Pursuit of the American dream still drives immigration from abroad
Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
I still remember the first glimpse of it: the first tender glance at the American landscape. I had to crane my neck to glance out the window, and I distinctly remember regretting the move (I was sitting on the middle row aisle of a Boeing 747).
I do not know what I expected to see. Somehow, I may have wished to see all those stories about the US, all the amazing cities and glean — Hollywood, the National parks and the Wild West and the beaches in that one moment. What I really saw, as the flight descended determinedly toward Fort Worth, was the vast Texan arid fields of nothingness. But I liked it — let’s take it one step at a time.
There were a lifetime’s expectations packed into that glance. It was saddled by the weight of so many dreams. I was almost sure that the patch of ground where I may have glanced first might have even caught fire.
America—indeed the land of dreams, home of the brave and definitely the hottest brand in the world. Everyone wants a piece of it. And it comes as no surprise that outside of the U.S., the single most populated country that admires American civilization is not any other anglicized or western country, but India. Fareed Zakaria, the almost infamous American journalist and commentator of Time magazine and CNN, once talked about his experience of going back to India where he was born and raised. After an interview with the cabinet ministers there, they took him aside and said, “We are all very proud of you,” Fareed was amazed: “If from India you travel and give away your loyalties to the U.S., they don’t consider you as a traitor, they think you made it,” he said.
That anecdote exemplifies the sentiment and expectations riding on the back of a student who travels half way across the globe to study and “be someone” in the US. The change is huge- and complete. You end up leaving behind all comfort zones, all of your friends, family, the culture and anything else familiar or close to you. Or, at least, this is true for the vast majority of students who reach the U.S. — other more fortunate ones may already have family or friends here who may have worn those shoes not long ago.
Everything changes suddenly: you may have spoken flawless English all your life and excelled when you took the TOEFL, but without the particular twists and turns of the American tongue, you have as much difficulty speaking to a native as if you didn’t know the language at all. The food, the rules, the laws, the atmosphere, the culture — everything changes. Change is in the very air we breathe.
This change and the acclimatization are as truer for a student from Europe or any other westernized country as well. Only, in different ways. So depending on where you originated, America and its culture would mean some things more than others. It might be freedom, it might be prosperity, it might be opportunity, it might be sluggishly laid back or highly efficient: it might mean a home away from home, or simply, to echo Octavio Paz, “A formidable labyrinth of solitude.”
These are the realities that every international student faces, but all of them have one thing in common: dreams. The dreams of a future full of promises. Some of us might want to hold onto this land of opportunities for ever and make this our home. Some of us might only want to take what it has best to offer and make our lives elsewhere. But whether you stay or whether you leave, one thing is for sure: America would have changed you. And you will thank Uncle Sam later.
Sunil is a graduate student in the Lyle School of Engineering.