I Call Myself Almost American

I Call Myself Almost American

Mariia Popova, Staff Writer

I am from Russia and moved to the United States in April 2016 with my family when I was 18. Did we know anyone here? No. Did we speak English? No.

In Russia, we learn English (British English) in school. I graduated high school with some limited knowledge, such as “this is a table, and my name is Masha.”

A lot of Russians actually dream about America—New York, California, road trips… Did I? To be honest, never. I had a boyfriend and a group of friends.

Leaving my hometown was extremely difficult. I cried for a year and a half, either everyday or every other day. I was very confused and going through a culture shock. I felt like I was in a movie and loved it so much, but at the same time, I was incredibly stressed.

“Why is that man smiling at me? I need to speed up. This is very creepy!” This was my thought every other minute when I was outside of our small apartment in Jersey City. Then I started getting used to people smiling at me, but it took me several months to stop looking away and even smile back. Now, I am the first one to smile.

Finding a job was a whole different experience. I would go to the stores and restaurants with my dad because he spoke a little bit of English. After asking a manager several times to repeat himself, my dad would translate for me what he said. When filling out applications, I would put the day to start “day/month/year.”

I did not want to work with Russians. If I did, I would not be speaking English now. Finding a job in New York City was much easier than in New Jersey. Here you need English language. No one wanted to hire me.

I am pretty fluent now, but still, being in a classroom with Americans sometimes is hard for me. When the teacher makes a PowerPoint and there is a question, students start answering, but I am still reading it. I do not have time to think. Or, teachers give 2 hours to finish the test, which can take me 3 hours only because I am reading slower and there are words that I do not know the meaning of and I need to understand the context from words that I know.

I am kind of glad we are online now, because doing a test, I can Google what “potty training” is, or translate some very smart words.

You cannot escape people who say things like, “I do not like your Russian accent. It is annoying,” or “Do you even speak English?” Sometimes I hear, “Are you Russian? You like Trump then, huh?” You just grow a thick skin for all of this.

Despite all of this, my family and I have never been happier. We love it here so much. We came to the United States depressed, angry and tired. Things have been getting much better, and I find myself becoming Americanized. I love the mentality of being able to smile at strangers and not being judged. I consider myself a very happy person.