Growing up in Romania, Sorina Szakacs imagined life in the United States.
“My dad remembers that since I was in the fifth grade, I used to tell him I’m going to live in the U.S.” Szakacs said. “I’m going to move there.”
So, she did … three times.
In 2004, Szakacs arrived in New York, as part of a student work program. As soon as she landed at JFK airport, she walked outside, sat on her luggage and smoked a cigarette.
“The United States didn’t feel like a foreign place to me,” Szakacs said. “I felt at home from the first day, from the first moment I got here. I was in the airport. I didn’t even rush to call my parents. I didn’t call for the next three days.”
Sorina didn’t call because she was too busy taking in the sights of the city. She was so excited, she couldn’t sleep on her first night in New York.
“It took 20 minutes of laying down in the bed and listening to the police, fire department and all kinds of cars on the street,” Szakacs said.
Szakacs got up, put on her clothes, left the room and went out to explore. Fighting jetlag, she stepped into a mini-market looking for something sweet to wake her up. She picked up a blueberry muffin in Times Square.
“I remember taking the paper off and trying to take small bites while walking and I’m like, ‘I never eat on the street in my home country.’ Nobody was watching me. That’s what I like about the United States and one of the reasons why I felt like I was at home. Nobody cares.”
After a summer of working at an amusement park on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, Szakacs headed back to Romania to finish school. Five years later, she returned to the U.S. “I couldn’t find my place, so I decided to come back.”
This time, Szakacs flew to Chicago, where she was greeted by family, friends and the weather.
“I got outside and it was cold and windy and freezing and by the time my cousin came to pick me up, my hands were frozen, my face was hurting and I’m like ‘what did I do?’”
Szakacs stuck it out in Chicago for four years. Then, she says, “the first chance I had, I left.”
So, it was back to the airport for Szakacs where she headed west to Los Angeles to visit her best friend.
“That was the first thing that hit me. It’s December. It’s the 30th and I’m wearing short sleeves.”
No longer in need of a winter coat, Szakacs stopped at the iconic Los Angeles landmark: Hollywood.
“The music, the craziness of Hollywood got to me,” Szakacs said. “I was like ‘okay, I need to move to L.A. and I want to live in Hollywood’…for me it was like HOLLYWOOD, you know it’s Hollywood.”
Even though she loved Hollywood, Szakacs did not like L.A.’s traffic. When she moved to the City of Angels, Szakacs traveled 20 miles a day from Studio City to Santa Monica on two buses, both to and from work.
“I started at 9 a.m., [so I’d] leave home at six in the morning,” Szakacs said. “[I’d] finish at 6 p.m., but then [get home] at 10 p.m. because of the transportation … in L.A. It was really hard.”
Over 13 years, Sorina has experienced life in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but which one wins the battle of the U.S. cities? Laughing as she thinks about her answer:
“My favorite city is New York,” Szakacs said, but then rethinks. “I would say New York combined with Chicago during the summer, with L.A.’s weather. So, if I had a choice, I would choose to live in all, just to not betray any of them.”