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7. Personal Experiences

Originally coming from East Germany, I was about to enter an entirely different world when moving to the United States. Several obstacles seemed to block my way from contentedly accepting life on the new continent, namely the language, my own perception and the people. After settling in during the first year, I became conscious of what was offered to me. While living in New York with the securities and protection offered by my parents' employers, I generally experienced the positive sides of America, while observing the negative ones through a screen.

New York has completely changed my attitude and my perception of the contemporary world. It is on the one side so capitalistic and extremely ruthless, but on the other so generous and liberal.

Influenced by positive and negative clich‰s learned in East Germany, I soon developed my own image of New York. The oftentimes misinterpreted American Dream became an image of hard, but more importantly network-like, and also egocentric work ethic. The image of a dangerous, unfriendly and withdrawn Harlem became an image of a slum and a socially neglected area. Most of the time, the clich‰s pointed out biased aspects, soon reformed by my experiences.

My biggest problem in the first year was the language. The German School in White Plains did not offer more than four lessons of English a week. At that point, my first positive experiences with the new environment were made. Most of the time, people used very simple and partly graphic language to communicate with me. Television probably played the most important role in teaching me the new language. Shows, dreaded by the more intellectual population, and cartoons helped best, since the easy language could be understood as well as memorized.

The very often mentioned aspect of America's freedom quickly affected my own life. Never before have I encountered such a wide range of possibilities as in the States. This range did not only include shops and department stores, but also the chance to seek ones own interests. Being introduced to the computer by my parents, I found it to be a way to my destiny. The opportunity to follow that interest, without being disturbed by others or even by unimaginable expenses, swiftly overwhelmed me. Most favorably, folks with the same interests, frequently gathered together on some occasions. In my case, computer technology attracted hundreds of hobbyists, who regularly gathered at computer fairs. Such markets focused on inexpensive quality and non-quality products.

My interest quickly expanded to making use of Bulletin Boards, that distributed thousands of Shareware programs. The aspect of Shareware is one perfect example for the United States, in simple terms meaning "try before you buy". A variety of retailers offer a "try before you buy" period, that I have never encountered in Europe. Customers are always "king", at least in reasonable and honest stores. Those exclude several "fraud-stores" in Manhattan, namely those on Fifth Avenue, Chinatown, 14th Street and some others.

At that point I would like to bring in a negative experience of mine, partially because of my own stupidity and naivety. As I settled in New York, I had the desire to buy myself a phone, an extremely important gadget in that area. My inexperience in handling the purchase became my obstacle and almost cost me $100. Ignorance drove me to 14th Street, where I picked out an electronics store, visually honest enough, to suit my wishes. As I communicated with the retailer, he realized my obvious unfamiliarity with New York's dark sides. When paying in advance for the chosen product, the store owner finally decided not to give me the phone, still keeping the money. Standing in the shop and slowly comprehending what the incident was all about, I grabbed the $100, escaping from the swindlers and disappearing into a clothing store right next to it. All I saw after hiding behind a stack of clothes, was two men, hurrying out onto the street, looking for me. Swearing to myself that this was never going to

happen again, I miscalculated and found myself, three years later, in the same situation on Fifth Avenue. Attempting to buy a new radio, the cash was given to the storekeeper, though they refused to give me the merchandise. After threatening to call the police, the deal was then reversed and the money given back. Tempted by low prices on relatively good products, one is always attracted by fraud-stores, even knowingly.

Throughout the four years of living in the States, I became used to the life offered there. As I recognized people and the environment generally in a very positive way, I still feel some kind of belonging. No one knows what the future holds in store for me, but as far as it is planned, I'm retreating to New York, hoping to study at a college and integrate into American life.