February 20th, 2011 is a big day for me and my family. On this day, 7 years ago my parents, little brother and I flew to Los Angeles, CA, USA from Kiev, Ukraine. Having a few big bags and some cash, we landed safely in LAX at night (after a brief layover stop at NYC) and were warmly greeted by our relatives.
In this post I would like to present a small story of a changed life, a story of obedience to God’s will, and a story of hope and inspiration to others. I will write from my point of view. (Family has many more stories to add to this)
This prophetic picture of me and my dad was one of my practices in Photoshop, I montaged it just to learn and have fun with Photosohop back in 2002 or early 2003 and e-mailed it to my uncle that resided in CA:
How did we begin to think about moving to the US? My uncle that lived in CA at that time cared enough to push the paperwork, find a sponsor and communicate with us so we could get a parole status (almost like refuge but with a sponsor) a few years in advance. You can read more about a parole status here : http://www.hias.org/files/u1/Imm_Brochures/parole.pdf . At first my family refused the idea to move to here, we were pretty well set, but because of my brother’s kidney problems, we came to a conclusion that for his health it could be better to move. “Maybe a surgery or the weather would help him there”. It took my family a little bit more than a year and a whole myriad of decisions to go from agreeing to the idea of moving to the actual move. Before our move to the US, I was a well-established breakdance/showbiz professional studying at computer college and working on a team called “Театр Экстремального Танца – ТЭТ” – “Extremal Dance Theatre”. Our group had long dance practices and shows almost every day, at that point we got pretty popular with what we did, and our shows were in high demand. Here is a page from one of the magazines that had a lengthy article about us (I’m on the right):
About a year before our target moving date, I needed to find and train a replacement for myself at the dance group. The group needed a guy who was short, who could spin on the head extremely well (like the best in the city of 1.5 million people), who was dedicated and who was committed to group’s well-being. Among other things, we had a dance studio where we were teaching kids and adults how to breakdance. There was a little guy named Max that caught my attention by his efforts in doing the headspin. He was definitely inspired by my headspin skill and wanted to compete and challenge me with it. So the group and I agreed that he would be the best material for my replacement. Name: Max – check ! Headspin – check! Committed – check ! Dedicated – check! All set ! I believe God’s providence was a factor in how the events unfolded, because it is not explainable by any other theory. I mean, what’s a chance for a coincidence? So I started training him about a year before our leave, we stayed long after the practices and perfected his headspin skills and practiced my parts in the shows. It is true that there are no irreplaceable people but some are less irreplaceable than others. =) By the time when I was leaving – he was ready to accept the legacy and many many fans that once were mine. (Some didn’t even notice the difference ! Hahaha)
There was another part of my life that was going on before I left – education. Having finished 9 classes and transferred to a college, I was on the second year of studying programming and computers at Kharkov Patent-Computer College, which means that I did not finish my education there.
So, to sum up, before I left, I was a well-known headspin/breakdance professional with an unfinished computer college diploma and many many friends. Here’s a picture of me, brother and best friend Sergey, on the day when we left Kharkov to go to Kiev and then the US:
First Impressions of America.
Our layover in New York was brief but already left some imprint in my memory about what America is. Everybody speaks English ! I mean c’mon people, don’t you know any Russian ? “Простите, Куда нам идти?” Walking the baby steps on American soil, how am I supposed to understand what you speed-speaking there ? (Sir, please asdfsd ! fasdfa sdfsdkf ? …. ) My family expected me to understand everything that the airport staff was telling us (“We’ve spent so much money on your English classes!… you’ve been learning ‘English’ since kindergarten! “), not only to understand but also to ask them questions (and oh I was very shy to talk to people that I didn’t know). So somehow we communicated our needs and found out that our terminal is very far away so we needed to get our bags and run run run as fast as we could, to make it onto the departing flight.
JFK – LAX. The plane atmosphere and people reminded me of other method of public transit – a bus. Noisy, shaky, somewhat dirty. Few hours that flew by really quickly.
We landed in Los Angeles successfully and were warmly greeted by more than 20 of our welcoming relatives. Hugs, videocameras, cousins big and small, noise, laughters, etc… Some of the kids’ speech was already marked by an accent. They spoke three languages at once, the blended flow of speech, the middle of the Ukrainian-Russian-English ocean.
