Living the American Dream as an International Student

The ‘American Dream’ is more than the decadence that is shown in the Great Gatsby. This term has different meanings to each individual. To me, the American Dream is a unique concept that allows individuals to live in an America that encourages growth and prosperity. This is a definition common to many. 

As a prey to this ideology, I left my home in Dubai and moved to the states for university. The thought of living in America was something that always fascinated me and I knew that I wanted to pursue my higher education here for this very reason --it was my way of living my own American Dream. After getting accepted into New York University, I moved across the globe, 14 hours and 6,840 miles away from home and my family. After travelling across the oceans, I was finally in the ‘city of dreams.’ Despite the fatigue from such a long journey and the jet lag, I found myself exploring Times Square on my first day. In awe of the city, I knew I was at the right place. 

Settling into America wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but it was hard some days. To help cope with the occasional blues, it was important for me to have found friends that were from the same background as myself. I was lucky enough to find such friends that made settling in a better experience. On our happy days we were thankful to have the opportunity to explore all that New York City has to offer --we made it a point to learn from this beautiful city. On days any of us felt down, a simple dinner together with some food that reminded us of home helped cheer one another up. During the holiday season, we couldn’t go home merely for a 4-day weekend as home was 14 hours away by plane --instead we spent some of our best times together. 

When the pandemic began to erupt and the thought of having to go back home began to surface, an uneasiness settled over me. I didn’t want to leave New York, I was so happy to finally call it home. With a heavy heart, I left the country in March just in time before the borders closed. The first few weeks I missed New York, my friends, the college life and my own American Dream more than I could imagine. The only thing keeping me motivated was the thought of eventually going back to it.

During the summer, ICE introduced new regulations that affected international students directly. The new rule suggested that international students would not be allowed to stay in the country if they were only taking online classes, despite the ongoing pandemic that has forced many colleges to stop in-person teaching. With this new rule in place, many international students like myself were worrying relentlessly about what our future would hold, whether we could even continue at our universities or how we could maintain our legal statuses. Every one of us was panicking to come up with a back-up plan --anxiety and stress occupying us from head to toe. Do we enroll in in-person classes and risk contracting the virus, or stay at our homes and risk our visa statuses? Both options seemed like a loss to me, especially given the fact that if schools decide to go remote due to the virus like they did in March, we would get kicked out of the country in 10 days --as per the new laws.

This didn’t feel right to me. These few days of anxiety made me question my American Dream, was this what I really wanted? These days made us international students feel dehumanized. We felt like we were merely being used for tuition money. Thankfully, universities understood that this wasn’t right and filed lawsuits against the new rule that led to it being rescinded, reducing the pressures on international students. 

That being said, this whole experience was a rollercoaster of emotions and stress. Being an international student is not easy. Most of us are miles and miles away from home, giving up a lot to fulfil our dreams. We may have accents different to you, we may dress differently than you and we may eat differently too, but keep in mind that most of us have given up a lot to be where we are and it can be very hard to remain strong on all days. The next time you see an international student, ask them a simple “how are you?”, it can go a long way.

I can’t wait to be back in New York and continue living my American Dream, but until then, I’d love to hear more about what the American Dream means to you.