Congratulations! You’ll soon realize the American dream!”
Before I boarded my one-way flight to the United States to start a new chapter of my life, an acquaintance sent me that message. I thought nothing of it at first, and then I realized that some people think migrating to America is like achieving all your hopes and dreams.
Let me tell you that it is anything but. Life overseas, especially in the United States, is extremely difficult. For almost two years I went through numerous challenges and adjustments—both personal and professional—that sometimes I wonder how I managed to survive all of them.
I entered the United States on a K1 visa, more commonly known as the fiancée visa. The process of getting the visa is stressful and expensive yet worth it. Filing the application costs $265 or P13,198, but payment does not guarantee approval. If the US Citizenship and Immigration Services does approve the application, you have to undergo a medical exam, which costs an additional P16,042. Then you will be interviewed by consular officers at the US Embassy. If they are convinced that the relationship is real, then the visa will finally be approved.
You will then have to endure an almost-daylong flight, depending on your choice of airline, and face immigration officers at your US point of entry, who will grill you about anything and everything. If they find something suspicious, they are authorized to send you back home.
I now live in Hutchinson, Minnesota, west of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul). With a population of not more than 15,000, my new hometown is a lot different from Quezon City. Here, life tends to move more slowly. I have been so used to noise and the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila that the sound of a speeding car on the highway across from our house reminds me of them. There is no public transportation; everyone has their own vehicle. I had to learn how to drive four months after I got here, so I could find a job and do other things.
When it comes to the weather, let’s just say that the temperature ranges from the lowest low to the highest high depending on the season. Snowfall can get dangerous especially for those who have not driven in such conditions before. The car I was driving once skidded and hit a snow drift on my way to work because of the icy road. Luckily, I was not hurt. Also, the car behind me stopped and the driver helped me get back on the road by pushing my car back onto it. My heart was beating so fast, and I could hardly breathe. I wanted to just go home, but I realized that if other people could still go to work during a blizzard, why couldn’t I?
My last job in the Philippines was as a writer in a government agency. I held the job for a couple of years, and I loved and hated it at the same time. In America I was excited to try something new, but I knew that finding a similar job would be difficult. I was prepared to face rejections considering that I am a member of the minority and my work experiences are all outside the United States. Moreover, Hutchinson’s main employers are into manufacturing and retail. To practice what I had studied for, journalism, I needed to be hired by the sole newspaper operating in the city. But it was fully staffed.
I never imagined I would ever do retail. I always had this vision of retiring after 40-plus years of working an 8-to-5 desk job. The reality was a bitter pill to swallow especially when I think about my achievements in school and the years I spent studying to get my degree. When friends or relatives asked me about my job, I felt embarrassed to tell them the truth. I would just shrug the question off and say that I work part time.
But gradually I learned to love my job as a merchandiser. What greatly helped my adjustment was the fact that my coworkers are all respectful and kind. Before I came to the United States I believed that most Americans treated minorities differently. I was prepared to face racism and indifference, so I was deeply surprised and touched that I was received well by these people.
As in everything else that I do in my life, I did my best as a part-timer. My perseverance and patience were rewarded with a full-time position a year after I got hired. I now enjoy benefits that range from medical and dental insurance to free counseling. More importantly, I have met amazing people who taught me that despite the hate spreading in America, there are still those who fight it with love and acceptance.
Still, one problem that I have to constantly face is finance. The money that we earn as a household is barely enough to pay our bills and support my family in the Philippines. Supporting a family left back home is an issue that most Americans—and some Filipinos—do not understand. After all, independence from their parents and relatives is what Americans fight very hard for once they turn 18.
I have dedicated a percentage of my salary for sending to the Philippines, but then there are unexpected events that I need to address. I have learned that saving money for a rainy day is important if you are an immigrant. I have also realized that having a family who knows how to budget is equally significant.
Building a nice house, buying my family a car, and sending my nephews to a good school are only some of the goals that I want to achieve by working hard and saving. Doing all these may take a long time, but I know that once I achieve all of them, both my family and I will be happy.
To all those who have relatives abroad that they count on, don’t begrudge them if they’re unable to give you what you need at a moment’s notice. It’s not because they have gotten tired of helping, or have forgotten about you. Usually, it’s because there are urgent circumstances that they have to settle; if they don’t, they might lose their jobs or, worse, risk deportation.
Would I take the same path again if I’m given the chance to start my life all over? Absolutely. No hesitation. I would never trade all the things that I have learned, the friends that I have made, and the love that I have received for anything in the world. There were numerous times when I wanted to give up, but I would gladly go through every loop and jump over every hurdle again to be where I am at today.
It’s true: Life is not just about the happy times. And as Helen Keller wrote in “The Open Door,” “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
* * *
Mary Anne Wangen, 25, says she enjoys spending time with her husband, two Siberian huskies, a terrier mix, and two cats.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.