“I was born as the Soviet Union was falling apart. It says ‘Russia’ on my birth certificate. But my sister is only two years older, and her birth certificate says: ‘The Soviet Union.’ It was a dark time in the country. There were no jobs. The currency became worthless, and everyone’s savings were destroyed. Even the educated were suffering. My parents were university professors, but my mother would sell food and handicrafts on the street. The four of us shared two rooms. We slept on fold-out couches. We ate lots of porridge and lots of soup. Our special treat was Coca Cola. We got one bottle of Coca Cola for our birthday, and one on New Years. But I never remember being poor. My sister and I were surrounded with love and attention. I look back at old pictures, and I see my parents smiling so big. That’s exactly how I remember them: always smiling, always happy about life. Our prized possession was a bright red Lada, an old Soviet car that was a gift from my grandfather. It could only be driven in warm weather. It sometimes needed a running start, and the driver’s seat was stuck in recline. But every summer we’d take it out of the garage and pray for one more year. We’d drive it to Lake Baikal. And there was one big hill where the Lada would always overheat. If we could make it over that, we knew we’d be OK. It would be huffing and puffing. My dad would be flooring the gas, his seat stuck in recline. We’d all be begging the Lada to give us one more vacation. During these trips I’d tell my father not to worry. I’d joke that one day I’d buy us a fancy new foreign car. And he’d always just laugh. At the age of fifteen I left our house. I qualified for a program to study in America. I cried so hard, but it was a huge opportunity. I was able to enter college at the age of sixteen. I graduated with two degrees, and now I’m working as a financial analyst. Last year we took my parents on their first vacation. A real vacation. To Thailand. But that wasn’t the only gift I bought them. During my first year of working, I saved all the money I could. And bought them a brand new car. But luckily we didn’t have to pay full price. There was a $200 discount, for trading in the Lada.”