What is the American Dream?

Mehdy Ghannad of The Hostel Life shares with us the journey his father took from Iran in order to pursue the American Dream and how he is now pursuing his own American Dream.

What is the American Dream? The first person that comes to mind in pursuit of my answer is my father.

Ghannad WeddingMy father immigrated to the United States in 1965 at age of 21 from Tehran, Iran with only two hundred dollars to his name. To my own surprise I only recently asked him this question, “Dad why did you take such a leap of faith with hardly any money in your bank account?” Before he could answer the question, my father had to put everything in context for me. In doing so, he had to begin by explaining the environment that he lived in at the time in Iran.

He began by saying, “Iran was a very different place than it is now. “ The government of Iran in the 1960’s was a constitutional monarchy and it had strong relationships with the western world. Iran was even seen as a top travel destination spot for many Europeans and Americans, because of its rich Persian history and for the skiing! Yes, Iran has pretty darn good skiing. However the education system was quite different than it was in the western world, more specifically different than in the United States (US).

Iran, much like the US has a college entrance exam, which helps determine which schools you can be accepted to. However, in Iran depending on what you scored, also determines what you could study. In addition to this, only 10% of applicants were admitted to Universities. This was a result of the lack of higher education offered after high school. For example, let’s say that you did score high marks on your exam; chances are that your career path will now be set for you. You were going to medical school to become a doctor IF space was available.

My father then got back to the answer of my original question. He said, “Son, the main reason I took that leap of faith, and came to America, was so I could figure out what I wanted to do and most importantly what I wanted to be”.

Since my father hailed from the busy capital of Tehran, you think we would end up in New York City or some other faster paced city in the United States equivalent to what he was use to. However, out of all the prospects the United States had to offer he ended up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My father complete with his two hundred dollars, broken English, and dream; convinced the University of Wisconsin to accept him. With 2 weeks of school already underway they accepted him and 5 years later, he left the United States for Iran with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

Mehdy's First BirthdayDuring the next several years in Iran he still was unsure of what he wanted to do. My father served his required 2 years of military service in the air force, fell in love and married my mother, and gave birth to my older sister, Mary. To my father’s dismay, he still did not see Iran as a place of opportunity for himself and his new family. My Mother may have occupied his heart, but his passion for providing more opportunities for himself and a better life for his new family, could only happen in the United States. Still without any money to his name and against his family’s wishes, he took his wife and infant daughter to pursue this better life in the United States.

My mother gave birth to me a few years later, but I still vividly remember the struggles growing up in the US. My dad was now in graduate school and had limited possessions to offer a family. He realized in order to better his situation and more importantly his family’s’ situation he had to go after what he really wanted. So he enrolled in a full course schedule of computer science classes and worked three jobs in order to live his American dream. Over the course of next 25 years of his career, we lived all over the United States and even spent a few years in Europe. My dad quickly climbed the ladder of well-known companies such as BF Goodrich, IBM, and Cisco Systems.

When you think about it, my dad did the opposite of what is considered the norm. Usually you go to school, get a job, get a house, and then get married. That is what a man traditionally has to achieve in order to attract a potential spouse, right? This is the mentality that has been ingrained in our society to this day, is it not?

Now I ask myself this question: Is America the same place and does it still have the attraction of the “American dream” to foreigners or even to first generation Americans, as I currently fall into this category?

America right now on the surface may not appear to be as attractive as it once was. So can the “American dream” still be achieved? I answer, “Yes”, but there has been a slight shift from the traditional American dream.

I re-evaluated my own life a few years back as it was right on course with the aforementioned, traditional American dream. It is very much possible that I am very much like my father in the fact that I see there are many ways to achieve the same life goals. Why do what’s traditional? At the time of my life re-evaluation, I had a steady great paying job, the relationship I had was on the path for marriage, and I owned my own home. But I wasn’t happy! Shouldn’t I have been? I realized this unhappiness came to the surface and actually affected all aspects of my life. I do eventually want to get married and I do want to have children. However you can’t plan life, it just happens.

