The American Dream: An Expat’s Perspective on the Land of Opportunity

The American Dream has long been a symbol of hope, prosperity, and opportunity for people around the world. As an expat originally from Vietnam, who lived in Singapore for more than 15 years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience life in the United States and witness the American Dream firsthand. In this article, I’ll share my observations and limited personal experiences, compare the American Dream to the aspirations of people in Asia, and offer tips for expats looking to make the most of their time in the Land of Opportunity. I have been living in the US for about 18 months so I am sure I have a lot more to learn, to experience and my sharing below will evolve over time. I hope you enjoy the article and feel free to let me know your comments below.

The American Dream An Expat's Perspective on the Land of Opportunity

1. The concept of the American Dream

  • The American Dream is often described as the belief that anyone can achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and luck.
  • Cultural comparisons: In Vietnam and Singapore, similar values of hard work and perseverance are emphasized, but the specific idea of the “American Dream” may be less familiar.
  • Challenges: While the American Dream remains a powerful symbol, the realities of achieving it have become increasingly challenging due to factors such as income inequality, stagnating wage growth, and economic shifts. The US GDP as a percent of the world GDP, using purchasing power parity has been declining over the past 50 years as well.
US GDP as percent of world GDP 1980 to 2022

Data from IMF here.

2. Opportunity and diversity

The United States is known for its diverse population and a wide range of opportunities in various industries.
My experience: I’ve been inspired by the stories of successful immigrants and expats who have made their mark in various fields, from technology to entertainment.
Challenges: Over the past 40 years, it has become more difficult for many people to achieve the American Dream. Studies have shown that upward mobility has declined in recent decades. You can search and find this type of study online. One example is from the World Economic Forum here. One conclusion from their study is “fewer people in the lower- and middle-classes are climbing the economic ladder.”

The chance of out-earning your parents by different income percentiles over the past 40 years

Tips for expats: Embrace the diverse environment and seek opportunities that align with your passions and skills, while being mindful of the challenges and potential barriers to achieving the American Dream.

3. Education and the American Dream

Education is often considered a cornerstone of the American Dream, as it can be a pathway to better opportunities and a higher standard of living.

Cultural comparisons: The emphasis on education is also strong in Vietnam and Singapore, with families often placing high value on academic achievement.

My experience: While the US is home to world-class universities and research institutions, access to these top schools can be highly competitive, and not everyone has an equal opportunity to attend them. Additionally, the quality of education from pre-K to 12 varies widely between states and counties, creating disparities in educational outcomes for students. For example, in California, with close to 6 millions students (from pre-K to 12), the graduation rate, and academic achievement (like maths) level varies widely. You can read more here.

Tips for expats: Consider researching the educational options available in your area, including public, private, and charter schools, and be prepared for the varying quality of education in different regions.

4. Entrepreneurship and the American Dream

The United States is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and support for innovation, which can provide a fertile ground for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Cultural comparisons: While entrepreneurship is also celebrated in Vietnam and Singapore, the scale and resources available in the US can be unparalleled. For example, OpenAI (with chatGPT) is getting very popular globally over the past 6 months. And with that, AI is getting outsized funding from venture capital funds in the US.
Challenges: Despite the entrepreneurial opportunities, starting a business in the US can be risky and challenging, with factors such as high competition, financial risks, and regulatory hurdles to consider.
Tips for expats: If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, consider tapping into the resources and networks available in the US to bring your ideas to life, while being prepared for potential setbacks and challenges. Of course, make sure to look into different visa types and see which ones are suitable for your personal situation

5. Challenges and realities of the American Dream

Despite the promise of the American Dream, not everyone in the United States has equal access to opportunities, and some may face challenges such as income inequality, racism, or lack of resources.
My experience: As an expat, I’ve encountered both the inspiring and challenging aspects of life in the US, and I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the complexities of the American Dream.
Tips for expats: Stay informed about the social and economic issues that may impact your pursuit of the American Dream, and consider getting involved in community initiatives to help make a difference.

6. Work-life balance and the American Dream

A key component of the American Dream is the pursuit of happiness, which includes finding a healthy work-life balance.
Cultural comparisons: In Vietnam and Singapore, the importance of work-life balance may be emphasized differently, with long work hours and high expectations for productivity often seen as the norm.
Challenges: In the US, achieving a work-life balance can be challenging, with many workers facing long hours, high job demands, and limited access to family-friendly policies.
Tips for expats: To find a better work-life balance, research potential employers’ policies, seek flexible work arrangements, and make decisions based on your personal/family needs.

7. The evolving American Dream

The American Dream is not a fixed concept, and it has evolved over time to reflect the changing social, economic, and cultural landscape of the United States.
My experience: During my limited time in the US thus far, I’ve witnessed the ways in which the American Dream has changed, with greater emphasis on sustainability, social justice, and community engagement.
Tips for expats: As you pursue your own version of the American Dream, be open to redefining what success and happiness mean to you, and consider the evolving needs of society and the environment.

8. Conclusion

The American Dream remains a powerful symbol of hope and opportunity for many expats, including myself. By exploring the various facets of the American Dream, comparing it to the aspirations of people in Asia, and sharing tips for overcoming challenges, this article hopes to provide a more balanced and realistic perspective on the Land of Opportunity. As an expat, understanding these complexities can help you navigate your own pursuit of the American Dream and make the most of your time in the United States.

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