To Stay or To Leave – A young immigrant’s view of America

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To stay or to leave, many immigrants probably have asked themselves this question at some point in their adopted country. It’s certainly a question that has haunted me over the years. To answer this question, I have to be very honest with myself.

If you immigrated with your family, it’s likely you would stay. If your home country is currently in a bad state, you would most likely stay also. I however, moved to the U.S. on my own. My family is all in China and China’s economy is doing fairly well. Next year I will have been in the U.S. for 10 years. I think about what I have left behind and what I have forged new. I weigh my options and think about if I have got the experiences I set out to get when I left China. Is it time to give China another chance?


I came to the U.S. in 2009 for college. At the time, I didn’t think about whether I will stay in the U.S. or go back to China after college. I definitely didn’t think I would be immigrating to the U.S. eventually. Next thing you know, a few years extended to five years in college then almost 10 years in the U.S. now.

Before I came to the U.S., I had a romantic notion about America. Maybe I watched too many Hollywood movies, I thought U.S. was the place where people were free to do whatever they wanted and dreams became true.

My view of the U.S. has changed from that time I was a teenager to now a more realistic if not bleak one. Some of my biggest critiques of the American culture are lack of community, high rent in areas like San Francisco Bay Area and fast paced, overworked lifestyle where work and life balance is hard to maintain.

The three years after college, I worked in a coffee shop to a bank to a startup. I’m like a typical millennial, who is job-hopping and wanting to find something that is meaningful and fulfilling. My husband and I live with his grandmother, because rent is too high in the bay area. If we rent, we would not have the savings to travel or have a peace of mind knowing everything we earn would not all go to rent.

I also had to commute long hours to SF. I spent about two and half hours every weekday going back and forward to SF. I was often exhausted by the time I went home. I struggled between cooking at home and eating out. Eating out was expensive in downtown SF. I tried to cook, which took another hour and usually covered two meals. I still needed to buy something outside in the end of the day.


By the end of the three years, although I was making huge progress career wise compared to the time I was working at a coffee shop, I couldn’t help but feeling depressed. In fact, I was so depressed that I felt like my life was not worth living any more.

What is the alternative? It seems like my husband and I are in a trap. If we move out of grandma’s, we will face high rent. We will both need to be working and giving pretty much everything to rent and have no savings. Not only that, what if one of us is unemployed?

So we stay at grandma’s. Jobs are all in San Francisco, at least the good ones. Then I have to commune. We don’t mind moving to rural areas, but rural areas don’t have the same economy and job opportunities like the bay area. Round and round we go, we are back to step one.

Another thing really concerns me is a lack of community in the U.S. My husband’s family has been very helpful and generous to us. We have a handful of really good friends that we hang out with. The community is still pale in comparison to community in China though if you are lucky to even have one. In China, my family members all live in one small city and we visit each other often. We have family gatherings every month, if not every week, definitely not once or a handful of times a year like the Americans.

Social Media is not helping either. I think it is just doing the opposite. Because there is no sense of community in real life, many people turned to social media for emotional support. More often than not, social media comes short in that department. Social media makes you feel anxious to be connected to people all the time, at the same time you could never be truly satisfied with those connections.


Perhaps because I live in the U.S., I’m a little critical about it. People always say grass is always greener on the other side. If I lived in China, I’m sure I would have many reasons why I don’t want to live there either.

It’s no doubt that my American education has opened many doors for me. I have learned so much about life and business in school and in work. If I didn’t move to the U.S., I would probably not get into outdoor lifestyle, photography and writing. I would not have read so many great books written in English, which no doubt have changed my life. I would not have met all the amazing people from all over the world, like my best friend Lisa from Germany and Jeremy from Minnesota. I would not have known anything about psychedelics and extreme sports like mountain biking. I would not have the privilege to just drive my car anywhere, go on road trips, and camp at the many beautiful national parks this country has to offer. I would not have started a blog and created a lot of interesting content, at least to me.

I definitely have lived my life to my imagination. But I still wonder, is there more? Should I go back to China? Is this the best America has to offer? Or am I just being impatient about my personal progress? Only time will tell.

Photographer: Tamirr



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