On the tenth anniversary of my move to the United States, I made a list of what I hold dear about the adopted home.
In October 2002, I hopped on a Chicago-bound plane at the Krakow airport, holding a one-way ticket. I was moving to the USA with my Chicago-native husband (now known as Mr. Jetting Around…), who had spent several years in Poland.
When his expat life ended, mine began.
Leaving behind family, friends, and beloved city naturally wasn’t easy. However, I was determined to get acclimated in my new place quickly and make the best of the transition. Before long, I had new favorite hangouts, foods, and activities.
To mark the expat anniversary, I made a list of ten things I appreciate about my adopted country. Here they are (in no particular order, except #1).
Without following local sports, my move would have been a lot harder.
The prospect of going to Chicago White Sox games, a baseball team I had gotten to like a few years earlier, was the number one thing I looked forward to. One of American pastimes, baseball immediately made me feel connected to the country.
In 2005, I celebrated the team’s World Series Championship like a long-time Chicagoan. The difference was, I hadn’t had to wait to see the win for 88 years, like the rest of the city (well, at least the part that doesn’t root for the Chicago Cubs). I even got the rivalries figured out early on…
The US may not be typically associated with soccer, but that is not to say the sport is non-existent here. On the contrary, Major League Soccer has been steadily growing and expanding, and so has the fan culture.
Rooting for the Chicago Fire alongside my fellow supporters of Section 8 Chicago not only introduced me to many new people, but helped me look at Chicago as my city. When you travel to see your team play on the road and you scream ‘Chicaaaaagooooo!’ at the top of your lungs, you are bound to find a greater sense of belonging.
2. Contemporary American cuisine
While in college in Poland, I wrote a thesis about American food. My goal was to prove that indeed there was such a thing as “American cuisine,” and it was not all fast food. Ever since moving here, I have continued my research, this time simply for the pleasure of it.
Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis are among cities where I have found incredible restaurants serving American fare, which is a fusion of many culinary influences (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Asian) and a reflection of the country’s diversity. Also, as a supporter of the locavore concept, I have been pleased with how easy it is to find restaurants serving food made from locally-sourced, organic ingredients.
3. Sub sandwiches
I can think of no better lunch meal than a freshly-made submarine sandwich – a long roll of French or Italian bread, cut in half and stuffed with a variety of ingredients.
Subs are also great on the go – during a road trip or at an airport – and trying them is a fun way to explore cities. Many places have local “mom & pop” joints that have been in business for decades and serve unique specials.
So many TV shows and movies that I watched as a teenager showed neighborhood diners – casual places that served cheap, hearty food, and were usually run by a friendly owner. It is no surprise then that I view diners as quintessentially American.
Sometimes all I want for brunch is a toast, hash browns, and bottomless coffee, all for just a few dollars.
5. Mexican food (especially late at night)
Tacos at 3 a.m.? No problem in Chicago! Mexican food is among my favorite types of cuisine, and living in a city with a large Mexican-American population means my cravings can be easily satisfied, at any time. I also get to practice Spanish when ordering, an added bonus.
6. Road trips
Another image of America I had from watching movies was that of seemingly endless road trips, journeys through small towns and vast prairies, dust clouds coming from under spinning wheels. The reality is interstate highways, toll booths, and fast food restaurants next to gas stations, but I nevertheless do not shy away from ‘driving around‘.
I love the feeling of freedom that the open road gives and, just like in the movies, the anticipation of good things to come. One of my favorite routes is the Pacific Coast Highway in California, and someday I’d like to drive its entire length.
7. Automatic transmission
When I first learned to drive, it was in Europe and on a stick shift. The US is not the only country where automatic transition cars are used, but it was new to me when I moved. Nowadays, I could not imagine being stuck in Chicago traffic and having to deal with the stick. My right hand is free to browse radio stations instead…
8. Natural beauty
Two oceans, mountain ranges, canyons, desserts, grasslands – the list goes on and on.
One of the reasons I do road trips is to see as much as I can of the impressive landscape. I also enjoy flying to the West Coast on a clear day and seeing the Rocky Mountains from above. Quite a view!
On my list of favorite cities, several are within the US, and it is due either to architecture or food.
I love San Francisco for its stunning Victorian homes and ocean-side setting, and New York and Chicago have my favorite pizza on this side of the pond (NYC-style and deep dish, respectively). Other cities appeal to me thanks to their European charm (New Orleans’ French Quarter and Boston’s historic center, with its winding cobbled streets), or Spanish colonial feel (Santa Barbara, CA).
Another reason I enjoy exploring American cities is live theater. There is a great variety from coast to coast and whenever I travel, I check performance schedules.
I have enjoyed big Broadway productions in New York, intimate store-front theaters in Chicago, and modern performing spaces such as the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
The birthplace of jazz, my favorite style of music, has no shortage of clubs and festivals.
A New Orleans jazz club tour is on my to-do list, and in the meantime I get to enjoy Chicago’s jazz scene. My go-to place in the city is the famed Green Mill jazz club, which once was… Al Capone’s hangout.
What would you add to this list? Do you have a favorite USA experience? Let me know in the comments box!
About the Author (Author Profile)Pola Henderson is the founder and editor of Jetting Around. She grew up in Krakow, Poland, lived in North Africa, and has called Chicago home since 2002. Traveling internationally has been a part of her life since she was 3 years old. When she isn't busy running her company JA Media, Pola ventures out to explore cities and their culture. View more...
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