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Life in Moldova and the United States as seen by a Moldovan emigrant

Stability and a better future for the children: these were the main factors that drove Elena and her husband Alexei to emigrate with their two minor children from Moldova to the American state of California. Although she only spent a year and a half in the United States before returning to Moldova for a brief vacation, Elena can already notice significant differences between the Moldovan and the Americans ways of life, as well as between how she used to see Moldova before her departure and how she sees our country now.

The Green Card Lottery

Elena’s husband, being in search of a stable and better life, became the initiator of their emigration to the United States. For eight years, the man tried his luck in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, popularly known as the Green Card Lottery, before eventually winning in 2021. Half a year later, four Moldovan citizens arrived on American soil. Elena remembers that the lottery win came as quite a surprise, because some time before that the then American President Donald Trump had limited access to foreigners to the United States, rendering the Green Card Lottery unavailable. The interdiction has been lifted meanwhile. Despite the fact that the Green Card program has existed for many years, it remains popular among Moldovans to this day. And while many Moldovans play the lottery, winning it is quite a rarity.

According to Elena, America is so coveted because it is a country where it is very difficult for a foreigner to get to. Reaching the United States is also possible with a work visa, but only if the American employer is very convincing in arguing the decision. Some also get to America through fiancé visas, with the downside that many women who do so may become victims of violence. They say they want to stay in the country, but refuse to live with their partners. Getting to the U.S. as a tourist is basically an unattainable dream, says Elena, as virtually all tourist visas are rejected nowadays. Over the years, it has become complicated to get visas for close relatives other than parents who want to come to visit.
 
The American prices

Elena says that California is perhaps the best place in terms of adaptation for Russian-speaking immigrants, as this state is very adapted to Slavs and Mexicans. Wherever you go in California, you can ask for an online Russian or Spanish translator. You can often bump into Russian-speaking and even sometimes Moldovan employees. Elena says that in America everything is done for immigrants who arrived legally. When you arrive in America, you have to indicate your income and, based on this, you can receive certain benefits. Immigrants can enjoy financial aid that they may spend exclusively on food. Those with young children will often have free access to kindergartens, which are otherwise very expensive in America. There is also a program that gives parents free products for children up to five years old. Elena’s family no longer needs financial support from the American state, because in the meantime her husband found a fairly good-paying job. However, it’s increasingly hard to find a decent job nowadays, as the number of immigrants is rising, especially because of the Ukraine war.

According to Elena, life in America would not be affordable for the ordinary Moldovan earning a typical Moldovan salary. Prices vary from state to state and depend, as odd as it may sound to a Moldovan, on the rating of the local school. If a family is looking for a good school, with a rating as high as 8-10, it should be aware that the rent in that area will be pretty expensive. In California, tuition will typically cost $2,200-2,500 a month. In contrast, in areas with schools rated 4-6, rent will typically cost $1,400 -1,600. In recent months, Elena’s family managed to transfer their two teenage children from a school mostly for immigrant children, with quite a lot of Russian spoken in the schoolyard, to a higher-rated, “more American” school. This also meant moving to a more prestigious and safer area, with better roads and everything. Now, Elena’s family lives in a rented two-room apartment where they pay $300-500 a month in utility bills. Mobile services are quite expensive, at about $180 per month for four people, while the internet bill is $100. Another $800-$1000 is spent each month on groceries.

Elena says that very poor and very rich people can both have good lives in America, as poor people “basically get everything for free”, including free housing. There are many programs that Americans can enjoy, but immigrants don’t know about.

The health care system

If you don’t have some form of health insurance in America and end up in hospital, be ready to cough up a small fortune in medical bills. Insurance plans vary in price, depending on one’s financial possibilities. As in Moldova, a typical plan cannot cover the entire spectrum of medical services, perhaps covering somewhere between 80% and 90%. Some pay $500-$1,000 a month on their health insurance. Also, there is a separate plan for dental care and it “basically covers very little”. People on low income can pay for medical services in installments. If a patient thinks that the medical bill they got is unreasonably expensive, they have the right to challenge it in court.

While American diagnostics is the best, says Elena, how the whole health care system is organized “leaves much to be desired”. Still, her personal experience was not that bad, as Elena describes her visit to an American doctor as “very digitized” and “brisk”: first a nurse entered the room, taking her blood pressure, height and weight, and then the doctor came in for strictly 10 minutes, asked her about her symptoms, entered the information into a computer and left, after which Elena was given referrals for more in-depth tests. This is not the case in Moldova, says Elena, because here the patient must first convince the family doctor that they need a referral for more thorough tests.

If a patient wants an ultrasound scan, they need to make an appointment with a therapist, who checks if such a procedure is actually needed and if it can be covered by the insurance. Unlike in Moldova, in America one cannot choose the medical institution to be assigned to. In Moldova, if all the visit slots are filled in your district polyclinic, you can go to a paid private doctor outside the insurance scheme. But in America, says Elena, people have to wait three to six months to make an appointment with a specialist.

Education

Elena notes that the education systems in Moldova and America differ fundamentally. In American schools there is “no competition among children” and no one cares about what students wear, only about their academic achievements. There is no class system similar to the Moldovan model. Children feel very comfortable at school, they find it interesting and cheerful there, they have free meals and little homework. Instead of textbooks, there are laptops that the school provides for free. Every day the school bus takes them to school for free. Elena thinks that the attitude there towards children should be implemented in Moldova as well.

In America, there are no parents’ associations like in Moldova: no one raises money for the needs of the school, parents aren’t called for regular meetings, and there are no common chats for parents, but online meetings do happen from time to time. Parents receive the grades via email, and if something happens, you are called by the school. According to the principle of education in America, students do not need to know all the fields of study perfectly; rather the emphasis is on the disciplines that may be useful for that particular student in the future. Children study six disciplines a year, unlike students in Moldova where there are more study areas and which may differ from day to day. American students have the right to choose the required and elective courses they are going to take. Thus, they understand already in the 10th grade what career they want to pursue.
 
Lifestyles

America has been built around cars. In the town where Elena lives, there is almost no public transport. In her neighborhood, there is only one bus route that no one is really interested in, because every family owns two or more cars. Americans are very law-abiding drivers; they even stay out of bike lanes. There is a large free parking lot next to every store in America, and no one is tempted to park illegally if there is no space available. The police would never stop you for a “paper check”, as it happens in Moldova, but if you violate traffic rules, you will almost always end up being fined, and the fines are high too.

Many Americans prefer active lifestyles, whether it’s hiking, surfing or biking. In her town, people don’t live in high-rise apartment buildings, they live in single-story houses that are outside the city center, in the suburbs where the infrastructure is developed and where it is quiet. In Moldova, living in the center of the capital is considered prestigious, despite the pollution levels. Much of California is a safe place to live in, but some neighborhoods in the big cities do tend to have high levels of crime. “America is a democratic country where every citizen can express their opinion”, adds Elena.

However, a Moldovan may find it boring to live in America, says Elena. Immigrant mothers are often busy with household chores or taking care of children and do not have time or opportunity to go out with friends. Immigrants who do not speak English have language barriers that prevent them from finding acquaintances among Americans. Elena says that when she goes for a walk with her children, she rarely meets people on the street. Americans are not into promenades, and instead they spend their free time in well-kept parks, they prefer to go out on picnics. But the most visible difference between America and Moldova remains the people. “Americans are more open, with a permanent smile on their lips, and natural ones too”. Moldovans may have some lessons to learn from them, says our former compatriot.

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