This is the first of a continuing series by FOX News of unique perspectives on what it is to be an American.
As a 42-year-old immigrant with a baby, Alp Gurpinar is hardly the typical college senior anxious to meet the world. But he does have the excitement for his future and the optimistic attitude of a man fresh out of his teenage years, something he attributes to becoming an American.
Gurpinar immigrated to this country in 1995, when he was 30. Coming from his native Turkey, he knew what his goals and dreams were long before he arrived. In fact, those dreams of pursuing a college degree and becoming a math teacher were the impetus for his move across the world.
Gurpinar's story is a familiar one for many Americans. As an immigrant, he endures long work hours and sometimes struggles to make ends meet. But as he nears his graduation and closes in on his long-held dreams, he is more confident than ever that America is truly the land of opportunity.
Gurpinar's parents moved to Germany soon after he was born. At 13, he moved back to Turkey to live with his grandparents. As an adult, he worked a computer job in a factory in Ankara while his wife worked in a bank in that city. In his native land, he said, he led a comfortable life—but it felt incomplete.
“It wasn’t hard work and it paid enough, but it was very monotonous,” Gurpinar said.
As time went on, he said, he always felt as if something were missing. More than anything, he could not shake his desire to obtain a college degree, a goal he said was nearly impossible in his homeland.
“In Europe, as an adult, it is very difficult to go back to college,” he said. “After the age of 30, it is practically unheard of.”
So Gurpinar and his wife, who also wanted to further her education, decided that moving to the U.S. would be the only way to reach that dream.
The decision was easy, he said. The process was not.
“When I came to the U.S. in December 1996, I was on my own,” Gurpinar said. “My wife came six months later, but we both worked hard to settle in. Those first few years proved to be extremely difficult as we experienced some difficulties in making the transition, not to mention that we had to work long hours and go to school at the same time.”
While he was able to feel at home culturally, Gurpinar said the biggest obstacle has been the language barrier.
“English is a very tough language,” he said. “I knew a little English when I moved here, but I still have a very thick accent I want to improve.”
Gurpinar says he was pleased by what he sees as a receptive attitude toward immigrants.
“If I compare my experience to my parents’ who immigrated to Germany in 1965, the first thing that I would emphasize is that the U.S. is much more receptive, tolerant and open to the newcomers,” Gurpinar said.
“I spent a considerable amount of my childhood in Germany, and from my experience I can tell that my daughter will not experience the hardships that I had experienced there when growing up. I am completely optimistic about her future here in this country.”
In the U.S., he said, he knows that his daughter can be whatever she wants. Moreover, he is proud that she can have a voice in a system of government that he believes has been molded by the voices of immigrants.
“The past generations of immigrants have shaped this country at the same time that they learned about its democracy and institutions,” he said. “They shaped America because they were given a chance to have a voice and speak their mind.”
It’s no surprise then that Gurpinar’s proudest moment was his first opportunity to vote.
“When I was at the voting booth, I felt like I was really part of the society,” he said. “I was proud when I became a U.S. citizen, but nothing compared to voting. To be part of this society means to have a voice for the future of this country, and the U.S. democracy can make it possible.”
It is for reasons like that, Gurpinar said, that he is proud to be an American.
“My only regret is that I didn’t come here sooner," he said.