Juweriya S.

  • 10th Grade
  • Maryland

What does America mean to you?

By Juweriya S.
Frederick, Maryland

6:30 am, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 2019.

As the sun rises from the horizon, casting its golden rays across the sky, I sit with my sisters on the sands of this magnificently beautiful beach. Beneath the warmth of the sand, we share a silent admiration for the beauty unfolding before us. Although it has only been a year since we made the journey to the United States, I cant help but feel the unspoken gratitude among us, a recognition of the privilege we hold to witness such a breathtaking sunrise. Beneath this shared gratitude, lies a deeper awareness of our roots, our origins in our motherland Ethiopia. A country full of wonders yet less fortunate to have such moments of soldering. As I began to grasp the reality of what the opportunity in the US means to me, moments of realizations like this became more frequent.

Five years ago, my family moved to the United States and changed the trajectory of my and my siblings’ lives. Despite the comfort of our home in Ethiopia or the success of my familys company, my parents made an extraordinary sacrifice and left their lives and families in Ethiopia so that we, their children, could have access to better opportunities in America.

A greater part of my childhood was spent in Ethiopia, part of the reason I never grasped the contrasting lives I lived in the US compared to Ethiopia. Although I have had to work very hard for the things I have achieved, living in the United States has been much smoother in comparison to Ethiopia. In the fall of 2022, I worked diligently and got accepted and offered a full-ride scholarship to attend a private school through a program called ABC (A Better Chance). Every day I attend this school and experience the life I would have never known had I stayed in Ethiopia. Although things were going smoothly the idea of going back always lingered in the back of my head.

Last summer marked a long-awaited return a journey filled with anticipation and excitement. This journey led me to confront the idolized memories I had of Ethiopia. As we left the airport I was struck by the dense, smokey air. It was the likes of which Id never smelt before. I kept thinking I dont remember this. My memory seemed to betray me.

Driving through the streets, I witnessed a chaotic integration of people, animals, vehicles, and everything in between sharing the same road. My uncle, who was driving, remained stoic, his expression unchanged by the scene unfolding before us. It dawned on me that for him, and many others, this was not a one-time thing, rather an everyday reality a reality I had been sheltered from in my childhood. What I had held in my memories seemed to have faded, replaced by a more complex reality.

Reminiscing about my childhood in Ethiopia, I am reminded of the challenges and hardships that my family and many others face daily. The contrast between my two worlds serves as a constant reminder of the opportunities that abound in this land of promise. Academic opportunities where I can apply through a program for a chance to attend a private school. Even opportunities like this program where I can compete to see the beauty of this wonderful country.

Beyond the symbolic opportunities, the United States has offered me a firsthand experience of scenes I had previously only witnessed on television. One of the most memorable moments was visiting New York City for the first time. Instead of the usual headache, I would get from from the combination of lights and loud noises, the sight of the skyscrapers and the bustling clouds filled with hope. Hopeful of a better future, one I can actively choose.

That is what the US means to me: hope. Hope that one day I can see my name on the billboards and the buildings that touch the clouds. I hope that I can repay my parents for the sacrifices they made. The moment I shared with my sister made me grateful for the opportunities laid at my feet and for the chance to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. As I grappled with the inconsistencies between my two worlds, I came to a final understanding, it is up to me to bridge the gaps.