do not have much time to spare. I work 12-15 hours days, 4-5 days a week. When I get home I just have time to shower and sleep. During my off days, I am dealing with a lawyer, immigration matters, doctor appointments, now college. I don’t mention laundry, paying bills, shopping and again, sleeping (for all those missed night hours while at work). In the little free time, I have I watch a movie or read. Dates are occasional and rare. Hangouts with friends follow the same narrative. I do work on weekends. Welcome to New York.
What is your favourite place in New York City?
The rooftop of my apartment building in South Brooklyn in Coney Island. Up there, I see the Atlantic running miles away; to the west, the whole Brooklyn and, in distance, Manhattan skyline. I like climbing to the rooftop to think, listen to music or simply dream.
What would you miss the most if you would have to leave New York tomorrow?
All the opportunities, I guess. And the city culture. There’s no other city in the world that gives you access to such a cultural outlook. The big city rush, constant hustle as a routine of the city dwellers. The feeling of being on the top of the world, in the centre of life.
What beliefs, habits or skills helped you achieve your dream of moving and establishing your life in the US? What is your receipt for designing your life?
I don’t believe that one can design his or her life. In God and predestination. And I believe that to fulfil what is written for you in your “book of life” you must know yourself and act in accordance with what is true for you.
Skills: Fluency in English, perseverance, selfishness, self-determination, conviction and unshakeable faith in my beliefs and values, willingness to sacrifice, intentional ignorance. Loyalty, reliability.
Having you had an experience living abroad for a long period of time? Comment below if you are to share your story with readers of yourlife.design.
Images – Dmytro; Hanna Flores.