This may sound like an easy question to most of you, but when you grew up in four countries and seven cities before the age of 12, it can be somewhat tricky to unpack. Let me explain:
I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in October 1988. My parents had plans to move to the United States shortly thereafter, but the U.S. changed policies in 1989 that closed the temporary processing of visas for Soviet Jews. Along with thousands of other families, this forced my parents to start an immigration process which would eventually lead them to the United States, but not before a lengthy detour. In 1992, they moved to Israel when I was 4 years old, and in 1996, they moved to Canada when I was 7. In Canada, the first two years were spent in Montreal, followed by two years in Toronto, and finally a year in Ottawa.
Finally, in the summer of 2000 while visiting some family friends during the summer, my mom had an interview and received a job offer from a company in Chicago, allowing my parents to make the move they intended to make for so many years.
I have now lived in Chicago or in the surrounding suburbs for the majority of my life. I finished high school and college in the Chicago area. In 2012, I started the application process to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. I was able to vote in the 2012 election for the first time, which was very interesting, rewarding, and educational. For the first time in my life, I felt like this is where I belonged. Chicago was home. When I think about it, it’s the sense of familiarity, belonging, and stability that cemented Chicago and the U.S. generally as home to me. I still have my Israeli and Canadian citizenships, and although I do not plan on moving back to either country, I do plan on keeping all three citizenships active for the foreseeable future.
Over the years, I have listened to my parents retell their immigration story, and to this day, it’s still difficult for me to comprehend everything they went through. I’m honestly not sure that I could have handled the stress and uncertainty of the entire process. Close your eyes for a minute. Imagine landing in a new place, no place to stay, no money in your checking or savings account, no idea where your family’s next meal would come from. My memory of that time is hazy at best, I was just 7 years old, afterall. But for my parents, this is something they recall and think about each and every day.
I vividly remember my first day in a French-speaking school in Montreal, it was horrible. I didn’t know the language, had no one to talk to, and could not begin to comprehend what the teacher was asking me. I came home that day crying. Slowly, I started making friends. I started being able to communicate and learn a new language and life in a new country started to feel normal. But as soon as I became more comfortable overcoming those initial barriers of conversation and friendship, it felt as if we had to move again.
When I was younger, I was always confused why we didn’t stay in one place for more than two years. Switching schools and making new friends was constantly difficult and frustrating. Looking back, this was ultimately helpful in shaping my ability to approach new people, and get along with just about anyone I meet. Having exposure to different people and cultures gives you perspective on people you might not naturally see. I firmly believe this is why I am able to empathize and see the good in people in nearly all situations.
Now as an adult, I am finally able to grasp and understand the sacrifices my parents had to make in order to reach their goal in moving and giving their family a chance to have a better life in the United States. In speaking with them, I know they have given up the ability to grow their family beyond just having one child, progress in their own careers, overcome language and cultural barriers, not to mention the financial sacrifices in starting life over in a new and unfamiliar place. It’s easy to take growing up in one place your entire life for granted. I now feel like I have a much more meaningful connection to the country in which I was able to grow up, get an education, and start my career. It’s hard to say how life would have turned out had I not gone through this process throughout my childhood, but I’m incredibly glad to have experienced it. You don’t realize how this manifests for a child until they grow up and become an independent thinker able to make their own decisions. I think it’s no accident that I pursued a career in finance, it’s no accident that I am uber conscious of budgeting and money management in general. And it’s no accident that I am a little nerdy when it comes to saving early in life. My parents’ experiences instilled a core belief in me that I should be a diligent saver and investor to make sure that I set myself up well for the future.