My name is Victoria and I immigrated to the United States in October of 1998. I was 27 years old and flew from Vinnitsa, Ukraine to Los Angeles, California.
Back in Ukraine I was always a fairly regular girl. However making excellent grades and being well behaved set me apart from my classmates. I was also Jewish. Being raised a Jew in Ukraine was not easy. You always felt second-class because of your religion. But I always knew who I was in my heart. My upbringing helped me take pride in being Jewish. I would never change my last name to seem more Russian or lie about being a Jew. If asked what my nationality was I would always announce proudly, “I am Jewish.” Yet throughout my life my family was never very religious. We knew when passover began or Hanukkah ended but we never observed as we should. I think we chose not to celebrate because a couple generations before me, my family was afraid of persecution, so they gave up practicing religion. Even I always knew what my limits to acting Jewish in society were.
Throughout my childhood, my dream was always to become a doctor. My parents wanted me to graduate medical school before immigrating, but as a Jew it wasn't easy to be accepted into medical school and excel, let alone graduate. I was frustrated that I had to overcome more obstacles than I would have to if I wasn't Jewish. I always knew what I was capable of, and I knew that this was not fair. After working for two years I was accepted into Vinitza State Medical University. These were the best years of my life. Although hard, we had a lot of fun; we went to movies, restaurants, and parties just like students in the United States. When I finally graduated, I was so proud of myself and all that I had achieved, despite all the limitations placed on me.
I resolved to immigrate to America long before I actually did. The rest of my family, with the exception of my mother, father, husband, son, and me, already moved to the United States. My aunt had immigrated years before with a lot of trouble. Her decision to immigrate affected my whole family because it was “not right” as the Soviet Government told us. My family was prosecuted and questioned by the KGB. They had to promise that they wouldn't have any communication with my aunt once she left. But of course they did keep contact. We sent letters back and forth and learned as they discovered the wonders of America. The plan was set in place that I was going to finish medical school and then immigrate. In that regard, it wasn't difficult for me to make the decision to immigrate, seeing as it had been planned since the 1970s. My aunt's residence in the US, made applying for immigration not very difficult. As my family was already there, I was considered a direct refugee.
When I finally immigrated it was with my mother and 3 year old son. My son was one of my prime motivators in coming to this country. I knew that he wouldn't have the same choices and opportunities back in Ukraine as he would here. My goal was to ensure that his future was bright. I was married back in Ukraine and my husband couldn't come at the time. Eventually, he wouldn't come at all. My father, who I also left, came a few years later. By that time, I had gotten situated in my new home.
I felt like a part of America the second I stepped foot on its soil. I told myself that “this is my country, this is where I am going to live. There is no other life”. I became an American Jew of Russian background. Since that moment, I have identified as such.
It was very hard to blend into the American lifestyle. Everything, even simple things, were different. You couldn't go anywhere without a car in America. So it was a challenge for me to start driving right away. My son went to a public preschool and I was a little shocked at the care they provided. Not that it was horrible, just different than what we had in Russia. Looking back, there was a lot of bureaucracy and antisemitism in Russia, yet I remember that we had good education in schools and a good education if you could get into a university. And it was all free of charge. I do regret that we don't have that opportunity here.
The only thing that remained the same after leaving Ukraine was my family. Both my real family and the Russian community I was surrounded by. I had support in my mother and aunt. I found friends in the people who lived around me. We were all in the same situation: making a new life in a foreign country. The similar experiences and mind set we shared made making new friends a natural part of our lives.
I was definitely not disappointed with the freedoms we gained in this country. I was given the opportunity to be more freely Jewish, even if I didn't always use it. However, nothing disappointed me in America as much as the appearance of this country. I always imagined that America would be beautiful, clean, and nice. But when we stepped off the airplane it wasn't so clean or so nice. I was most upset when I first went to Hollywood Blvd and saw that it was dirty and that their were a lot of homeless people. It was not at all what I expected America to be like.
Adjusting to life here was difficult. I had more bad days than good. Yet, my character didn't change very drastically after immigration. I still believed in the same things I did back in Ukraine. Only here in America, I became a strong, independent woman. I didn't know that I could do half of the things I needed to when I immigrated. I became the head decision maker in my family. My husband or parents always made decisions for me before. Now, I needed to make decisions for myself, my young son, and my mother. This was a lot of new responsibility to take on. I also learned to be persistent. If somebody didn't understand what I wanted, I would repeat myself until he or she did.
Finding work in America wasn't too difficult for me. I worked as a care taker for an old lady for a while but eventually I found a job in a medical office so I could work and study. I knew that it would be hard for me to become a doctor here with my Russian certification, so I applied to take some classes at the valley college. I eventually applied to USC but was denied on the grounds that I was overqualified. I then decided to go ahead and take the Medical board examination which I passed.
I don't consciously try and remember my past life. Being busy with work, family, and friends, there seems to be no time. I live in the present. Dwelling on the past does not help me make a better future for myself and those I love.
I do not regret immigrating to America, but I do not think I would do any of it a second time. Adjusting to this new life was probably one of the hardest things I had ever done. I hope that my children will not need to immigrate because it is very tough. First off making this decision, then adjusting to a new life. I want myself to always be happy here. And I hope that my children and all our future generations are happy here. This was why I came to America in the first place: so that they wouldn't have any obstacles to stop their dreams from coming true.