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'I will still remain Russian in this country': how a journalist moved to the USA

Edition Billboard Daily tells the story of the journalist Sophia Kachinskaya. The Russian girl moved to Michigan three years ago. She shared her first-person impressions.

From Russia, Sofia Kaczynska moved to Michigan. Photos from the personal archive of the heroine

Road to usa

I was born in 1991 in Irkutsk in a family of medical students. My childhood fell on hungry and turbulent years. Sometimes they sat on potatoes, dad had to "bomb" in the evenings. At the age of 12, I told my parents that I wanted to be a journalist: at that time I imagined my profession in a strange way - that I would travel around the world wearing a brimmed hat and talk about animals for Sunday morning broadcasts on federal channels.

I got my first job as a journalist at the age of 16, since then there has been no pause or big money. I didn’t want to go anywhere, I went where my eyes looked, and I still couldn’t think of a better way to get around in life. My mom has a close friend who moved with her husband to Michigan: he got a job here. When I was 18, they invited me to visit, I went, I liked it. I defended my diploma on a very non-trivial topic for an ordinary Siberian journalism faculty - "McLuhan's methods in studying media" - and again received an offer to come to Michigan for a year to learn English, and then climb the career ladder somewhere in the Boulevard Ring area. It was 2013, the last more or less pleasant Russian year: we no longer interrupted ourselves with potatoes, I managed to open a media outlet in Irkutsk with a strong team and work as a freelancer in St. Petersburg. Nothing kept me at home, so I went.

Documents were easy to collect: we found a language school in the center of Ann Arbor, a student city 40 minutes from Detroit, they sent a request for the consulate, the husband of my mother's girlfriend documented that he would take care of me in all senses, we paid for the training, I did Selfie on the background of a white wall in Subway in Krivokolenny and uploaded it as a passport photo to the website of the US Embassy. The conversation at the consulate was short and I was given a one-year visa. I got on the plane and, completely emotionally dumbfounded, went to JFK.

Never late to learn

In September, English courses began, in which I made a sad discovery: I knew English much worse than I thought. The students were mostly Koreans, Saudis and Guineans.

I was alone in Russian, it was impossible to join the school team, and the Koreans spread a rumor that vodka was in my thermos instead of water.

In November, I decided to enroll in the community college (in theory, this is the American version of the technical school, but better) on the specialty Liberal Arts with a focus on anthropology. It should be noted that I hadn’t found any friends by this time, and I was completely unhappy in the USA: I lived in a library and laboratory where we measured the fake skulls of australopithecus with cranial calipers, and knew for sure that in May I would close the session and go home.

Ann Arbor is a very beautiful little town, but I didn’t like it for a long time: it seemed like a stranger to me, and the people in it were snobs who can only discuss internships in third world countries, paid for from their parents' wallet (by the way, for many things that are in my life now, I earned myself, but without the help of my parents and friends, nothing would have happened).

Here I want to clarify something: the city is quite old by American standards, but it began to develop in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the University of Michigan moved here (it was previously based in Detroit). The university became huge, it had strong, world-famous schools (for example, neurophysiology), it became one of the universities of the public Ivy League, settled down on a large and beautiful campus and, in general, became a very powerful educational and civic center. When I just moved and settled in the house of my mother's friends, I lived on the same street where Joseph Brodsky rented a cottage for nine years, for example. His famous "Stadium Speech" was first played a mile from my house - at Big House, the largest student football stadium in the country that can house the whole of Ann Arbor, including the elderly, children and their pets.

Ann Arbor is a sanatorium with bar life option

I've been to many cities and towns in the United States, but Ann Arbor is exceptional. First, it is very green. Even the name of the city was formed due to the abundance of forests and parks. Ann - the names of the wives of both founders of the city, Arbor - tree crowns. Ann Arbor is a sanatorium with a bar option. And the philosophy of the inhabitants here is also "green": everyone rides bikes, there are many vegan places, not separating garbage and not sending paper and plastic for recycling is bad form.

The infrastructure is also fine-tuned: all major streets have either a bike path or a “Share the bike lane” sign, supermarkets can sell bottles for cents, wheelchair ramps are the norm, not an exception, and any public toilet has toilet paper. Problems with public transport: you can cope without a car only if you rent an apartment and work in the center. Many who live there rent a car for a couple of hours in order to go to a large supermarket or laundry (that's eight dollars an hour). At the same time, rent in the center is very expensive, almost like in New York, and within a 20-minute drive, housing prices are falling, so it's cheaper to buy an old car and live in the suburbs.

As I said, I had no friendship with the city for a long time.

And then I suddenly became overgrown with acquaintances, the city seemed cordial, and I happened to have it, sorry for the cliché, a real novel that does not stop. I thought that all this talk of love for the city is nonsense, but now I understand that if I live here all my life, I will be completely happy, this is the best place on earth.

I am constantly asked how scared I am, but I am a Russian child from 90's. The main rule of my childhood is not to play with syringes from the doorway.

With Detroit and the neighboring city of Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor, I also have mutual love. Ipsi is, unlike Ann Arbor, something like a quiet town surrounded by ghetto districts. I even have fun: turn on Lamar and ride along its streets, looking at houses and people. I love it for its cinematic quality. I am constantly asked how I am not afraid, but I am a Russian child from the 90s. The main rule of my childhood is not to play with syringes from the doorway. After that, probably, Ypsilanti is not intimidated. It is a shabby old town with northern colonial architecture and a predominantly black population. In general, there are many blacks in Michigan: largely due to historical events, because it was from Detroit that fugitive slaves from the South were transported to Canada. My friend Tim lives with his parents in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Ypsilanti, which was part of the Underground Railroad, the path that slaves escaped from plantations, and Tim still has bunks and washbasins in his basement that they used when stayed at the farm. Creepy there. Tim says there are ghosts in the house.