Laos - Buddha Park

I was emotionally and physically drained of performing a job that I wasn’t passionate about. I think we all have a time in our life where we re-evaluate our purpose on this earth. I was pretty damn good at my last job, but I just wasn’t passionate about it! I did not wake up and say, “man I can’t wait to get to work”. I am not naive either; very few people have this feeling of waking up excited to go to work and I do realize when other things come in to your life your personal responsibilities may outweigh your professional goals. I am sure even with my father at some point there was a shift from “I” to “We:, as he had a family to look out for.

At this point, I realized I had some unfinished business and wanted to pursue what I wanted. But there was a problem! I got so caught up in living the traditional American dream, that I completely forgot what I wanted.

So, I decided that I needed a change and a drastic one! I left the job, became single, sold everything I owned, and took a break. I like to call this period in my life, “a self-reflection period”. Others may call it losing your mind!

I reflected on my past fortunes having lived, traveled, worked, and studied in many countries all of the world. This thirst for travel never was quenched with those 3-week corporate vacation packages offered by employers quite the same way of those several month long escapades that I took in early 20’s.

I also then began to reflect on my youth. Growing up as an Iranian-American was not an easy task as a kid in the 80’s and 90’s. I constantly reminded of how different I was, the funny thing internally I really did not feel different. I dressed the same as everyone and spoke with no accent, but still was seen as different.

Yes the regime change in Iran had a monstrous effect on the perception of the Iranian people all over the world. Movies such as Not Without My Daughter, did not help either with the perception of the Iranian male. Trust me, many of the girls I dated, their parents always used this movie to show their concern when they found out their daughter was dating an Iranian.


During this self-reflection time that took about a year and half, I came in tuned with my passion.

My life experiences, growing up the way I did, and my adventures across the world have led me to purse this concept that I am currently working on today.

When I travel, the accommodation of choice for me is hostels. In hostels, everyone is foreign to that country, city, or town. The common bond is that we are all outsiders! That’s really the attraction for me. I have actually shared a beer at one of these hostels with a Palestinian, an Israeli, and an Iraqi- American. How cool is that?

I have been so fortunate enough to meet so many wonderful people from all over the world throughout my travels adventures. Sometimes these same people I have met, help dictate where I travel to next. Why not go see my new friend Giulia in Italy that I met backpacking through Colombia??

The only way I can think of that will help illustrate this feeling or experience is to create a travel adventure that shows people what this hostel life experience truly is.
The Hostel Life
So with the support of these same parents who came to the United States to seek their American dream, my American dream has become to show people that we all are more alike than we are different; through a travel experience I like to call The Hostel Life.

Other comments

6 Comments on "What is the American Dream?"

  1. Tweets that mention What is the American Dream? | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- Topsy.com on Mon, 31st Jan 2011 11:37 am 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sherry Ott, BriefcasetoBackpack. BriefcasetoBackpack said: What is the American Dream? Mehdy of @thehostellife shares his dad's journey from Iran in pursuit of it and his own http://ht.ly/3NkpY […]

  2. Sage on Tue, 1st Feb 2011 12:35 am 

    Very cool. Thanks for sharing such an intimate portrait. It really illustrates a pertinent question of our times? If we live out the same struggles as our forefathers, are we honoring the sacrifices and struggles they carried out to deliver opportunity to us? Don’t we owe it to our ancestors to pursue our passion?


  3. Sofia - As We Travel on Tue, 1st Feb 2011 12:55 am 

    Great post! I think we all need a ‘self-reflection-period’ in our lives to re-evaluate things.

    I definitely believe that this is the best way to figure out what you’re passionate about!

  4. Sherry Ott on Wed, 2nd Feb 2011 6:25 am 

    Mehdy – this is an lovely story – thanks for sharing it with us. I do love your idea around The Hostel Life…can’t wait to support it!

  5. Matt | ExpertVagabond on Sun, 24th Apr 2011 3:58 pm 

    A great story! I love hostels for the same reasons. An international melting-pot where you can learn from all kinds of different people.

  6. Bluegreen Kirk on Tue, 7th Jun 2011 11:14 am 

    Great story! Nowadays it seems that to many people are afraid of living and doing what they want to do in life. To many its about doing what everyone else is doing to not be different. Learn yourself and what you want out of life.

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