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Life as an Immigrant: College Essay

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My father immigrated to the United States in 1989 after living in China for 26 years. I sat down with him in our living room to talk about his experiences adapting to life in the United States. It was definitely one of the more emotional conversations we have had together, for we touched on many of the memorable events of his life as he reflected on his momentous past. In this essay, I’m going to analyze his life as an immigrant and focus on the themes of education, cultural shock, work, and family.

Born in Tianjin and raised in Wuxi, he studied in Heilongjiang Province at the Harbin Institute of Technology and moved to Beijing after graduating. Education has always played a major role in his life, partly due to the strong influences that his parents had on him. His father worked as a well-educated head engineer, and he always placed an important emphasis on learning and the pursuit of knowledge. His mother taught chemistry and became a well-respected professor at a local university. As a child, he made a name for himself as his province’s local 'math whiz' because he often competed in difficult mathematics competitions with students up to five years older than him, faring pretty well in them. His greatly curious mind found an ardent interest in physics, which led to his decision to major in Civil Engineering in college. Continuing his studies was one of his main reasons for leaving the country. He chose to migrate to the United States instead of any other country because he felt that the States had a top-tier education system, and he was also very eager to delve deeper into the civil engineering field by learning about the advanced technologies in development here; he believed that the United States was, and still is, the most advanced country, both then and now. My father had received a scholarship to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, so he went directly here on an F-1 visa. Much of his tuition and room and board costs were covered, and he managed to pay off the rest of his expenses by working closely with one of his professors as a teaching assistant. Continuing his passion for learning and being motivated by his strong will and determination to succeed, he studied extremely hard, and since then, his hunger for knowledge has never subsided. Even today, he still actively seeks to learn something new each day, whether it be new English words or new texting abbreviations.

Coming to the States, my dad had no solid expectations of life in America. At the time, survival was the most important thing to him. Despite knowing two workmates in the States who had come around half a year and a full year before he did, he was left to fend for himself and make his own decisions. Fresh out of school, single, and with little to lose, he did exactly that and went along supporting himself. He had read many amazing stories from Chinese students who went to the United States before he did, but since he immigrated here on a student visa, he couldn’t even imagine settling down here for the rest of his life. However, once he got here, he was completely shocked by American culture. He felt loved right away. He thought everything was better— the freedom, the living conditions, the resources it had to offer. He was amazed by the pure wealth and richness of the nation in contrast to communist China. Many things stuck out to him. He remembered being fascinated by all the lights in the airport and offices, marveling at how they remained on even after dark and throughout the night when nobody was working there. He was intrigued by all the elevators in the buildings and the amount of electricity that these cities must use. He was shocked by the bizarre amount of cars just outside the airport and by the wide range of inventory that the supermarkets had. In China, he had never seen so many vehicles on the street, nor did he see such plentiful foodstuffs and household items all for sale, contained in a singular store. Reasons like these, amongst many more, are what ultimately caused him to move here permanently. On the other hand, he missed many things about China that were different from the United States. In particular, he missed the tight working relationships he had with his coworkers. He longed for the bonding and support that existed in his jobs back home and was not able to find that as prevalent in his new country. Furthermore, he found himself missing the equality of Chinese society. He recalled that everyone who graduated from college at the same time made the same amount of money and had the same annual raises in their salary. There was no favoritism, income inequality, or difference in treatment, and above all, there was no competition. He had to partake in the rampant competition that bolstered the capitalist American society.

