This is the story of my first day.*

Changchun, Jilin, China

Washington, District of Columbia



My husband left China in 1996 to study computer science at UMBC in America. We didn’t talk much, we were both raised in poor households and thought calling via telephone was a waste of money. Two years is a long time to be apart, I missed him, I missed him a lot.

I left in 1998 and landed in America on March 28. This was the first time traveling out of the country, or even my hometown at all, and my nerves were consumed by pessimistic hopefulness. On the flight from Beijing to my connector in Japan, I met a Mongolian man and a Chinese couple who were also flying to America, and we stuck together because everything was so foreign. It was easy to get lost, especially because technology wasn’t as advanced as now. I got lost in the Japanese airport and couldn’t find the bus to my hotel, in which I stayed overnight. It was frustrating not being able to communicate in my mother tongue, and the Japanese workers didn’t speak much English at all. I arrived at the hotel very late that night and couldn’t get much sleep in, fearing I might miss my flight the next morning.

It was a 12-hour flight straight to Washington DC on an All Nippon Airlines plane, I had a total of three meals that consisted of classic Japanese dishes and snacks: I remember eating onigiri (tuna rice balls wrapped in seaweed), but I was too scared to try sashimi (raw fish), which were all very new to me. The window seat provided me with a nice view of the luscious green forests and vegetation around Washington DC. It was so different and pretty because I lived in a city back home and I never got to see so much green in my life.

My husband was there to pick me up from the airport upon landing, but he didn’t have a car so he had asked his friend, a fellow student from Taiwan, to drive us back to his apartment near UMBC in Baltimore County, Maryland. It was an hour and a half drive and the first thing I noticed was that the skies were a bright blue, in contrast to the city's year-long grey skies. I also realized that surprisingly, there was not much of a difference in air quality, since 25 years ago China was not as polluted as it is now.

I walked up the stairs of UMBC’s red apartment building complex, and my first thought to myself was: “America looks so miserable and worn-out,” comparing my new home to the one I so dearly miss already back in China. The two-bedroom shared apartment was crawling with roaches and ridden with mice. This is all I knew for a couple of years, the poor student lifestyle almost every immigrant faces. I remember so vividly the moment I stepped into the apartment, my husband went straight to the kitchen and pulled out a box of huge, green seedless grapes as if he was showing off because seedless grapes were a luxury we were unable to enjoy in China.

While I was a student at UMBC, I worked many part-time jobs, and my husband was lucky enough to find an RA position. His professor paid his tuition and also gave us 1,000 USD per month in living expenses, but it was still insufficient for groceries and my tuition. I recall scouring four different grocery stores every week just to buy cheap, on-sale food items and we both craved authentic Chinese food more and more every day.

After graduating with my master's in computer science, I secured a job at a computer consulting company that I ended up staying with for 15 years. My husband and I moved to a nicer neighborhood in Ellicott City in the year 2000 and once more to a nicer townhouse three years later when we were expecting our first child. And there, our daughter was born. We flew her back to China for the first year of her life and my parents took care of her. They treated her like the most precious being on Earth because she showed them I was doing a lot better than before and could now support having a child. She was a symbol of my successful immigration and improved life in America.

* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.