For most of us millennials, the North American Dream, the promise of prosperity and success to anyone willing to work hard enough, is long dead. It died before we were old enough to care. (Although we suddenly started caring when we graduated college, as we found ourselves employed in coffee shops once again.)
My husband and I received our degrees, got married, and then were at a loss. Now what? US News cites a recent Zogby poll stating that upwards of 3 million North Americans, most between the ages of 25 and 34, are relocating abroad every year. In the midst of an astounding lack of opportunity, my husband and I decided to join the herd and leave home. To take our chances elsewhere. So, we took a deep breath, and packed our bags, arriving in Romania three months into our travels.
We had no idea what to expect from Romania. We had a handful of Romanian-American friends, but what did we really know of the country? I had visions of Dracula, gypsies, and hazy high school Communist history lessons. Whatever vague imaginings we had of Romania — it was not what we found.
We spent a month in Cluj-Napoca, a vibrant university city south west of the Carpathian mountains. The city is large, cosmopolitan, clean, and easily accessible. There are piazzas, cathedrals, outdoor markets, and a huge amount of trendy, inexpensive cafés and restaurants. Free wireless Internet is available everywhere, in stark contrast to France, where Wifi is guarded like a national treasure. We saw plenty of expensive cars and a surprising amount of iPhones. The people, as a whole, were friendly, impeccably dressed, and the majority of the younger generation speaks fluent English. We were quick to fall in love with Cluj.
My husband Jacob and I were startled then, when we were asked time and time again by our new Romanian friends: “Why in the world would you come to Romania?” Often, that question would be followed up with, “Why would you ever want to leave North America?” While we knew that our short stay severely limited our understanding and perspective of the socio-political climate, we couldn’t help but be surprised. Superficially at the least, Cluj-Napoca offered everything a North American city offered, except Cluj had a better selection of cafés.
We couldn’t explain to them the skyrocketing unemployment or the absence of jobs. The despondency so many faced back home, of having spent your life working towards a future that no longer existed. They wouldn’t believe us. How could Jacob and I explain that their deeply ingrained perceptions weren’t quite reality? And yet, who were we to speak of difficulty in North America when our Romanian friends’ viewpoints were shaped by generations of national hardship and corruption?
We quickly found that for many of the young Romanians, the North American Dream is alive and well.
Canada and America is the Promised Land to all but the Canadians and Americans themselves.
We met a pastor who explained to us the predicament that Romania found itself in. Many a young Romanian dreams of seeking their fortunes abroad, but if everyone leaves, who would be left to “heal Romania”? His church had begun a movement to that effect, calling young Christians to focus their energies at home and build towards the good of their country. As we nodded our heads in agreement with the pastor, the parallel struck me.
At this rate, we may one day find ourselves in the same predicament. We are all fleeing to each other’s countries to claim the promise of a better life, and yet that promise always falls short. There is nothing wrong with moving abroad, in fact, increasing globalization makes it an easier and more appealing prospect than ever. What we fight however is the lie that any one country on this earth will be our return to Eden.
Flickr photo (cc) by FulgentKlutz