Growing up in a small town some 200 km away from the capital of Bashkir Republic was a blessing I never thought I would cherish till this day. A product of a middle-income, self-made family, I became accustomed to an idea that without hard work one could never gain anything. So, I worked even harder than I was expected. I earned good grades, recognition, reputation and sometimes very fair punishments, due to unacceptable behavior in the noble all-girls establishment I called school. My parents practiced, to put it mildly, ‘benevolent neglect’: never checked on my homework, trusted all my words, and upon graduation from college let me leave with a hundred dollars in the pocket to a country they never saw, on a plane they never flew, across the ocean they always dreamed to visit.

The story of my migration started at the age of 22, when I was granted a chance to participate in Work and Travel Program USA. Leaving out all the juicy details of the ground work that needed to be done in order for me to afford the program and get my first J1 visa, I am going straight to the day of my arrival onto the land of opportunities, pursuit of happiness and endless freedoms.

For you to have a reference point of my bewilderment by this journey, I must attest to the following: the whole airport ordeal, the English language, the money exchange and even automatically flushing toilets were a part of some mind-blowing futuristic movie about a trip to an unknown galaxy. After a 4-hour ride in a car to a god forsaken train station of Yanaul, a 24-hour ride in the train to Moscow, a 4-hour flight to Zurich, a layover of a 356 million hours in Switzerland, and another flight of minimum 8 hours, my travel-buddy Lilya and I had finally landed in the glamorous ant-like hectic hub of the American Airlines, famously called JFK. If you think you can imagine the amount of emotions, sleepless nights, shocking discoveries, and mere hopes of getting THERE, think again: it was way worse. Upon accounting for our two suitcases, two dead non-international cell phones, and four blood shot eyes, we followed our newly acquired friend who promised to get us to Ocean City, NJ where finding an odd summer job would be ‘no problema’ in comparison with the crazy New York City… I am glad, that I hadn’t seen any movies from repertoire “Taken” when we voluntarily entered the van and paid the driver the fee for transportation.

The next morning, we woke up at a motel nearby the ocean, frozen to death because we couldn’t figure out the white box of blowing icy air. We took a desperately needed shower and ventured out on a job hunt… After a half a day of pointless search, a revelation came upon me: I am not meant to be here, this was all one big mistake, I have no money (or about $60 left after the food and lodging fees), I have no means of communication with my parents, I am a total and complete failure…This was exactly the time when my friend Lilya, who was enduring my meltdown for a good last fifteen minutes, uttered with a slight hint of annoyance in her voice, “Get your ass up and let’s go find us a job”

Oh how blessed I was to travel with her: she was the voice of wisdom and positivity, she was the reason I signed up for Work And Travel program in the first place, and she was the very necessary nonchalant die-hard friend with whom we walked into the Playland’s Castaway Cove amusement park and got hired on the spot due to the lack of help they had for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. It turned out, that the park participated in the same program that we were a part of and was expecting a bunch of other international students to join in the workforce for the summer.

Still jaded and pleasantly relieved, we were given a place to work, a place to sleep (including brand new bedsheets!), and a hope to make back the money we owed our parents, (and aunts and uncles, friends, friends of our families, and even younger siblings) for the journey of our lives!

“A huge improvement! A tremendous deal! A wonderful country!” I thought, when, exhausted and sunburned, I was passing out on my new American bed, in my new American home, some 200 km away from the Big Apple and this time I knew it was a blessing I would cherish till this day.