Getting Ready to Go to America

So, I’ve got a job offer and started to get ready. At that time, getting a work visa was not at all that crazy as nowadays. My phone interviews had happened in mid-June 1996, and at mid-August, I’ve got a package in the mail. The two months in between felt weird since I was not telling anybody; only Boris and my Mom knew, and neither was happy about this development.

The package arrived, and I checked the hours of operation of the US Consulate in Saint Petersburg and went there. As far as I remember, I didn’t even need to make an appointment at that time, I could just show up, get in the line, and get in. And as far as I recall, I didn’t get any visa forms before I came to the Consulate. Now it seems unbelievable, but I actually filled in all the forms by hand and proceeded to the window to talk to the officer. She looked through my papers, asked me something about databases and then said, that the package is incomplete, that they need “articles of incorporation” and “recent tax returns”. Needless to say, these words meant nothing to me, so I had to memorize them to make sure I will be able to cite them in my email.

Another month passed, and a new package had arrived. And I went to the Consulate again, and this time, my work visa was granted.

In the next month and a half, lots of things were happening, and I can’t recall the whole sequence of events. Finding a flight. Airlines other than Aeroflot just started to make their presence in Russia. It was a total shock to me, that the ticket prices where different for different airlines, and that they could depend on the date the flight is scheduled for. It was news that we were allowed to buy a one-way ticket (it was forbidden with Aeroflot). Then there was all this business of “paying by corporate card” – in the Saint Petersburg office of KLM they recorded the credit card number in the notebook, and told me that they will pass into their New York office, and “will let me know when it comes through”. And remember, I knew nothing about the credit cards at that time!

The date was finally settled, and it was October 22. I was still running around, meeting with people, “seeing each other last time”. I remember my friend asking me: do you even believe it yourself, you are going to America, or you are watching a movie about yourself? I was definitely watching a movie. I was telling everybody that I will return in two years, that I will just save enough money to buy my own apartment. Some of the people were skeptical saying: “Everybody says they will come back, but nobody comes!”I would dismiss these comments – what did they know about me?! Still, one part of me was thinking: I will never come back, I am going away, so that I will never see my Mom anymore, and I will never have to deal with Boris anymore. I will find some nice man over there and will have a family as other people have.

I had no money. Almost none. I was always keeping a poker face about that, but by this time, I was without a rouble in my wallet by the end of the month regularly. I was barely making ends meet, but would rather die, than tell anybody. I’ve sold my desktop computer, because I had to have at least some money with me, and after repaying some minor debts I was left with 300 dollars to start my new life. I was asking John how much money I will need to get along for the first month. With all the idealism of Columbia alumnae, coming from a family with old money, he would reply: Why do you need to take any money with you? You are going to work in America! You are going to make money, not to spend money! – So, will 300 do for the start? – Sure!

Igor was not coming with me. I did not know how to figure out from a distance, whether he will be able to go to school in America, where should I start, whom should I ask. And it never occurred to me that I could ask my new employer! I would never think to do such a thing in Russia, and I had no idea it could be different in the rest of the world. So I left Igor behind, “until I figure things out”.

It was decided that the company will rent an apartment for me in the same building where G. lived with his family. The office manager (and HR, and everything else) from my new company was writing me about the train schedule, about G’s wife, who was supposed to take care of my kids, and I could not figure out what the problem was. The CEO had sent me a very long and detailed email to the effect that I have no idea, how much daycare costs in America, and indeed, I had no idea to such an extent, that I was not getting a message. Both she and John were saying: it’s very expensive! The best thing you can do is to take your mother with you so that she could take care of the kids. But that was the whole point of the idea – to get away from everybody!

The date of departure was approaching. I didn’t have any luggage, so I’ve packed our stuff into five cardboard boxes. I didn’t even take any winter boots for the kids – they are growing, and we will buy better ones in America! I didn’t have money for a cab, and one of Boris’s postgrads agreed to drive us to the airport (very few people owned cars in Russia at that time). I remember all my last good-byes, and remember the same feeling that I am not sure whether I will see everybody again, whether I will ever come back…

4 thoughts on “Getting Ready to Go to America

  1. It is a very intriguing start of the story. Looking forward to reading more of it.
    I had an inner protest about some part of the story, like credit card use or owning the cars. But I think it’s because I lived in Moscow in 1996 and at that time things were changing not equally for the different parts of Russia.

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    1. With cars – yes, there were more cars in Saint Petersburg by that time than ten years before that even in Saint Petersburg, but it is still nothing in comparison to the US. With credit cards, I am not so sure, especially if we are talking about actual credit cards, not plastic in general, and not debit cards.

      BTW, I am not sure whey the default settings for comments requires approval, I will make sure to change it.

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      1. For credit cards, I try to recall but it was fast changing time, 1-2 years made a big difference. I remember for sure that in summer 1998 a lot of my colleges spent vacation abroad with credit cards and used them there. After they arrived and the bank system collapsed they were not needed to pay the balance. A lot of people lost their money, but some gain. So by 1998 we had these cards and knew how to use them, but we didn’t use them in Russia. But I would agree that it affected only a small percentage of the whole population.
        With the cars, I think Russia would never be comparable with the US 🙂

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  2. Sure, in 1998, it was different! You could even occasionally find the stores which would accept credit cards.

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