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  • Writer's pictureMuhannad Sarhan

Six Years In The States

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

I wrote this article first in Oakland, California in September 8th, 2020.

In Sep 2015, I landed in Dulles International Airport in DC and started my immigration journey in the US. To celebrate the anniversary, and to help me ‘admittedly an on-and-off realist’ focus on the positive around me, I wanted to reflect on and share some of the things that I’m grateful for being in the US. This is an immigrant gratitude list for the United States.

1. Expressiveness and Confidence. If there is one thing a newcomer will immediately notice in the US, that is how expressive and outgoing most Americans are. Confidence and being true to oneself are highly valued qualities in the US. Most people you’ll meet are likely to be persuasive, the high energy communication is so contagious. This is not something you easily see in other countries. This specific quality is a favorite for me about being in the US.

2. Entrepreneurial Country. In the US, 55% of adults have started a business in their lifetime, and 26% started two or more businesses according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report for 2019. This places the US amongst the top countries that promotes business ownership. Owning two businesses is not a problem, because entrepreneurs always find support in the form of mentorship, articles, strong supportive NGOs, and mostly flexible business regulations. Living in the Silicon Valley will give you the bug of starting your business, if you have an idea or two play with them to see if they can translate into a business.

3. The First Amendment: For so long I have thought about the freedom of speech in the US. What are the practical applications of being so free to express? What does it worth? It may be a given right for someone who grew up in a truly democratic country, but for Iraqis it is not. Until now, Iraqis and other Middle Easterners are told what to think and say from an early age. Not recognizing the importance of the freedom of speech is caused by the surveillance of the country or the religion, but it also caused due to the ‘groupthink’ of a collective culture. Specifically, the difference of opinions and the simple attempt to wonder is discouraged by the society. That freedom of thinking, wondering and asking ‘what if …’ is what I have been missing, and don’t think I would have tasted if I didn’t move to the US .. and what a sweet taste it has. The first amendment relates directly to the difference between an individualistic and collective society. Hofstede explained the difference between high and low individualistic countries in his Cultural Dimensions test. See where your country stand here. below are the differences between Iraq and the US in various cultural scales.

4. Friendly People: When I think of the people in the US, I mostly think of compassionate, empathetic and friendly people. Yes, not everyone and not every encounter is going to be a happy one. But in my opinion, the positive experiences outweighs the negative experiences significantly. I remember all these times that Americans where so thoughtful to apologies for the two wars the US led against Iraq. I do explain to Americans and others, that Iraqis differentiate between a certain government or president, and between the people.

5. Age is literally a number: It’s never too late – or too early – for anything. You could continue lifting weights well into your eighties. If you want, you could find love and get married at any age (legal that is) You could get your bachelor’s degree in your sixties. In the US, you don’t have to give up on a dream because of your age. I picked up the guitar at my late thirties, easily found online classes and started making progress on a dream that I postponed for long. I don’t think it would have been that easy for me to find the support or guitars in many of the other countries I lived in.

Do you have time to read more, here’s another five that I like about the US

6. Hard work Culture: To have a sense of what hard work really means, you have to work in the US. Everything about the culture here reminds you that you need to work harder and smarter to compete. Time is very expensive here, you will learn to invest your time only in useful or enjoyable activities and relationships. Time wasting is an enormous sin in the US.

7. Activism: I remember the times when me and other boys in school were forced to join demonstrations supporting Saddam, without even being asked if we wanted to. This is not the case in the US. You are free to and expected to support the causes you believe in and stand for what is right. Very quickly, I found the real causes I cared about, and I was free to talk and promote them. Activism comes with a price, but I am lucky to live in a country that allow me to raise my voice for the things that I care about without forcing me.

8. Home of the Best Music: I didn’t think that I’d be living so close to the birthplace of so many music genres. Thrash metal in the Bay Area, Blues in the south, and Rap in the Bronx to name a few. Related to that, some of the best guitars are made here easily accessible including Fender, Gibson, Martin and RPS. One of my favorite things about living in the US.

9. Nature: Beautiful scenery is everywhere especially here in California. The scenic route 1 drive by the Pacific Ocean is magical. The views at the Grand Canyon – without exaggeration – could be the best experience of my life. I always wonder about the costly investment in national parks and trails, why do countries invest ‘that much’ in the nature and paving all these trails.

10. Improv Theatre: First time I heard about improv was in Dubai before I left, I think there was one improv theatre at that time. Living in Oakland, I could choose between more than seven different theaters to join, all of them are within a driving distance. Due to the pandemic, shows and classes in most theaters have stopped. I can’t wait for Pan Theatre to open again when it’s safe to start doing improv again, and hopefully sometime in 2021.

Oakland, California September 8th, 2020

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