This month marks the 10th anniversary of my arrival in the United States from Hungary. I am not a citizen yet, but because I've spent all of my adult life in the US, I consider myself at least an honorary citizen - if such a title exists.
I am, of course, officially a "resident alien," but the term has always given me the chills. "Alien," to me, implies that I am a stranger to this planet, that I am a little green creature with one eye and antennae on my egg-shaped head. But if you were to see me or talk to me, you wouldn't know that I wasn't born here - I am proud to say that I don't have a discernible foreign accent (some people think I am from New Jersey), and I fit in quite seamlessly and effortlessly.
I arrived here as a bright-eyed and eager 18-year-old hoping to spend one year at an American college - that's all my scholarship covered at that point. But through the generosity of many friends and strangers, my scholarship was extended for two, three, then four years. Before I knew it I had graduated, started my first "grown-up" job at a newspaper, and met the man who would become my husband.
Of course, boiled down to one paragraph, it all seems pretty easy and effortless.
What is not apparent are the sacrifices my family made so that I could live the American Dream, sacrifices that included the incredible number of plane tickets my parents purchased, the many care packages that kept me going when I was homesick, and the countless transatlantic phone calls that transported familiar voices to my dorm room or apartment.
And while marking this anniversary is a tempting opportunity to grow wistful about birthdays and holidays spent alone, away from home, or the difficult choices all immigrants face, the bigger temptation is to celebrate the past decade.
It was the decade that saw me graduate from college - the first to do so in my dad's family. It also was a time for great self- discovery and a lot of hard work under the guidance of inspiring professors. It was a time to make great friends and fall in love and discover a country too big and too diverse for a little girl from a little country even to imagine.
The past 10 years taught me a lot about surviving the "real world," about being responsible and dependable. I also learned to drive, cook, bake, and do laundry during this time - not to mention manage a budget and deal with finances. I learned to foster important relationships from far away and that distance is not measured in miles when it comes to friends and family.
I grew up in the past 10 years.
For now, my American Dream is simple: I have a college degree, a great job, a nice apartment, and a nice husband. And while this might not seem like a big deal, what is a big deal is the knowledge that America is still the land of opportunity - and that what becomes of my life in the next 10 years is up to me. That is a freedom definitely not available in many parts of the world, and I hope to take full advantage of it.
I am trying to think of an appropriate way to celebrate this anniversary, but so far the only thing that has come to mind is something that I do every day: I get up in the morning, get into my car, and go to work.
I will appreciate the fact that I have a car and a job to go to; I will appreciate the small New England towns I pass on my way to work, the wide, clean highways, the friendliness of the person selling me breakfast, and that my colleagues and friends seldom think or care about the fact that I am not an American citizen.
I am just like them, except for, you know, the antennae on top of my head.