Coming to America
December 5, 2013
When I first stepped onto this campus and saw a male student with baggy pants and a T-shirt with a skateboard tucked under his arm I fully realized that I wasn’t in Moscow anymore.
When I was 17, after graduating from high school in 2011 I had made my dream come true by entering the Moscow State University as a journalism major. After years of hard work, I was rewarded with a one-way ticket to America – the land of opportunity and freedom.
I had visited the United States before actually moving here, but I couldn’t imagine myself living here. It seemed so strange and foreign to me.
While visiting, I saw L.A .through a tourist’s eyes and not for what it really was. I was taken by the weather and the happy faces on Southern Californians. I went sightseeing and I was never bored because every new day was an exploration for me. At 16, I had three months to explore California.
A year later, when I actually came to live in the U.S., culture shock pursued my every step – from the moment I walked out of the airport. Now I wasn’t a tourist here anymore. I was potentially a permanent resident. Everything started to bother me, because now I had to get used to it. I was going to stay, and there was no way back home the decision had already been made. My family had always wanted to move to the U.S., so when we had a chance we accepted it for the good of our family and for my academic and professional goals.
In the beginning, I wasn’t so happy with that fact, because I had never imagined myself moving away from my hometown – the city I loved most – where I took my first steps and learned how to speak. The place I had so many friends and had accomplished so much in the academic aspect of my life.
After a few weeks, a deep depression and homesickness possessed me. I missed my home a lot. What I missed and still miss most about my city is the pace of life, the spiritual connection with the city and sleepless nights full of lights.
I had graduated from high school, and it was time for me to attend a four-year university. The first thing I did, after few days of adapting to a new environment, was to visit universities. I wanted to go to the best university, because I moved here for a better education and a better future. At that time, I thought that UCLA was the best because in Moscow, UCLA is very popular. The first thing I was told at the admissions office: “Please go to our website, fill out the application for international students and come to take a test. Bring the rest of your paperwork with you, so we can proceed with your application. Your tuition fee will be around $50,000 since you are a non-resident.
I decided to start my academic career at GCC. I had to wait for one year and one day until I become a California resident in order to qualify for financial aid. Meanwhile I had an option of taking non-credit ESL classes, so that I will learn something while I am waiting. I applied to GCC, and after taking a placement exam I was placed into non-credit program. I was in a deep depression when I realized that a whole year of my life was going to be wasted on something, that I already learned in high school. I felt as if I were going backward, instead of moving forward and learning new things.
One of the most significant differences between Russian students and students in L.A. is that we don’t have patience. When we graduate from a high school, we already know how long it will take for us to earn a bachelor’s degree and move on with the next steps in our lives. Most of the students in Moscow already have their life-plan ready by the time they enter a university and time, for them, is very important. They can’t waste any of it.
Of course, having the Moscow spirit in my heart, I wasn’t able to wait for a year. I took credit classes before I officially become a resident, so I had to pay the tuition fee as an international student. It didn’t cost me an arm and leg at GCC as it would at a four-year university, but I spent around $220 for each unit for two semesters until I finally became a resident.
When you step onto any university campus, or even high school in Moscow, you never see students walking on the school property dressed like that. Students have to wear formal clothes in high school, and by the time they go to university, they already know that there is an unwritten set of rules, which tells them how to dress at any educational institution. We were used to dressing in a very classy way, with a high sense of taste and fashion, because it was the way the lifestyle of the city required us to look. Even here in L.A., one can easily tell by appearance whether the person is from U.S. or outside the country.
Moscow is not just a mass of cold stones put up together, it is a very mysterious, historic, fast and sophisticated city. It has its own soul and passion. On the other hand, L.A. is more calm, slow and people seem to be happy and relaxed all the time.
The next shock for me was that the teachers were very friendly with their students. They acted very casual and free compared to our teachers in Moscow, who were very strict and would never talk about themselves or their families in class.
Most of our teachers would only talk about the subject matter and never even smile during the lecture, which sometimes made us dislike the subject and were just forced to learn it. Most of the teachers in GCC, combine both sides; they provide examples from their own life experience, and still keep the distant teacher-student relationship, which makes students more interested in class and without losing respect for their instructor.
I really miss my city a lot. It is my passion. Moscow is very similar to New York: the energy, rhythm, crowds and lifestyle. People usually say, “If you can make it in Moscow, you can make it anywhere.” Moscow never sleeps, it is always moving. However, L.A. became my physical home and I am really starting to like it here. The United States offer offers more opportunities for education and gives the possibility for a better quality of life, not only for a younger generation, but also for the senior citizens of the country.
The weather, is the most significant plus in L.A. However, it sometimes gets too monotonous. I am used to having all four seasons during the year, but here in L.A., it is always warm and sunny. But, because of the good weather, people seem to be in a good mood all the time.
I am really glad to see that people in the U.S. are much happier and healthier. They are able to live and enjoy their lives, even when they don’t have a lot of opportunities, while those who live in Russia are more depressed and they don’t have time to enjoy what they have, because they are playing a game which is called “struggle for survival.”