By Cheylene Thongkham
An argument can be made that the story of my family is an example of the modern American dream. My parents, both immigrants from Asia, worked hard, bought a home, and had two children who would both go on to graduate from college. After college, the two of us have been able to maintain relatively successful careers—my brother is an attorney and I work as a technical writer. Admittedly, we owe much of our success to the opportunities afforded to us by the United States of America.
Why, then, did I decide to leave?
The answer is a fairly complex one, but without delving too deeply into the corners of my soul I’ll try to explain my reasoning. One very obvious scapegoat is and was the economy. I graduated from college in December of 2007, which was precisely when the recession began in America. I was lucky enough to find a job immediately and although my position was fairly secure, I certainly didn’t feel that way as I watched my friends getting laid off one by one. When I left for England in late 2010 it seemed that the worst of the bank collapses and layoffs were over, but America was not yet in a state of recovery, and I don’t know if or when it ever will be. One thing was clear though—I did not want to spend the majority of my 20s in the midst of a crumbling society.
As a kid I grew up under the secure umbrella of the tech boom and all the economic prosperity that followed, making it especially difficult to see the country nosedive the moment I entered adulthood. It’s as though the rug had been taken out from under my generation. We were given a blissful, carefree childhood, only to be charged with facing a very different world just moments after scooping up our caps and gowns from the floor. Of course, all this is coupled with the fact that America has never been a more divided society than it is now. Sadly, the months that followed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were the last time I remember living in a truly united collection of states, but that was more than 10 years ago.
The American flags have long since been removed from our front porches, some replaced by foreclosure signs following the subprime mortgage crisis. Over the last few years, the riff between Democrats and Republicans, pro-choice and pro-life, pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage has reached such a fever pitch that it feels as if the US has dissolved into warring factions. The constant barrage of protests, marches, and arguing has been exacerbated by sensationalist media, and it was all becoming unbearable to watch. Out of this sprouted an omnipresent air of hostility, and it didn’t feel good at all.
I suppose if I had to put it simply, I left America because it is not the country that I remembered it to be. I understand that societies, cultures, and economies are bound to change over time, but I felt like I was getting short-changed by staying in the U.S. This wasn’t just because of the economy, but the shifts in society as well. I began to feel the role of women creep backwards, and as someone who was raised to be anything but a housewife, this did not sit with me well. The value of education was diminishing and I saw my superiors at work leave only to get replaced by high school graduates who were incapable of basic reading and writing skills.
My family, too, has changed over the last few years. While I was in college my father moved back to his home country and managed to escape most of the pitfalls of the U.S. economic collapse. My mother passed away some time ago and my brother was doing just fine on his own. This left me—someone who has always been a little on the restless side—to ponder my future in a country that I no longer had ties to and no longer recognized.
Moving to England has been an eye-opening experience and has impacted me more than I thought it would. It shares many of the pitfalls of the U.S., but mostly to a smaller degree. The culture, though influenced heavily by America, is still distinct and filled with subtleties I may never learn. But as I sit here under London’s gray skies, I know I made the right decision to leave. I am also secure in the fact that I may never reside in the United States again, knowing that it will never live up to the rose-tinted memories of my childhood.
Originally hailing from Germany, Cheylene spent her formative years in the U.S. before crossing back over the Atlantic to live in London at 23. She earned a degree in computer science and made a living in software development for several years before leaving it all behind to pursue her passion for writing. She pays the bills by authoring, editing, and translating technical documents, but prefers to write about travel, culture, and her life as an ex-pat in England. When Cheylene isn’t clicking away at a keyboard, she occupies her time traveling around the world studying foreign languages and cultures.
Originally posted on Wander Bliss.