This story originally appeared as a blog on the State Department’s DipNote blog on June 10, 2011.
Martina Strong is a Foreign Service Officer. Martina recently arrived to U.S. Embassy Warsaw after serving 18 months as Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. military in Basrah, Iraq.
My family escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1982. Our nine-month journey to America began as a summer vacation in then-Yugoslavia and took us first to a desolate refugee camp on the outskirts of Belgrade before finally bringing us to our new home -- Fort Worth, Texas. Like many before us who escaped the harsh communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe, we came to America seeking the freedom from persecution and opportunities that were denied to those outside the communist “nomenklatura.”
For a 14-year-old Czechoslovak girl who spoke no English, this new home was a bewildering mystery, both exciting and scary. Making sense of this new world, the language, culture, and people was a tall order. But my family and I were ready for the challenge. We worked, studied English, and saved.
Those initial years were marked by key milestones: buying our first house, graduating as my high school's valedictorian, becoming an American citizen. College, graduate school, and a career as a Foreign Service Officer followed. In short -- the American dream. My Czech relatives often marvel at our life and achievements in the United States. I always answer them without hesitation that the most wonderful thing about the United States is that my family's story is not unique; it is that of millions of others who came to America as refugees with nothing, and in becoming Americans, gained everything.
Editor's Note: This blog is one of a series of individual stories by former refugees who are now working for the State Department. The series is part of the State Department's ongoing effort to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. Each story reflects an individual's experience and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.