As a child, I was encouraged to dream of more by my beloved grandmother. She was an intelligent and strong woman, who survived World War II and faced many challenges in her life.
Being raised in poverty in a small Ukrainian village, not having money to buy food and enduring many hardships, she would do whatever she could to plant the seeds of greatness in my sister and I. So, we could go out and create a better life for ourselves.
Granny always encouraged us to have aspirations for a better life and to have a stellar mindset. “Shoot for the moon, as even if you miss, you will be among the stars,” she would say.
Our granny believed in us and so we started believing in ourselves as well. She was an Alpha female and was instrumental in influencing and motivating her granddaughters to have higher demands of life. She was a woman of higher awareness. She didn’t have much in life, but she wanted a better future for her beloved granddaughters.
She passed away in December 2015, but she is always in my thoughts and my heart. I will always be grateful for her.
When I was 12 years old, I went to my mom and said, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to live in the USA!” She said, “What?! Are you out of your mind?!!” My mom thought I had gone crazy. “It’s impossible!” she finished.
Somewhere deep inside, I knew that the world was much bigger and could offer much more than my small town could.
Let me share with you, when someone tells you that your dream is impossible, it means that it is worth pursuing.
My inner hope was sprouting on the surface. My inner spirit was seeking higher expression. I dared to dream, I dared to create a vision bigger than my circumstances. The world is large and small at the same time. So, I started looking for the key to unlock that bigger world.
I had nothing, yet everything I needed was within me. Without having anything, I started creating everything — first in my mind. At the beginning, my ambitions were held together by bare enthusiasm, but later they acquired ‘flesh and blood.’
Having a curious nature, I asked many questions about life, happiness, contentment, and dreams. I started reading books and creating my own dreams. I wondered whether we could control our destiny. I understood and realised that I could not change my start in life, as my background will always remain the same but I could change my future.
I really love my parents, but their philosophy had nothing to do with ambitions, success, a life of achievement, or a life of greatness. It was so frustrating, because they didn’t even believe that they could have a better life. It seemed easier for them to be the victim of their circumstances, but in the long run, a life like this isn’t worth living.
Despite coming from this past, something inside me whispered that I could change my present and my future.
I stepped up for that dream. I took ownership of it. And it wasn’t easy.
I would travel hundreds of miles away from my home town to Kyiv and Saint Petersburg, working in restaurants during the summer holidays, waiting on tables, and saving every penny.
I didn’t enjoy those jobs, but I was determined, and I had a goal ahead of me. It took me close to three years to collect the thousands of dollars necessary to pay for my trip to America. It was a fortune in Ukraine!
Ukraine is a beautiful country, but it’s hard to live there, especially if you have big dreams. I faced another big problem — a visa.
To say it was complicated is an understatement. I had to collect a whole bunch of paperwork with different documents proving that I am a good citizen, have never committed a crime, have sufficient funds, have a medical certificate to say that I’m healthy, have insurance (which was a pain, as in Ukraine, we rarely do insurance), and proof that I love my country and will come back.
I also had to pay a substantial amount of money to an agency that was arranging the paperwork and submitting the application to the U.S. embassy.
It was almost ‘mission impossible’. My parents neither supported me nor — thankfully — intruded. They just thought I was crazy and was simply wasting my time.
People from our small town didn’t usually go further than Kyiv. But I didn’t care. When you have a dream, you have a dream, and you go after it. I believed in myself and in my dream, and that was what mattered.
The big day came — my interview day with the U.S. consulate.
I have always been confident communicating with others. But that day, I was visibly nervous. Maybe because it was my life-defining moment. Or maybe because the consulate only spoke English. I learned English at college, but I wasn’t fluent and had never spoken to a native speaker before. I didn’t know what questions the consulate would ask me, so I couldn’t prepare for it.
I was scared. There was a long line in front of me. The wait felt like eternity. I saw a few people come back from the interview with sad faces, which didn’t seem like a good sign. I don’t pray, but if I did, I would have been praying back then.
Then it was my turn.
“What is the purpose of your visit to the USA?” came the first question from a very serious-looking consul. His moustache made him look gruesome.
“To work and to travel,” was my eloquently descriptive answer. That was the type of visa I was applying for: a J1 work and travel visa. I tried to smile, but it appeared more awkward than lovely.
There was no reaction on his face. “Do you have any friends or family in the USA?”
“Do you know where you are going to live in NJ?”
“Yes, in Ocean City.” I had no idea where exactly I was going to live. All I cared about was getting there. One step at a time.
“Thank you, ma’am. You are free to go.” He put my stack of papers together with my passport.
That’s it? I thought. I felt relief and uncertainty. Was I approved for a U.S. visa or not?! I didn’t know, because they don’t tell you. You find out when you get your passport back.
On 3rd May 2010, I landed in JFK Airport, New York. After years of hard work, persistence and determination. I had come to the land of opportunities. I had fulfilled my dream. I could barely contain myself. My joy didn’t have any limits.
What I understood was that if you really want something, you can get it, as long as you pay the price.
Bear in mind that at the time, my dream seemed impossible and extremely hard to reach. I had shot for the stars and reached them. However, the fact that I managed to fulfil my dream doesn’t make me better or more special than you. You are the creator of your life as well. We all are.