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To do so, he found work. Back in China, following his undergraduate studies, he worked as a government-paid civil engineer for a meager $10 a month. After saving up no more than $200, he embarked on his journey to the United States. Although he did manage to make some money as a teaching assistant to pay for school, he struggled to land a full-time job after graduating. He was not able to find work as a civil engineer because he lacked a green card, proficient English skills, an established network, and work experience within the United States. Because of this, he remained homeless for a period of time, living on gas station pastries and hot dogs and sleeping in his car or his friend’s warehouse. It was with this that he decided to relocate to California after hearing that there were many job opportunities here. Still unable to utilize his engineering degree and expertise, he went on to apply for various part-time jobs. At one point, he juggled a day shift at a computer store, working as a salesman and technician, and a night shift at a motel, working as a manager. However, he only worked the night shift for around two weeks because it became too much to handle and he began losing out on sleep. Fortunately, he enjoyed his computer job which was in a small office in Irvine consisting of only five to six employees. He liked that he was able to learn about computer technology without having a major in a field like computer science or electrical engineering, and received first-hand familiarity with computer parts and software, including motherboards, CPUs, memory, FAX modems, graphics cards, and Microsoft Windows. During this time, he really fell in love with computers, and his next few jobs for the next four or so years were all at different computer companies. In the year 2000, he started up his own business with the goal in mind of attaining a better living. Forming his business from scratch, he bought computer components and old electronics— specifically used audio equipment— from local swap meets and resold them online at a profit. Alongside my mother, a coworker he had met at one of the computer companies he worked for, he continued to grow their two-man e-commerce company. From only selling one or two pieces at a time in the beginning to selling truckloads of equipment at a time later on, he scaled his business over the years by fostering connections with suppliers and expanding into multiple different warehouses. Unfortunately, coupled with the success of his business were the detrimental effects of his strenuous labor. Every day, he would work long hours in the gritty conditions of the warehouse, often past midnight, only to return home to respond to customer emails until early in the morning. Endlessly repeating this cycle, his health suffered, and he developed kidney stones. He endured immense pain from six different kidney stone surgeries but still possessed the formidable ability to get back up and toil just as hard at his business. Throughout the process, he also persevered through countless scrapes, cuts, and bruises from moving heavy shipments and inventory, and even recovered from two broken ribs after falling off a ladder. Injuries like these, on top of sleep deprivation and other health risks, due to overworking were some of the problems related to living in an increasingly industrialized society that he had to face to keep up with the high demands of labor that his line of work brought him.

But my father’s business is not the thing he is most proud of since migrating to America. He is most proud of his marriage and his family which continues to bring him so much joy, and is glad that he has the ability to afford a better living for us than he had growing up, as well as the best education possible for us. He takes pride in raising my sister and me and seeing us grow up, which he thinks is something that is irreplaceable. Both before and after immigration, the family has always been at the heart of his foremost core values. For his first few months in the United States, things were very tough and he felt very homesick. In the late 80s, there was no Internet communication, so he could only contact his parents by telephone. He went alone, leaving not only his parents behind, but also his brother and his other relatives, and was the first in his family to immigrate to the States. Thankfully, he was able to start a family of his own with the love of his life while still keeping in touch with his family via telephone, and later via the Internet, almost every day, and visiting them back in China almost every year. My father claims that moving to America has had a “100% positive” impact on his life, and has reaped the freedom, fairness, and opportunity that was available to him. Although he is grateful for his U.S. citizenship and he really loves the country and feels blessed to live here, he suggests against potential Chinese immigrants to move to the States like he did (unless they are going to continue their studies) because present-day China is “much, much better than it was 30 years ago”. It is much more politically free nowadays, and in many aspects, it even trumps the United States.

In this paper, I have discussed my father’s life as an immigrant and focused on the themes pertaining to the influence of education, the adjustment to a completely new environment, the fruits (both bitter and sweet) of labor, and the familial importance that prevailed throughout his immigrant life. Growing up, I realize more and more that the person I strive to be bears a striking resemblance to my father. Conducting this interview has allowed me to gain a deeper insight into not only his adaptation to an entirely different culture but also his own life. At the beginning of the interview, he realized that his 30th anniversary of entering the United States was approaching (November 30th), and he paused for a moment to share that with my mom who was upstairs at the time. At that moment, I recognized how big of a milestone moving to America must have been for him. I can’t fathom what it means to him to spend such a significant portion of his life essentially restarting his life overseas. To me, it is truly remarkable how he has gone through so much in a foreign country and how he has overcome all the hardships he did as an immigrant with almost nothing to his name. The consistency, independence, and optimism that my father has displayed throughout his journey make me look up to him more than ever. I truly believe that he has fulfilled his own version of the American Dream, and I am deeply moved and inspired by the efforts and sacrifices he has made to get to this point.

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Life as an Immigrant: College Essay. (2023, November 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/life-as-an-immigrant-college-essay/
“Life as an Immigrant: College Essay.” Edubirdie, 21 Nov. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/life-as-an-immigrant-college-essay/
Life as an Immigrant: College Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/life-as-an-immigrant-college-essay/> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
Life as an Immigrant: College Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Nov 21 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/life-as-an-immigrant-college-essay/
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