Missing one humongous bag with dad’s most important tools, mom’s dress and one shoe that belonged to me =( , we filed for a missing baggage (my shoe, my shoeeee!!!) and the relatives took us to show the houses where they lived. The scene of fancy cars driving on the freeway looked like a sci-fi episode, are these spaceships ? Oh no, they’re just cars that drive fast. Not used to these speeds and such well-paved roads, all of us were scared to be passengers of a spaceship, err… a car ! After we arrived to our final destination, all the noise and talks calmed down, we prayed all together as a big family, I was tired and thinking: “It was a long way for us. I’m here now. That’s it. A new chapter in my life is about to begin, God help us.”
First three months
The first three months we spent at uncle’s house. Three families living together under one roof. More than 20 people all together, kids, teens, marrieds, adults, like a bee’s nest ! Two days after arrival, relatives took us for a trip around downtown LA and some other places in its vicinity. We tried to find a spot that looked somewhat similar to the view on that prophetic picture that I drew in Photoshop many years before. Here is the real thing on the right ->
Having unfinished college in Ukraine and finished only 9 grades (additional 2 grades were combined in college), relatives suggested me to go back to high school here. It seemed like a good option. I was 17.5 at the time and having American diploma seemed good to me.
So I applied for the closest high school. Garey High. Got accepted, got inside, and GOT SCARED ! This looks totally different from ukrainian schools, the high scool culture there was not attractive to me. Perhaps because I went there alone, not knowing anyone. So I told my uncle that maybe there’s another option. ( thinking… “God help me!”). And my uncle said something along the lines “Yes, your cousin and some of our relatives go to the Village Academy, but I’m not sure you would like computers and technology”. Having computers and technology as my other best friend since I was 10, I begged to check that school out. Having lasted three or four days at Garey, I walked into the Village Academy and was pleasantly surprised. It had a different culture, more structure, less people, and my best friend – technology all around! But there was a big problem – limited enrollment and Apple computers, which I had never seen before! Thanks to my uncle’s persistence and God’s providence, the teachers’ agreed to take a look at this newbie Ukrainian little man. They asked me to show them what I can do on a computer. Props to Apple, their Mac OS took only a minute to get familiar with. I launched Photoshop, typed some text in, applied some effects, filters and voila! It seemed to impress the teachers (I believe it was Raymond Harder and Jennifer Wagner), but I didn’t understand a thing that they were saying. I just said “yes” to everything. Nonetheless, they asked me to get a paper, write an essay and turn it in in a few days. That’s what I did and somehow I got accepted to the best High School I know to this date. Looks really nice because it is nice and is ran by awesome people:
There at the Village one of the first friends(except the relatives) that I made was Sherban Cira, a man that wears a million hats, knows a million languages and can play a million instruments! (no joke!) Whenever I needed help with translation or just help in getting around the school’s materials, he was the first person I’d go to. He helped me out tremendously in navigating the school’s environment, using technology to everyone’s benefit and he will always be a good friend for me.
By the end of three months a lot of things were set in stone. My family got our own 2 bedroom apartment for rent (not a section 8 program, we had a bit of cash that we took with us from selling our apartment in Ukraine just before worldwide housing boom – we sold it at totally wrong time for the wrong price but as I see it now, it doesn’t matter), I was enrolled in a technologically advanced school, had already made some long-lasting friendships and could say a sentence or two in English =)
Graduating High School, Getting a Job and Getting in the university.
After a year and few months, in 2005 I was ready to graduate an American High School ! I want to give thanks to Jennifer Wagner, Raymond Harder, Dr. Carol Aseltine, Rick Motz, Sherban Cira, Jeff Canfield and many others that took care of my academics at the Village, they’ve been tremendous help and inspiring staff that I was looking up to and wanted to help out as much as I could.
The summer of 2005 was the most defining as of now. The tech at the Village (Jeff Canfield) recommended me to the ITS department of the school district, and I applied for intern position of a computer tech that summer. At the same time, Dr. Carol Aseltine, the school’s principal and Rick Motz recommended for me to apply to Cal State University, Fullerton and took care of much paperwork , admissions and financial aid application. So with their help and God’s providence, Max was set up and running. =)
This Story to be continued with many more details and pictures and maps and other cool facts of life =) check for my Facebook updates !