Roman Malanke

The First California Chapter

As I’m starting a single-digit countdown of days towards my long-awaited travel to the beloved motherland Ukraine, I think it makes it a good time to reflect on my impressions about the first year of living in beautiful California. Wow, time does fly. One full year!

So, how is it living over there? — my friends ask. Well, it’s good. — I respond. And then I proceed to telling them that the experience of moving to another side of the planet is overall not much different from the one I had when I moved to Kyiv from a small town two hours away as a 17-years old boy. At first, everything seemed impactful and impossible to ever learn to navigate. But then gradually, you get oriented, both in geographical and in cultural senses. Things start to get familiar and you realize that there wasn’t that much change to go through after all. Around 6 months in I stopped being conscious that I was using a different language when talking to colleagues in the office or when calling someone on the phone. I was just talking. Then a few months later I caught myself driving on a highway and thinking how familiar the San Jose skyline was — I knew what each of the buildings was and how to get to it without a GPS. So just as with my move to Kyiv 13 years ago, I think that the real fun is just beginning. I’m about to get more confident and more daring, letting my ambitions work themselves out in their usual quiet but persistent manner.

So how’s life in the US in more practical sense? Do you feel lonely? Do you get along with local people? What do you do besides work? It must be really expensive living there, isn’t it? OK, one question at a time!

I didn’t get a chance to feel lonely, mostly because of the intensive and interesting work and, of course, thanks to my darling wife being with me, but also thanks to video Skype connecting to relatives and friends back in Ukraine. And then I kept remembering the line from The Doors — “People are strange, when you’re a stranger”. Don’t think of yourself as a stranger, don’t behave as one, and voilà, you feel happy.

What I really love about the US is that the first thing people ask one other is “Where are you from?” Again, almost the same feeling as in the university dorms, everyone is from someplace else. But in this case on a bigger, more global scale. I’m from Vietnam, I’m from Philippines, I’m from France. And me? I’m from Ukraine! People don’t really care where are you from, they gladly talk to you, and as long as you respond and smile, they will talk to you again. It’s actually a funny feeling realizing that you can relate to an Indian guy more than to a fellow Ukrainian next to you, because nationality, in fact, is far down on the list of things that really define us as persons.

When it comes to things to do, one thing I can say about the Bay Area is that it’s a heaven on Earth. Incredibly good weather, incredibly great variety of natural beauties, and at the same time abundant availability of cutting-edge technological developments and civic pleasures. From where I live I can get to a sunny ocean beach in 40 minutes, and if I go to another direction I can be in snowy mountains in 4 hours. I can immerse into one of the world’s biggest technological conferences or I can go berry picking on a forest trail noticing 5 species of wildlife on my way. I can get to a live U2 concert in 15 minutes by foot, or I can go swimming in an olympic pool 2 blocks from my home.

Now on cost of living. It is not cheap, that is certainly true. How else can it be in a market where Googles, Facebooks and Ciscos of the world build enormous campuses and can never hire enough talented programmers from around the world? But if you go smart about it, you can live on a quite tight budget, without missing out much. To give you an idea, if you go to a Safeway in downtown San Jose, you can get oranges for $2 per pound. But if you go to a Vietnamese farmers’ market just 10-min drive away you can get even better oranges for $0.40. Nice 80% discount, plus much more authentic shopping experience. Same holds true for all other expenses. The good part is that there is a choice in everything: go fancy and hit your wallet, or go modest and fit your budget.

So as you can see, not much to complain about so far and I’m excited about what’s yet to come. Still, as I admitted at the top, I’m super thrilled in anticipation of returning for a while to my dear Ukraine and meeting my dear friends. 9 days to go!