My Journey: from Siberia, Russia to Ohio, US
1 | The Starting Point
I was born in Siberia in the 1986 Communist Russia, commonly known as the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Satellite Republics, USSR). The revolutions started a few years later, leading to the collapse of the Soviet empire and the rise of the Russian Federation. The early years of my childhood were thus spent living through the transitioning period of my country.
Hearing that part of my story, people would always ask, “So what was that like? How was it like growing up in Russia?” A lot of it might be hard for an outsider to understand. While everybody had some sweet memories of the old life in the USSR and people in general tend to perceive anything new as scary, the nation overall did fine. There was, however, a period of confused time when we didn’t feel like we had an identity. Between 1991 and 1993, the USSR had been dissolved, but Russia had not been created. We didn’t know what to call ourselves or even how to travel from one city to another. A sense of disillusionment prevailed for a couple of years.
To me personally, I don’t really remember much of the Communist era in Russia, because I was too young. The first thing I can recall now is the introduction of the new money with increased denominations, when we started to have 100 rubles and 200 rubles instead of one ruble or two rubles. Suddenly, the price of bread and milk and other household goods tripled. The other threat at that time was the rise in crime. The Russian Mafia moved in to take over most of the formerly government-owned properties. Soon every business was paying them protection fees.
Aside from all the social changes during that period, I had quite a normal, happy childhood. My mother was a professor in college teaching agriculture; my father was at the time running his own small business selling shoes. They both worked hard to make sure my sister and I had everything we needed growing up. We were always dressed nicely and well fed.
2 | Growing Up
I had several aspirations of what I wanted to do or to be along the way. At the age of seven, my love for piano boosted. My mom helped me apply to the best musical school in town. She was terrified the day I went for the assessment, but I was confident. I had been practicing piano since I was four years old. It was my chance to shine. I was so determined, and I got it.
The burning passion, unfortunately, got tempered with the harsh realism that one of the teachers, being so strict and rigid, would force me to practice for three hours nonstop until the keys started to turn yellow and tears were falling off my face. That killed my enthusiasm, but I didn’t stop playing. I finished eight years of the musical school. I also wanted to learn dancing at times. Yet with my time mostly occupied by the piano practice, I didn’t get a chance to fulfill that dream.
Going through my maturing years, I developed an interest in journalism. For a few years in middle school and high school, I studied journalism on my own in preparation for college. My goal at the time was to stay in Russia and become a news host for charity events after graduation. However, sometimes life circumstances change, and your goals evolve. I didn’t eventually become a news host. When it was time for college selection, I applied to both the journalism school and business school. Unfortunately, two of the exams fell on the same day, and I ended up choosing the latter.
3 | Landing in the US
Growing up I dreamed of traveling, so when the opportunity came to go to the US, I knew I had to take it. That was during the fourth year of college, and I was 20 years old. I, together with two schoolmates, signed up for the “Work & Travel” program to work as a temporary employee at a large amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. My plan was to stay and work for three months, explore the new country at the same time, and then go back to Russia.
It was such a whirlwind of excitement that I don’t think I thought all the details through. I was young and passionate. I had dreamed about life in the US, how everything would be planned out, and how it would be perfect. However, it only took one morning for the plan to fall apart when we realized the job wouldn’t work for us due to the long and impossible commute. Being innocent and naive, we took a gamble and quit, leaving ourselves two weeks to find another job or have the visa expire.
Fourteen days. That was all the time I had to figure out what I was going to do. It was either find a job or face deportation.
I could have given up and gone home, but I didn’t feel like wasting this great opportunity. It was my chance to see a new part of the world. I was not ready for that dream to be shattered. So we spent every day of the next two weeks hiking through Cincinnati, walking into every single place that had a door and trying to apply for a job. But no one seemed interested. When I think back on it now, I understand why they didn’t want us. We were young Russian girls who didn’t have much experience and could barely even speak English.
Time was beginning to run out; the hope I had was quickly sinking. It was hard to face the inevitability that I would have to leave in disappointment. By the thirteenth day, I had all but given up, and then luck fell upon us. We ran into some other Russians in the street who happened to be employers that had connections with companies looking for workers. I had finally found a job that would work! It was a moment of pure joy.
So we stayed.
4 | Settling Down
I had a series of jobs for the next few months as I worked to stay in the US. It was difficult, because a lot of the people that would hire immigrants only did so because they could take advantage of them. Other jobs had me working with two-faced people, a character trait I was unfamiliar with in Russia. It took me a while to find a job that really exposed me to American culture, and provided the right fit.
At one point I was working at a local restaurant. Even though I was just a waitress, that job completely changed the path of my life. It was through that job that I met my future husband, and for him I decided to stay permanently in the US instead of going back to Russia. In 2009, we got married.
After that I attended University of Cincinnati to continue my bachelor’s degree in business administration that I didn’t complete in Russia. During the course, our son was born. I stayed at home being a full-time mom for a year or two before I began my first professional job in the fall of 2013.
5 | Thereafter
The United States is home now. My life is here. I have a corporate career, a supportive husband and an adorable son. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had not found that job all those years ago and had gone back to Russia. Although I do wish my parents were living closer.
Even with this great blessing of a life, it is easy for one to get caught up in the everyday hassle and stress sometimes. Whenever that happens to me, I try to focus on the bright side of my life and remove all the unnecessary weight I carry. A friend of mine once posted online, “At first I thought the world was noisy, but then I stopped and listened. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, and it’s serene. The only noise is in my head.” That passage has stayed with me all this time. It is true; stay calm and weather any storm. You’ll survive, and your life will be better for it.
This is the story of Kate Gammoh:
Kate was born in Russia in 1986 and came to the United States in 2006 toward the end of her college years. When she first came here, her plan was to work here temporarily for three months while she would travel and explore the country, and then go back to Russia. Yet, things changed when she met her future husband. What a wonder of life!
Currently Kate is working as a business analyst at a leading technology company in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is happily married with a six-year-old child.
My Journey: from Siberia, Russia to Ohio, US
This is the 6th story of Our Life Logs. 1 | The Starting Point I was born in Siberia in the 1986 Communist Russia…
Life Log #6