My uncle and his family immigrated to the US in 1995 after the war in Yugoslavia created two million refugees. In 1997, they asked my parents if they would like to move to the US. My parents had a hard choice to make but they decided to give it a shot. We filled out the paperwork and had an interview at the US Embassy in Belgrade. After the interview with the consular officers, they told us that they would inform us of their decision in a few weeks.
The middle school year started in September. My brother and I had to attend and study under the assumption that we were not going to emigrate. Before that semester, I always tried to do well in school. That last semester was different. Within a few days, I gave up. I couldn't bring myself to study knowing that we would be leaving before the semester was over. It didn't feel good failing quiz after quiz but neither did the idea of studying for tests that would have zero meaning once (if) we left for the US.
I still remember coming home after school one afternoon in late September or early October and my parents telling me that the embassy had called earlier that day. I was so nervous because this was the big moment. Either we were leaving or I was going to have to hit the books day and night for the rest of the semester. My parents tortured me for two or three minutes by not saying what the verdict was. Finally they said that we were approved! I was so excited that I started running around the living room. In a way, that was my first big gamble in life and I had won the coin flip 😃.
On November 12, we got to the airport and dropped off our bags. Then it was time to say goodbye to our relatives. Going through security was going to be interesting. In my backpack, I had my favorite toy. I had refused to put it in the checked luggage because I was afraid it might get stolen 😃. The toy was a metal cap gun. My parents agreed to let me carry it in my backpack and let security decide if it could go through.
It didn't take long for the security guy to ask me to open the bag. They looked at it and we said that it was a toy. Surprisingly, the guard let me take it onto the flight to Vienna. Once we landed in Vienna, we had to go through another screening.
After landing at JFK, we picked up our bags and went through customs. A shuttle drove us to a hotel where we spent the night since our flight to Knoxville was the following day. In the morning, the shuttle dropped us off at JFK and we boarded the flight to our final destination.
Growing up, my brother and I loved Coca-Cola. If you had offered us Coca-Cola or water, every time we would pick coke. It so happened that on that flight from JFK to TYS, the flight attendants were very friendly. They kept offering us can after can of coke and we kept accepting! After drinking three or four cans, the aircraft started experiencing turbulence. All that coke started to feel pretty bad in my stomach. Once we landed, I felt fine again but I had lost my desire for Coca-Cola. That has not changed ever since.
My uncle's family and friends were waiting for us at the airport. They had brought flowers for my mom and had made welcome posters. From the first day, it has been an interesting adventure.