Coming to America

On the path to American citizenship, I realized the great opportunities here for me.

Hemang Sharma

Nov. 21 marked five years since I have been in this country. My family recently started paperwork to upgrade our status from “permanent legal residents” to full-fledged citizens. To me it is just a label. Being an American is more than just being naturalized. One has to take initiative to get the full American experience.

Unlike most first-generation immigrants, I have no from rags-to-riches story to tell. I did not come here to escape poverty, corruption or tyranny with $3 in my pocket. I did not struggle with the language or the cultural and religious restrictions that would disallow me to fully engage myself in society. So if I may, allow me to diverge from the traditional immigration story.

When I came here I was 17, a senior in high school. The language was easy to learn as my school system back in India was English oriented. I moved from one functioning democracy to another. My goals would have been the same regardless of where I was — to get an education, see the world, have unique experiences and then forge a successful career. I’d have had the same, if not more, opportunities had I stayed there.

I was taking college classes in 2007 as a senior at Blaine High School due to my good academic standing. Coming to the University of Minnesota was the best decision I have ever made.

The campus helped me transition into society as I got to see and experience things which I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. I learned time management, and I paid for my college through scholarships and working full time. I’m all set to graduate without debt, without a dime paid by my family. Four years and multiple minimum-wage hours later, I’m writing for this and two other publications in a second language.

The most important thing is to learn as much about the culture as possible. Learn about the U.S., the city you’re going to be in, geography, climate, jobs, government, the school systems — all these things need to be familiarized if one intends to receive the most out of the experience.

A new place can seem intimidating, but it is important to explore. I learned quickly that the longer I stayed in my shell, the harder it would be for me to adjust to society. If you belong to a certain community and only stick to that, hanging out with people that only look and talk like you, then you may be barring yourself from an array of opportunities to learn.

Part of being an American is to embrace everyone. To learn, interact and share things we have in common because at the end of the day we are all chasing the American Dream — to have a good job, to be able to provide for your family and enjoy time with friends. I’d say this is a universal tenant no matter where one lives.

One has to be realistic about America. No matter what Hollywood shows you, not everyone here is rich and not every day is going to be a party with sex, drugs and alcohol. American culture is very work-driven. People work hard, even through college and hold multiple jobs at once in order to accomplish their goals. It is our responsibility as immigrants to make the most out of the fortunate position of being in America.