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Moving on from my whole world: my immigration story

Jul. 14, 2017
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I looked at my cross-stitched piece of hummingbirds and flowers as I placed it neatly on top of my books in my black suitcase. I walked around my empty room and pictured my bed where it used to be, beside the heater and the window, remembering what it felt like to wake up that morning to the warmth of my cosy duvet and a view of the morning winter sky. I imagined my desk in the corner, piled with my coursework and my French textbooks and my pack of ProMarkers. I looked. I thought. And I began to cry.

The dust and the breeze filtering through the empty room flooded my mind with memories; this space of nothingness was once filled with objects, personality, life. It was sad spending my last day in Great Britain in an empty space, once again seeing my house as it was when we first moved in.

Immigration: experiencing the difficulty and the frustration of throwing away things that were sentimentally and personally important; spending immense amounts of money on flight tickets, on shipping over clothes that didn’t fit into our suitcases, on disposing of our furniture; and spending lots of time completing paperwork on our visas and passports. As this process stretched on, I began to wonder if it may be worth it. No one knows for sure what will happen, so our life-changing transition has been a gamble for all of us—but for my sisters and me, most of all. 

It’s scary to think about moving to another country and starting your life all over again: new house, new bank, new job, new currency, new food… the list goes on. My family and I did that back in 2002, when we immigrated from the Philippines to the United Kingdom as part of the NHS nursing scheme. I was very young when we moved, so I didn’t feel that Britain was a country where we immigrated; I considered it my home. It’s tough moving away from the place where you made your first memories, your first friends, got your first job and found love for the first time. 

But it’s also exciting moving because you get to do it all over again—only, this time, you get to do it right. Since I’m in a country that has completely different policies, a different culture and different people, it’s also invigorating learning a bunch of new things. I never learned to drive in England, and learning it here is just as fun and had made my settling in much easier. I’m starting college this “fall” (as Americans call autumn), and I’m eager to make a strong first impression. And since the health care is not free over here (unlike in the UK), I’ve adjusted my lifestyle and am taking better care of myself. 

After a long time of thinking and slow adjustment to the divergent culture and the humidity and storms of the tropical weather in Florida, I’d say I’m slowly settling in. There are days when it’s especially tough, and money is extremely tight, and we can’t chase away the blues by visiting places such as The Kennedy Space Centre or Disneyland Orlando. What’s more: because of how immensely large the US is, everything is very spaced out—the houses, the roads and even the shops are literally one or two miles away from each other. Along with the lack of public transport, this means that having a car and knowing how to drive is essential when you’re a young adult living in this “superpower” country.

There is also a lot of uncertainty as to what’s to come. One of my goals before moving was to attend University of the Arts London and hopefully become an illustrator and journalist. With this turn-around in circumstances, things have changed. Here in Florida, I don’t see a lot of opportunities that are art-related, and the college I’ll be attending has no art courses. I feel I lack the ability to determine the direction of my career, and the time ahead of me has become blurred from the unknown future. 

However, as someone who wants to stay happy, I’m trying to stick to positive thoughts. I guess you could say that a big pro to living in the United States is that there are so much more opportunities available to you. With places like New York, California and Miami all in the same country, I could perhaps continue my career dreams of becoming an illustrator by moving to one of those states to attend a university like New York Studio School or the Academy of Art University. My paternal family lives up north in New Jersey, so at least we are together, and we don’t have to celebrate Christmas, New Year or our birthdays over Skype. It’s also much cheaper: a two bedroom house with one bathroom and a small garden would probably cost around £300,000 in England, while a six-bedroom house with three bathrooms and a swimming pool may cost about the same in dollars over here in our part of America. 

So far, a whole month into living in the States, my experience has been like a rollercoaster. There were times when I was excited for my father to come home after five days of working because then we got to go outside and explore the rest of Florida, enjoying ourselves while we basked in the warmth and light of the sun as a family. And there were times when days were dull, when Zeus was probably crying rain and thunderstorms and throwing lightning across the skies while I slumped on my sofa watching The Office eating a bag of Cheetos or a bowl of ice cream. But it’s only been a month, and I understand that attaining the American Dream that was promised is not going to happen in an instant. I’m not going to be fully happy all the time, and there will be days when I’ll miss breathing the crispy cold breeze in the winter and smelling freshly-cooked fish and chips in London’s Underground and sitting at the top of the double-decker bus on my way to work. My new life is only just starting. And I like Florida. Warm, sunny and peaceful, it’s a perfect place for when you want to relax, when you’re on holiday, and even when you’re ready for retirement. (What’s more: living near Orlando means we’re really close to Disneyland, Universal Studios and Harry Potter World!)

My experiences of immigration have made me realize that life moves forward, time moves forward, and we have to make sacrifices to move forward to catch up with life. You end things to create things. I had to end my old life, but in return I got to create a new person. As someone on the verge of entering adulthood, it has also helped me learn a lot. Although I’m uncertain and still trying to figure out what I want, I’m grateful to my parents for giving me this opportunity. 

Standing in the hallway of my new house that first day, I looked out the window. And when the rain cleared and the thundering skies silenced, I saw a rainbow. It glowed as bright as the sun, striking across the sky and ending behind the house just in front us. I saw our mailbox outside. It was the first American mailbox I saw in real life. I saw our quietly empty road, and I imagined myself getting in my new car and driving myself somewhere into the future.

Like a kumonryu koi fish, I swam to the bigger pond.