Written by Oakhurst dentist Dr. Adrian Buca, DDS
I decided to leave Romania a long time before I knew where I wanted to go. I was still in high school, and was making plans with my best friend as to where we might go. Foolish, as every school had its informers for the secret service. Fortunately my friend was not one of them.
I went on to dental school, but I still wanted to leave the country. Romania was no longer communist, but 40 years of communism took their unpleasant toll.
However, at the time, Europe was quite closed for emigration from the communist block, and I didn’t want to leave illegally.
Move forward a couple of years, and I was a dentist at the age of 25 in one of the most beautiful cities in Romania; too bad I was poor as well. By the way, maybe it is not a good idea to give a dental/medical license to a 25-year-old. Fortunately nothing happen to my patients, but that was despite of me, not because of me.
Crazy courage in what I was doing, coupled with pure sheer luck – apicoectomies on lower premolars without x-rays (system constraints), mandibular fracture reductions in a countryside government clinic, 96 hour work weeks for three jobs, including night shifts for the local ER (my wife is still married to me, which makes her the wiser of the family), fully impacted wisdom teeth removal at 2 am – it is good and crazy to be young.
However, back to the paths we took. In 1998 my wife came home with the idea to apply to the U.S. visa lottery. For various reasons I wasn’t too inclined to do it, but because each of her colleagues was applying, and because I wanted to get some sleep (it was after a 36 hour stint), I said yes.
We both applied, and six months later I was approved. I guess, the fact that out of her group of friends I was the only one to be approved, didn’t win me too many friends. However, we sold everything we had, we gathered about $3,000 and we left for Los Angeles, because there lived the only person we knew in U.S.
In the excitement of the moment, we forgot the small detail that my wife didn’t speak English at all, while I was speaking something related to English. Actually many people were surprised to see that English is so close to Romanian. They were even more surprised when I was telling them that I was speaking English.
In L.A., we rented an apartment, we bought our first car, and we got left wondering how we were going to buy food and gas for the next week. So my first job was in demolitions, aka helping some friends prepare various houses for remodeling by using a big hammer. Somehow I survived some smashed fingers, and after some job interviews I got a job as a dental assistant. Have you ever noticed that there are not many male dental assistants? I think there is some sex discrimination there.
Also I got another job as a night shift electrician. I still wonder how the heck the buildings I worked on didn’t catch on fire yet – maybe the foreman was a nice guy who always checked after me and rewired the circuits I was so proud of.
The foreman and I were very good friends, because I didn’t know too much English, and he was speaking only Mexican Spanish. There was a special affection on his part, as he was always saying “Aaaay cabron!” when he saw me.
In the mean time my wife got hired in a couple of places (Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Ross) as a Customer Associate, where she didn’t have to speak too much, as her job was to put the the clothes laying on the floor, back on the racks. Her English didn’t improve too much, but suddenly she found herself learning/speaking Spanish.
Then she got her great breakthrough – she was hired at Subway as a Sandwich Artisan. I must admit that I was very impressed with her job title, and especially with the fact that I was getting a free sandwich each day she worked. But now her customers were speaking English, so she started to learn it, mostly phonetic though: ˈhwēt, ˈham, tə-ˈmā-(ˌ)tō, ˈpi-kəl, etc, plus she got very good at writing the words on post-it notes, and applying them in front of aforementioned sub-parts of a sandwich.
It was a very interesting first year, and actually the second was as well. Different jobs, different schools, including ESL and other English classes, blah, blah, blah. As I said, we are still together after all these years, and I am doing now what I was doing back in Romania, only less crazy. It’s the same with my wife. Actually she is a bit better, because she has about three teaching credentials.
Looking back, it was an incredible journey, not really dull, not overly exciting, just enough to keep us on our toes a bit…