Over time, Sophia fell in love with Michigan. Photo:

Over time, Sophia fell in love with Michigan. Photos from the personal archive of the heroine

And in twenty minutes by car from our places begin the suburbs of Detroit, which look much livelier than Detroit itself. Places are very hectic. If in Ann Arbor only two people were killed during the 14 years (official statistics), in the devastated Wayne County (Detroit is in it) they can open the car, beat it or try to push crack. Well, kill, too, if not at all lucky. On the Eighth Mile (see the film of the same name), for example, there are no shops in which the seller would not be separated from the visitors by a lattice or bulletproof glass. Just like in Siberia in the 90-x. All this has, meanwhile, a sad charm. Houses with boarded-up windows with windows, dubious passers-by and the center, which is immediately obvious: once bloomed, and now barely moves. But Detroit has an amazing and imperceptible, at first glance, trait: it is alive. If New York is a meat grinder and hysterical, then Detroit is like a whale. Breathing slowly, but the power in it is enormous. And in order to love him, you need to know where to go: there will be a techno-party from a world-famous DJ behind the black door, and in the old garage there will be a Mexican cafe with divine tacos in dollars.

Standard Marriage Story

My story looks almost standard. After a year of living in Michigan, I decided to use my location and get an education in the Business Administration and at the same time I met a man (just from Ypsilanti) whom I eventually married. By this time, I not only began to speak English tolerably enough to joke, and therefore I feel comfortable in the language environment, but somehow I learned Spanish in between times, stopped being afraid to meet people, understood the mentality in particular, learned to count the distance in miles, and the temperature in Fahrenheit, and more or less determined what my plans for the future.

Now we are waiting for an interview on the green card, all the documents have already been collected. The case is very dreary. It takes a lot of money, a lot of paperwork, a lot of work and, preferably, an immigration lawyer. Even tests for syphilis and tuberculosis are needed. Recently, I received a work permit, now I need to get a local version of the TIN. Then I will be able to work at a friend’s enterprise. You need to wait for the interview for about 5 – 6 months from the moment you submit your documents In the meantime, I am writing, helping friends and keeping a blog for girls

You can begin to look for a job in a specialty only when I return from Russia. I’m going to Siberia for more than a month, no company in the US will give me such a long vacation, and I have to go home hard: pull out my wisdom teeth, for example, because it’s cheaper to fly to Irkutsk and back than to do it here. I have some money, so I cannot continue my education for the time being, but I hope, as a result, to somehow combine it with work.

My plans and dreams of a career almost coincide: I would love to teach Russian and foreign literature and at the same time deal with journalism and event management. All this is really feasible, although it involves a lot of work, but I am not afraid of work, because I have a goal.

I have few dreams at all, and all of them can be fulfilled: a dog, my Russian library from Irkutsk in my own house and the moment when I will pass through the border control as a resident of the country, and not as a tourist.

It's the most important. Michigan is my home, which I chose myself, and it's very cool. The home that you have created for yourself is the best gift in life.

I have a very calm attitude towards emigration. Firstly, I never planned it, emigration. And when I talk with other people who have moved here, I understand that many have a similar story: it happened, there was a chance to go - well, I went. Emigration for me is not a political gesture or an escape, although I have quite a few complaints about my homeland, and modern Russia in general scares me.

I feel good here, and I would not mind spending my life here, I have friends and a loved one, and I love the city in which I live. At the same time, changing the country of residence is morally very difficult, emigration is not a pound of raisins, and the United States has its own global and local problems. For example, the healthcare system is a complete ATAS, cannibalistic prices and rules.

The housing market is also inhuman. Here they take huge amounts of loans for education. White Americans are an extremely privileged people in comparison with the rest of the world, who themselves do not understand what warm place they sit in. For example, I have three white friends: the rest are either black, or Latinos, or immigrants from third world countries (Palestinians, Pakistanis, Poles, Serbs). I cannot communicate with whites: we do not have this common base of problems and ethical dilemmas that others face. But this is what the States are good for, at least the northern ones: you can be whoever you want, most importantly, do not disturb others. People talk openly about orientation, nationality and religion. The famous biochemist quits his job at the appointed hour and goes to pray, because he is a Muslim, and no one has any internal contradictions.

About emigration

As usual, a medal has two sides, and emigration is not easy and fun at the same time. And at the very beginning, it is generally unbearable. There are now two camps of opinion in Russia: people who themselves are not averse to leaving, and their fierce opponents. The former think that honey is smeared here and that it is very cool and easy to get on a plane and change citizenship in a week, while the latter irrationally believe that we all sold out for sausage and lost our human appearance. Everyone is wrong: life in emigration is the same life as any other, contradictory, complex, intense, sometimes hopelessly dreary, sometimes joyful, but I decided to stay because it suits me that way, and the choice I make is one of the many available. I stayed because it makes me happy, and I am sure that much more depends on it than it might seem at first glance.

I will still remain Russian in this country because I grew up in Russia. I have a Russian mentality and social habits, I love my native language and culture, but if someone else doesn't like them - it doesn't matter whether it's Russian or not - it doesn't offend me. It's hard for me to be proud of what I didn't do myself, so I love my homeland, first of all, as a mother, and not as a set for self-identification.

If someone is going to leave for the West, and it seems to him that it will immediately be easy, cool and no one will infringe upon anyone's rights, then it is better to sit still at home: there is nothing worse than unjustified expectations from the move. You are not expected to be here, but they are not particularly interested in you here. And if all of you anyway are about to fall in Sheremetyevo, then I have few instructions: the better you know the language of the new country, the easier it will be in cultural acclimatization, and the move itself will quickly teach you consistency, endurance and courage. Border control does not like the faint of heart.

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