I’ve had to sit on this topic for a few weeks now (because I’m just so discreet and all), but now I can finally stop it from bouncing around in my head.
After six years living with long winters and expensive everythings in Sweden, a close friend of mine named Johal has just landed a job in the US and arrived in Los Angeles yesterday. The selfish bastard didn’t consider making a quick stop-over in Augusta, but I digress. I think the culture shock would’ve been too much for him anyway.
A quick history lesson: I easily applied for 50-plus jobs in the United States in the first four months of 2013, on top of that many again at the end of 2012, but no one wanted a bar of me. With the economy the way it is, for a US company to take a potentially expensive chance on a foreigner, it was more than an uphill battle.
Even with green card in hand I barely got a callback; I genuinely believe that even though I’m fully authorized to work here, the Australian work experience and college qualifications at the top my resume were off-putting, and knowing I wasn’t an American citizen could have been a hurdle too. Not because of my background, but because of a stigma that “hiring a foreigner means paying big dollars for sponsorship,” even though that isn’t the case with the E-3 (or me with a green card).
Anyway, back to my pal. The process he went through was essentially a condensed (and successful) version of what I was doing just over a year ago. He’s got a much higher standing in his industry than I have in mine (OBVIOUSLY), and he’s at the pointy end of the hierarchy whereas I’m a foot soldier and glorified copy-paste monkey, so it didn’t take him 100+ applications to pique some interest in his skillz.
There were a couple of false starts along the way with companies that flirted with him a bit – I should mention here that I think I’ve proof-read and edited approximately nine million emails since January – before one recruiter started the wheels turning with more traction than before.
After interviews with seemingly everyone from upper management to the janitorial staff, Johal received all the paperwork he needed to sort out a golden ticket of his own: an E-3 visa. And this is where I started to feel the rushing I alluded to in the headline up there.
With every step Johal took (relayed to me by the world’s biggest heap of shit iPhone messaging app), from lengthy and seemingly unnecessarily probing paperwork to constant irrational overanalysis about whether a single number or misplaced date on a form would bring the whole thing crashing down to the serious nature of the interview process, I relived all of the nerves and worries that I’d gone through four or five months ago when I was gathering supporting documentation and booking flights to Sydney for my green card interview.
Of course, I’d be full of shit if I said that all the emotions I felt were negative, both during my application process and the planning stages. Amid all the frustrated texts we shared over the course of a handful of weeks, every now and then Johal would come out with something like, “I can’t believe I’m going to be living in the US within a month.” There were more expletives than that, but this is a (mostly) family-friendly blog. Okay, PG-13.
I had definitely had more time to get used to the idea that I was moving over here in late November (given I’d quit my job, ended my lease, sold almost all my worldly possessions and packed my bags), so getting the green card was all but a formality, even though I know how arrogant that sounds. For Johal it wasn’t as much of a foregone conclusion; in the grand scheme of things, it had basically just cropped up.
But despite all that, Johal’s excited disbelief was the most familiar feeling of them all to me. For the first couple of weeks after I entered the country as a permanent resident, I was sort of dazed about the whole thing. I could’ve used a figurative pinch or two, because I could hardly believe I’d arrived in the US with no end date in sight, unlike the previous six visits. I didn’t have to make my way back in 90 days’ time. I spent Thanksgiving with great friends, a weekend in New York drinking to excess with guys who grew up there, then after seeing Augusta and having a face-to-face conversation with my future employers, I headed back to Denver to await my fate. But all the while it felt like a dream.
And honestly? Some days it still slaps me in the face. I remember walking home from the gym in some miserable weather back in January, inching my way along the frozen sidewalk in seven layers of clothes, and it struck me: Dude, you live in the US. You’re here. You made it.
Another memorable time that happened was in early March as I drove to Bangor on a particularly beautiful winter day. The sky was brilliant and blue, clean white snow stretched for a mile off the sides of I-95, and as I cruised up the highway with the window down and the sun in my face it struck me again: Can you believe this? You live here. You have a job and a weekend off and a car (which has a steering wheel on the wrong side) and a place to drive back to and park that car and sleep and eat and…you have a life here.
Weirdly it happens at work too. I’ll be sitting in one of our daily meetings, and I’ll suddenly look around the room and really listen to the voices, not just the words. And my brain will say “Adrian, don’t make a sound. Everyone in this room is American. Do they know you’re not from here? You don’t sound like that. You’re in America. Just…keep…quiet.”
My brain’s a funny place. But the point stands that even though I’m completely settled in my existence here, and comfortable and confident in my daily life, it’s still pretty wild to remember that this – what I’d talked about and imagined doing since 2008 – is real. Surreal, but real.
And thanks to all of you too, for sharing the journey with me so far. It’s pretty cool to have you along for the ride.