Some international students say a American Dream is fading.
It’s hard to say whether Americans still see a clear dream in a haze of economic woes, high unemployment rates and a lack of opportunities. The meaning of the American Dream has changed throughout history, and so has its power to affect lives.
The concept can mean making millions of dollars, starting a business or finding freedom – depending on a person’s ethnicity, socioeconomic background and education.
History professor Bryant Simon said there are flaws in the classic idea of the American Dream.
“This idea that in America, you can make it has always been really powerful, and I think it still is a lure for immigrants,” Simon said. “But it’s always been something of a disappointment.”
Simon said the recession has influenced many immigrants’ decisions to go back to their home countries because of a lack of faith in the United States’ ability to remain an economic leader.
“Immigrants can make it here,” Simon said. “That’s the dream, that’s the myth. Some do, most don’t.”
Soojung Hong, a non-matriculated undergraduate student from Korea, said she believes the American Dream is something of the past.
“[The] American Dream is just an old image people had a long time ago when Korea was an underdeveloped country,” Hong said.
Not relevant anymore, Hong said, the American Dream began after the Korean War when there was an abundance of impoverished people. As the Korean economy has grown, the dream has faded away, she said.
Hong, who is in the Intensive English Language Program, said her main goal at Temple is to improve her English.
“Numerous Koreans try to learn English, so they study abroad in America,” Hong said. “This situation is not because of the American Dream, but usually just to get a better opportunity in the home country.”
She said she also enjoys U.S. pop music, television and movies, which influenced her decision to visit the country.
“I love the scene in ‘Rocky,’” Hong said. “Someday, I’ll run up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, listening to ‘Eye of the Tiger.’”
Simon said the Hollywood film industry plays a big part in shaping the American Dream.
“[Films] are filled with dream narratives,” Simon said. “As Hollywood becomes a bigger player globally, even as the economy falters, that might be the thing that keeps fueling and perpetuating the American Dream even as the economy sours.”
Ankit Patel, a senior mechanical engineering major from Kenya, said Hollywood did not give him an accurate depiction of what life would really be like here, portraying a fantasyland in place of reality.
Instead, Patel said, U.S. hip-hop and rap are social indicators of how people live by exposing the struggles and hard times people in the U.S. can face.
“[Films] never show the streets that I’ve seen in Philadelphia,” Patel said. “They really do not show the middle class and the contemporary American life, like how people struggle to make it every day.”
Patel said older generations in Kenya sent their kids to America to watch them find success. He sees his peers getting jobs, houses and cars, as well as having the resources to get married and start a family, he said. But due to the economy, life is different for him.
“I always see other people enjoying their life and having everything that I dream of having,” Patel said. “But for right now, I’m not really enjoying [living in America] because I’m just making money and paying all of my bills. I’m not really seeing anything.”
But Patel said he is not giving up on the U.S. Despite the positive effects of globalization on Kenya’s economy, Patel said he does not plan to return there to live.
“If you don’t have an established business [in Kenya] already, or if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in to start a business, there’s only so much you can make working for somebody,” Patel said.
Some U.S.-born students, such as Nicholas Allegrini, a senior human resource management major, were more optimistic about their futures and say they still believe in the promise of American Dream.
Allegrini said the dream is a possibility, not a guarantee, and that it takes hard work to achieve.
“The opportunities for education and development are part of the American Dream in that they are available if you have put in the work for them,” Allegrini said. “I really feel like I am where I had hoped to be at this point in my life, and I owe it to hard work and opportunities this country provides.”
Allegrini plans to attend graduate school to become a business manager and leader. As he nears graduation, he said he can see the dream clearer than ever before.
Like Allegrini, Kelly Kohl, a sophomore English and strategic and organizational communications major, said she still finds hope in the American Dream and that the concept never goes “out of vogue.”
“It always just comes back to that idea of hope,” Kohl said. “I hope to do well, and I hope that doing well will pay off favorably later in my life.”
Kohl said she thinks international students have that same romanticized perception of the American Dream, and while she finds no flaw in the American Dream, she does see the flawed thinking it can create.
“When one comes to expect those rewards instead of hope for them,” Kohl said, “the ideas of success attached to the American Dream can sometimes cause problems.”
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.