Immigrant’s First Year

You should finally say goodbye to the myth according to which New York City greets everyone with open arms and allows to fulfill the American Dream in a few seconds. The first year is brutal and identical for every immigrant coming here.

1.       You spend your first weeks on a couch at your friends’, namely people you don’t really know well but are calling friends all of a sudden. You’re happy, for you are only starting to look for a job (stress, stress, and then more stress) and every dollar out of those $400 you brought with you from home is really priceless.

2.       After those initial couple of weeks, your friends are a bit sick of you, so you feel that the time has come when your month-long “looking for a place” has to come to fruition. You also discover that, despite having finished university, you suddenly dream of a dishwasher’s job. They don’t ask too many questions, you get your paycheck every week, and it’s enough to get a room and to get by. A shop clerk’s position suddenly becomes a dream job, and you may be a bit surprised as you find yourself mentioning it in your daily prayer.

3.       You move into harsh conditions. You sleep on a mattress in the middle, a connecting room of a subway-shaped apartment (the kind of place in which you have to cross a room, a bathroom and a kitchen to get to the second room). The kitchen doesn’t encourage you to make so much as a sandwich over there, so you just pretend you don’t have a kitchen at all. You do take showers, but after leaving the bathroom you wonder if you weren’t cleaner beforehand. After a few months, you get used to all this and start believing you actually live in “normal conditions”. Oh, and you get a job at a café. It may hurt to get up at 5 AM each morning to get there (the subway commute takes up an hour), but still you get a $5 alarm clock and you set it up each evening anew.

4.       That’s when you change apartments again. It has to, even though you were assured that this will be a long-term lease as you were moving in. Suddenly the landlord raises the rent, a long-distance cousin of one of your roomies shows up, or in the best-case scenario it turns out that all your roomies were staying there illegally. They may be thousands of reasons, and usually, there’s more. Since your job at the coffee place brings you some money, you know you can still afford a bedroom that won’t be crossed by your roomies coming back from a party even as you’re trying to sleep a bit before going to work.

And that’s how your year passes by, and you still keep waking up at the crack of dawn and as you commute to work, you firmly believe one day things will get better. It is then that the Lower East Side selfie you posted on Facebook last week (when you were feeling really good), gets commented on by your high school friend from Poland: “Totally jealous… You are living a dream life”. You look at the comment, you smile ironically and you say to yourself: “You have no idea…”.