I remember my first celebration of a 4th of July in New York and how I used to watch the Macy’s annual firework display sparkling all over the skies above Hudson River.
I imagined being taken away, as in a movie scene, with lights in different colors and shapes embroiding the city sky, people cheering and thousands of voices united in a single manifestation of joy and glory. A joyful day marking the Independence Day, when in 1776 thirteen U.S. states declared their independence from England.
I had never seen something as thrilling and enchanting as that. As one of their most important holidays, it is also my very first memory from America’s cultural traditions that stayed with me for 20 years.
I arrived there as a student, for the first time in an overwhelming, intense, irresistible city such as New York, at least this is how it appeared to me, an adolescent coming from a former communist country.
Among the values on which this culture is built on are achievement, individualism, independence, equality, freedom of speech, future goals and orientation. For many international students, adapting to American culture can be hard and, at times, frustrating. To me, a 19 years old foreign student, to embrace those values and fit in, I needed to:
- Not fight that much to understand it (“the culture”), in order to find my place. It happens eventually, anyway. I did my best to work consistently smart, show respect, take care of my health and energy – which improved my look (an important ingredient for groups inclusion) and make friends. I also brought some of my own culture in the community. In return, I felt that Americans were open, inclusive and supportive.
- Get a solid grasp of all which represented the high-level educational world. Learn as much as I could, involve in a lot of research (they are very good at that!), talk to teachers all the time, be a quick learner, say my opinions with honesty, be considerate and cooperative, involve in activities and volunteer a lot. In return, I felt I became more visible, noted, even praised and promoted.
- Understand and get used to “political correctness” and the culture of “to go”. In a nutshell, being politically correct means avoiding any language and actions that may harm, insult, or exclude certain people, most of the time, the ones who are already experiencing disadvantages. Basically avoiding negative stereotyping. And I like that, it resonates with my values, as well. It gives me a sense of educated politeness in all encounters, even if sometimes it could be interpreted as “coldness” or “distance”. I prefer formal to artificial closeness. And I prefer buying things “to go”, such as the Starbucks coffee or the most delicious lunch soups, sandwiches or salads from the street food places. It saves time and money. Moreover, it is quite pleasant to eat out in the fresh air, in a park and, for the remaining time of the lunch break, take a short walk or have a small expresso in a cozy coffee shop nearby.
America remains to me an amazing mix of …many opportunities! I believe you can become there whatever you choose and you can have there all you dream of, shaped by your choices, intentions and focused actions.
There are many things to talk about and many more memories to share. I missed that life at return. I am still melancholic at times, even now, after 20 years.
Few years after my return to Romania I went back to visit New York. I wanted to share with my husband a bit of what I held special in my heart, memories dear to me from my young self.
I will always keep America deep down in my heart as that special place where I formed my personality as a young adult, had the needed experiences, built a character and matured.
Happy 4th of July, America!