I never thought that I’d be living the life that I’m living today.

By Karina  |   From : New York, NY  |   School : Susan Wagner High School

You know, I never thought that I’d be living the life that I’m living today. If you were to tell a 10-year-old me that I would be living in NYC, having English as my dominant language, surrounded by diversity and acceptance, I would have rolled my eyes at you and told you to get a life. I never thought that I would be where I am today, but then again, you never know what’s going to happen to you the next minute, which really is the most mesmerizing thing about life. I remember living in Armenia, being 100 percent sure, that nothing in the world would ever get me to leave my home country, that I oh so passionately loved. Oops. My name’s Karina Aslanyan, and this is my story.


Sometimes I think about if moving changed my life for the better or the worse, or if my life didn’t change at all but I know one thing for sure: I changed a lot. I am now much more a part of this environment, this city, this country, these people, I am now more comfortable being surrounded by the variety of different people with different backgrounds, rather than all white, conservative Christians. I am now a part of something much bigger than myself, my culture, my country, I am now a part of America. And I like that.


The day that we left Armenia is a big blur and so clear in my memory at the same time. I remember different moments, that if I think about, it feels like I’m reliving them, but the picture as a whole is very unclear. I was 12 years old, scared and excited at the same time, unsure of what’s awaiting me, of what is going to happen next, still not completely processing that I’m about to leave my family, my friends, my home, everything I ever had, get on the plane for 16 hours, and then start a whole new, supposedly better life on a different hemisphere. We were at the airport, and everyone was crying. People that I had never seen cry in my whole life, people that I never thought I would see cry, people that I never thought were even capable of crying, were sobbing in the middle of the airport. I mostly felt empty, I didn’t want to cry or to scream or to cling to my grandmother and never let go. I didn’t want to run back home and curl up into a ball and stay like that forever. It was so strange, how I mostly felt empty and confused, rather than sad, but I knew that sadness was on its way, and it was going to come for me, and maybe not even a week later, I’d be sobbing harder than everyone in the room combined.


My last memory before walking through the gates, was my sister’s tear stained face. She was staring at me, so much sadness in her eyes, looking tiny and helpless, despite her being 22 years old and the exact opposite of her confident, optimistic self. I knew she’d miss me the most, even though she loved both of my parents, I knew that she wouldn’t be looking so broken if I wasn’t leaving her. I wouldn’t be able to see her every day anymore, or even every week, or every month. I felt a pain in my chest, still feeling empty, but now everything seemed more vivid and bright and loud. I knew that pain would last a while. I ran back to hug her again, not caring about how everyone else probably felt hurt about how I came back to give her another hug, not them. I pulled away, and whispered “I’ll see you soon.” I turned around and left without looking back, it was too much for me, I had to get away. Pain is for later, right now I had to get a water and pretend that this was just another vacation trip.

My mom was a mess the entire flight. She’d cry for a couple of hours, then she’d sleep for a little bit, and then proceed to cry again. It killed me seeing her like that, I wanted to help, but I didn’t know a single thing that I could say or do that would make her feel any better. My dad seemed emotionless, but I knew he was being torn to shreds inside, he always tried to seem strong for us, but that wasn’t working out very well, considering how he’d flinch whenever I touched him and wouldn’t talk, too scared that he would break down. So I knew I had to be the strong one. After all, I felt empty, I could maybe make it seem like I was strong, not in denial. So I looked out of my window at the sunrise, put my cheek against the cold surface, and kept repeating to myself “It’s going to be okay,” over and over and over, until I fell asleep.


Our arrival was very messy. The flight seemed okay, nobody was too talkative, I watched a couple of movies, finished writing a chapter to what I was working on at the time, and we had finally landed. The thing is, I was very sick at the time, and even though I fortunately didn’t feel too bad during the flight, I did start coughing very hard right before we were let out of the plane. I couldn’t breathe, and being the drama queen I am, I was sure that that’s exactly the way I’m going to die, a second away from seeing New York, but never getting to. I ended up surviving (shocker), but my parents got into a fight, all the emotions they were holding in throughout the flight finally finding a way out through anger. Basically, everything sucked when we got off that plane. I felt disgusting and annoyed, and there were way too many people. Our time in the airport surprisingly didn’t last too long, in only about 20 minutes everything was finished, so we picked up our luggage, and went to meet my half-brother and his family, who were picking us up.


Throwing a pool party in honor of our arrival on the day of our arrival was probably the worst idea my half-brother ever had. But it was happening, so we went to our new house that he had found for us, left our suitcases there, and then went straight to their place where I was forced into the pool with my niece and nephews. I don’t know why everyone was expecting me to have fun, but I definitely did not fulfil their expectations. I remember how I swam up to the edge of the pool every 5 minutes, looked at my mom with pleading eyes and asked her if we can go home. She’d always ask me “Where, home?” and every time I’d answer “To Armenia.”


We only left their house around 11pm, I was extremely tired, having been up for around 50+ hours (again, great idea with the party bro). I thought I could lay down and listen to Papa Roach for 15 minutes, and then unpack, but I ended up falling asleep and slept for the next 15 hours.


My moving experience might not have been fun, but it was nothing compared to the first few months that I had to face in America. All I felt was nostalgia, discomfort and sadness. All I wanted to do was just go back home to Yerevan, curl up in my bed and know that when I wake up, my family and friends are all going to be only a 15-minute drive away, not on another continent. Every morning I hoped that this was all only a dream before opening my eyes, and when I did open them, every day started with a sigh and a bad mood. Nostalgia was one of the biggest obstacles I had to face, being around completely different people with different views and beliefs only reminded me of how different this place is from home, how different I am from all of them, and how even though I knew English, I still couldn’t understand anything that anyone said to me.


But the thing about tough times is, they don’t last forever. Slowly, everything started to get better. I went to summer camp, and I traveled a lot inside the country. My English got better, I could not only understand what people were saying to me, I could even understand what other people’s conversations were about. I realized that google translate and a dictionary would never stop being a part of my life, and slowly came to terms with it. Facing the fact that I was forever stuck between two cultures, and would never fully belong in any of them was tough, but I got through that too. One thing that helped me, was realizing that America was not a country filled with one type of people, that I didn’t associate with. It’s a country filled with so many different types of people, with different backgrounds, that I didn’t have to associate with. Being in such a diverse and accepting environment helped me take a step away from my culture, and develop as a separate human being. Without having the pressure of others’ similar views and beliefs, I could finally find my own. I became so much more open minded and free, I learned to love myself for who I am, which is something I never thought I would do, I finally let go of religion, that I had a love-hate relationship with throughout my whole life. I discovered so many new things about myself, that I would never ever think of when I lived back in Armenia. And even though my culture will always be a huge part of me, and I will always be proud of being Armenian, this country helped me truly embrace myself, and made me realize that there is nothing in the world that’s more beautiful than being different.







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