During this academic semester, my Sociology of Migration class discussed the reasons that immigrants decide to immigrate. Based on our discussions, I had come to understand that a number of immigrants choose to immigrate to the United States because there is more economic opportunity here. Others immigrate because of network ties to other countries. And still others immigrate to broaden their own horizons, culturally speaking.
This interviewee immigrated to the United States for that very reason.
His story begins in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia in the mid 1980’s. Born and raised in Belgrade; he went to primary school, secondary school and college in Serbia and received a college degree in computer science. Upon graduation, he landed a job in a new branch of a bank and became the Nation’s youngest banking supervisor in its history. During his time as a bank supervisor, he applied for a visa through his job because it was easier to obtain one that way. After a while, he left his supervisor position to complete his mandatory military service in the Serbian Armed Forces.
His first visit to America was in 2002, to his aunt who lives in Hoboken, NJ. He said that he harbored mixed feelings towards the U.S. because of the bombing of Serbia by the US and NATO. He decided that the United States wasn’t the placed for him.
Interestingly enough, regardless of his first visit, he decided to visit the United States for a second time. He told me that his decision was very last minute and he only came because a friend of his convinced him to sign up for a work/travel program to the U.S. (Work a few months, then travel for 1 month) He said that he made the decision because of the excitement of the situation. Oddly enough, he loved the experience.
The last time he decided to come back was in 2010, and he has been here ever since. He had a friend who lived in the Lake Tahoe area that convinced him to come over. When he was deciding where he wanted to settle down, he had the option to move to Chicago, a city that has the largest Serbian community in the US, approx. 200,000 Serbs) or to NYC. Clearly, he decided to move to NYC. When he told me that there was already an established network of Serbians here in the U.S. and that he chose to live outside of that community, I was so confused. This went against the norm. Typically when immigrants come to this country, they choose to live either in ethnic enclaves or with their families so that assimilating into the new country will be easier. My interviewee decided that by going through much of the immigration process alone, he would have a much richer experience. I had assumed that I would be hard for him to get a job or find a place to live at first. But the exact opposite is true in his scenario.
At first, he moved in with a few friends while looking for a job. They all either decided to enter the hospitality field or the general labor field. My interviewee decided on the general labor field. He applied for a job with a moving company and had a job within fourteen (14) days of landing at JFK.
He worked hard at his job with the moving company, applied and began to work other jobs and save money. He saved enough money to move in with a friend and split the cost of rent. Currently, he lives in his own apartment, pays his own rent and lives rather comfortably. He lives like any native born late twenty-something year old American.
I think that the amount of progress that he has made in a few short years is a testament to the idea that if you want something bad enough and work hard for it, you’ll achieve it. And that’s kind of what being an American is all about.