Every personal story starts with an "I". It makes sense. People are born, stories are made and some stories make it into history books and create legacy.
A lot of us are born out of place, lacking family, structure, support, money, education, and yet, some refuse to fail and find their way through hard work and perseverance. I want my story to be known as a story of humble beginnings and determination to change my life and that of others. We all can - nothing is impossible.
My fellows humans - dream big, real big!
Many told me before that no one reads anymore and no one cares about personal stories. I feel that it is important to tell stories. Through stories we learn that adversity and hardship can lead to strength and life full of adventure and fulfillment.
So here I go....
I always thought that I would change the world. Bold, eh? Growing up in the small city above Arctic Circle in Soviet Russia, my options to save the world were limited. Food and toilet paper were at premium too. Though books and sub-zero temperatures were plentiful and always at my disposal. And so was the free-roaming childhood with parents having no clue what I was up to.
So I read and roamed and read some more. About lands far and away and cultures exotic and foreign. And I dreamt. We all do.
When we are young, we believe that anything is possible. As we get older and life sets in, our childish aspirations are reduced to distant dreams. And we fail to do anything at all. By 14 I moved two countries from Russia to Ukraine to Belarus in the midst of chaos and collapsing Soviet Union and ended up in the smallest city ever (population ~5,000) with prospects for university and my international aspirations dismal at best. I was devastated.
My heart was set on a linguistics school, the best in the country and most difficult to get in. Instead of hanging out with classmates, I read, studied and participated in prep classes via mail. my homework (in English) was marked up in red so bad that I knew I would never make it. I kept on going despite of my parents and all my friends telling me to set more realistic academic goals. My grandma pushed me and did not let me relax. We need support. No one ever does it on their own. There is always a shoulder or a village behind a small life miracle. My grandma was and is my miracle.
The planets aligned and I aced my exams and was accepted in the most prestigious school in Belarus. Talk about the happiest day ever...
A few years later I was practicing my English, French and German, learning Arabic and doing translation work in Tunisia in-between semesters. After hungry Russia and Ukraine and politically oppresive Belarus, Tunisia felt like a paradise. Warm Mediterranean sea, sunshine and so many delicious treats. It was hard not to fall in love. People were great, everything was so unique and so exotic. All kinds of potions and twigs and morsels they would give you to eat, drink and chew on. It was a total "Alice in Wonderland" experience.
The Summer of 1999 brought me to the US. And let me be honest here. Growing up in Soviet Russia, I was fed a bunch of propaganda, just as everyone else and did not care much about America. My expectations were low and my nose was all the way up, arrogant and all.
Here is where the story really begins.
I never showed up at the place of work in Wisconsin Dells - my summer job. Instead, I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco and flew there with 4 other kids I just met with no money, no jobs lined up, no friends there, no resume, no phone or e-mail address. Now I would call it crazy. I had no idea what I was doing. The only thing I heard from another kid is that 'no one dies of hunger in the US. There is food in dumpsters behind Starbucks cafes.' That was good enough, I suppose.
When you are desperate enough, you get resourceful. I did not know any better and just kept on going to the same 2 blocks in the financial district in San Francisco day after day and filled out the same job applications. Every day. Same thing. And annoyed the heck out of managers. Yep. All three of them eventually gave up and gave in and hired me with no experience, local address and malnourished to the point they thought I would die before I start working for them. Two months later my chip-monk looking face was filling up with pizza and donuts. American Dream, here I was.
Working seven days a week close to 18 hours a day with 3 jobs was not the best route long-term. I figured out a way to live for free at a hostel where I cleaned toilets and did laundry and eventually found a job that paid me enough so that I could quit my other jobs and go to a junior college to get credits for GE.
In-between cleaning toilets I wore a $7 polyester suit and absolutely tasteless black shoes and attended local San Francisco business seminars and events. I had no fashion sense whatsoever. Zero. But I was real and I worked very hard.
3 years later I managed to graduate from a private college, University of San Francisco with a degree in Finance, a bunch of loans and hope for a bright future in banking and finance. I could not relate to most kids in my classes. They had parents and their parents paid for them to attend this private school. I took 18 credits a semester and maintained a full-time job to survive.
To be continued....