USA: Land of Opportunity?

Published on 18th October 2010

Statue of Liberty

The recent shocking murder of a spouse and her two children in the US is not the first one: just a some months ago, there was yet another one of the same kind. Apparently, many other things, including suicide are beginning to take root among our brothers and sisters residing in the USA. We need to seek solutions.

It is perceived that if one is in the USA, life is all rosy and all heaven. This is a perception that those living in the USA must disabuse our youth of. Driving by the US Embassy (whenever I visit my project offices in Gigiri) I always see long queues of youth struggling to secure visas to the US. 

I once met a young man who had apparently secured a visa to go to the US. From the look of his excitement, he presumed he had kissed hard life goodbye. Although this was and is still the dream of many young people, the land of opportunity that the USA was has since changed. Americans are having it rough and I guess anyone else would if they do not have a stable income, secure employment and above all, very good education.

Stories have been told of how just sitting with a mzungu’s child for a few hours would earn you lots of US dollars; washing this or that would bring dollars rushing into your pockets. But stories are not being told of how bills are high and you may need to do lots and lots of jobs to pay these bills. It is worse if you are a student.

It does not make much sense for a student to struggle to go for studies in the US, pay for fees and accommodation and have to take up jobs to make ends meet when they could easily join Kenyan universities such as Nazarene, USIU, Daystar and  Catholic among others. Even our public universities have now opened doors to paying students!

In Kenya, a student will live within affordable means in a county familiar to him and can rely on the goodwill of parents and relatives. Unless one has a fully paid up scholarship, those who go with a few hundred thousand shillings raised from harambees in Kenya soon find themselves in trouble when they run out of money. Soon, they drop out and start playing cat and mouse games with US immigration officials when their student visas expire.

It is time those who have worked, lived and stayed in the USA began giving a clear account of what life is, how success is achieved and the fact that landing in the US does not guarantee an end to your troubles.

Before, many Kenyans in the US housed their brothers and sisters who were trying to settle. I don't think this is the trend anymore. Life has become hard. No one will house you for months for free as you look for "non- existent opportunities in the land of opportunity." It would be advisable to enlighten our brothers and sisters back at home that  the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE)  will not get you anywhere in USA. Lining up at the US Embassy in Kenya to get a visa to go to "Stato" is a waste of valuable time that could be used in trying to enroll in a college in Kenya which is cheaper, affordable and you will most probably have no bills to pay as you shall be living with your parents or relatives.

It would also be noteworthy to discuss the cultural backgrounds that shock many who get there for the first time such as the emerging problem of "rights and freedoms" that is tearing families apart. As Africans, we are socialized in ways that when we go to foreign lands, we need to understand how to manage the new cultures we find ourselves in lest we break families.

The onus is on our countrymen in the USA to begin debunking some of these misconceptions. When in high school in the late 80s, my greatest ambition was to go to the USA. I am not sure if I still hold similar ambitions apart from tourism but apparently, even with the economic meltdown the USA has undergone and the dwindling opportunities, many of our school leavers still believe going to America is the "ultimate route to opportunities."

By Otieno Sungu,

Juba-Southern Sudan.

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