After the honeymoon: Reflections on the first year

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It’s almost been 12 months since I immigrated. I can’t get my head around that.

As I’ve always said, this blog was intended first and foremost to be a strong record of the green card lottery process for other Aussies looking to take the plunge.

Along the way I’ve met a handful of other people creating similar bodies of work, to help hopeful immigrants navigate the red tape and culture shock.

One of those people, a chap named Simon, runs a tight ship over at BritSimonSays.com, which hosts a veritable treasure trove of immigration information.

Simon got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago to see if I’d do an email interview with him, and I quote, “to see what life in the USA as a Green Card holder has been like after the honeymoon period.”

I thought that was a pretty cool idea, and something I’ve toyed with over the last few months (and now I can’t do because it’d just be blatant plagiarism), so I agreed.

And while many of these responses will be familiar, or even repetitive, to you regular readers, some of the answers (after the jump) came as a little bit of a surprise, even to me.

Where were you from (or where were you living) before coming to the USA?
Before I moved to the U.S. I had lived in Brisbane, Queensland, for all of my 28 years. It’s the third-largest city by population in Australia, at just over 2 million people.
How long have you been in the USA?
I passed through the gates at Los Angeles International on November 24, 2013, so I’ve been a permanent resident here for just under a year.
Did you emigrate with family or on your own?
I made the move on my own. All of my family lives in Australia, but I do have a large network of close friends all around the United States.
Had you visited the USA before?
I had; six times since my first trip in 2008. Most of those vacations had been four weeks at a time or longer. In that time I visited about 30 different states in the lower 48.
Do you think you could have emigrated to the USA any other way?
My initial strategy was to move here to work via the E-3 visa that’s available to Australian professionals. I had already begun the process with a friend’s marketing company, but (mercifully) before we submitted the paperwork, I found out I was through to the next stages of the green card lottery.
Where did you choose to live and why did you choose to live there?
Upon arrival, I stayed with a friend in Colorado for a couple of weeks over Thanksgiving. My initial plan was to move to New Orleans, where I’d made contact with a friend of a friend who had a room to rent. I’d also lined up an unpaid sports writing job, which I hoped would help my job prospects.
Literally days before my flight to New Orleans, I had two successful job interviews both over the phone and in person in Augusta, Maine, and was subsequently offered a job beginning in mid-December. I accepted, and I’ve been in central Maine ever since. I figured it was better to be employed in Maine (which hadn’t been on my radar as a “choice” of place to live) than unemployed in New Orleans. So I didn’t choose the place, the place chose me!
Looking back, was the DV process harder or easier than you thought? Please explain why you feel that way.
Honestly, I think the process was easier for me than most people. I’m young, single, healthy, without dependents, university educated and had considerable savings backing me up. I’m also obsessive-compulsive about being prepared, so I had all of my paperwork checked and double-checked well before my interview. I was also very fortunate to have a low case number, so after DV-2014 opened for business in October, I had my temporary visa in hand by November 15.
The only real frustration, I guess, was the “hurry up and wait” nature of it. Given that people’s lives are very literally riding on the result, it’s a little difficult to sit for months at a time wondering when you’re next going to hear from KCC, or the consulate. And during that waiting time, it’s easy to drive yourself a little crazy overanalyzing numbers or reading horror stories and psyching yourself out.
Did you have friends or family in the USA to help when you arrived?
I do indeed. I stayed with a great friend of mine in Denver for the first week or two, and I owe her a lifetime of favors for all the rides to the airport she gave me. I also spent Thanksgiving with some close friends and their family in New York – my first Thanksgiving, in fact – and it was through another friend that I’d lined up my initial accommodation in New Orleans.
I often marvel at how gutsy the people are who take the plunge and move here on a green card without any support network at all, even if it’s just someone whose address you can have your green card sent to. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have such a great safety net around the country, even if it’s just the offer of a couch to crash on if things went pear-shaped.
How long did it take to get on your feet (things like getting a home, car, bank account, job)? What of that was harder than you expected?
A bank account was probably the easiest – I waltzed into Wells Fargo when I was still on a tourist visa, two months before my green card interview, and opened an account. Finding an apartment when I moved to Maine was reasonably easy, albeit many of the landlords or property managers in this part of the world are just regular folks looking to get a decent tenant in, and don’t worry too much about the formalities. I’ve never had a background check or anything to that nature, but had I been in a big city I’m sure it would’ve been more rigid.
The job was definitely a hurdle. While I’ve got seven years of strong experience in my field at one of Australia’s biggest media organizations, I probably only heard back from 10 percent of the dozens and dozens of jobs I applied for. I genuinely believe that having only foreign experience (and not being a highly sought-after specialist or anything) on my CV worked against me in a way, and that employers probably assumed that hiring me would either require a ton of training or a ton of cost in sponsorship, even though I’m a legal resident. In any case, I’m now employed and have American experience, which will help me in my next job search.
Getting a car was difficult because, while I could have bought a car in cash outright, I wanted to use a personal loan to make repayments and build up my credit score. But I couldn’t get a bank loan until I got car insurance, and no one would insure me without a Maine driver’s license. That doesn’t seem so hard, but despite being a licensed driver for 10 years in Australia with a clean accident record, I had to get my driver’s license from scratch – a written test for a learner permit (like a 16-year-old kid), then driving lessons and a driving test.
And when you’re in the middle of a Maine winter, with snow and ice everywhere, in a city that doesn’t have public transport, you NEED a car. Being unable to drive for six weeks was an incredibly big challenge.
Any tips that would help people make those things easier?
Bank with CitiBank in Australia. That’ll smooth the transition to an American bank account and transferring your Australian funds. I didn’t do that, and I regret it.
As for the job hunt, I can only speak to the media industry, but it really pays to make sure your CV and cover letters are in the U.S. format. I wrote a pretty big explainer on that which you can find here.
Be aware, too, that whatever state you settle in may require you to get licensed from scratch before you drive a car, or that insurance companies will require local licenses rather than international ones.
Everyone should do a ton of research into healthcare as well. That was one that I immaturely tried to ignore because I figured, “hey, I’m 28, I’m in good shape, I never go to the doctor. I won’t need to use it.” When I did need to see a healthcare professional, I suddenly found myself way out of my depth, and that’s with employer-provided coverage. I can’t imagine how bad it must be for those who come over and don’t find a job that provides health benefits. Do your homework, folks.
 
How have people accepted you? Did you find it easy to make friends?
Mainers have been nothing but welcoming, and mostly everyone has been fascinated with the story of how I came to be here, which is quite surreal and very flattering. I’ve been given so many opportunities – from offers to take me on Maine-centric activities from strangers, to writing my own newspaper column, to working Sundays as a bartender (despite zero experience in that industry) by people who haven’t hesitated to let me into their lives in one way or another.
Truthfully, though, making friends has been a little tougher than I imagined, but I can put that down to living in a city with an older and much smaller population. Combine that with working strange hours and it’s not necessarily a recipe for an active social life. But over the last few months I certainly have cemented a handful of great friendships with people who I’m confident will be a part of my life long after I leave Maine.
What do you miss from “home”?
My family, obviously, and my friends. That’s an easy answer. I miss the salary I was making back home, but I don’t miss the commensurately high cost of living. I took a 60 percent pay cut between Brisbane and Maine, but the cost of living here is equally low, so I make ends meet just fine.
As far as material things, I don’t really miss anything. This might be due to the fact that I’ve only been gone 11 months, but I don’t have huge cravings for foods I can only get back home, or anything of that nature. The U.S. has such unbelievable variety that I’m too overwhelmed with what’s in front of me to eat to long for anything from home. I miss my library of books that’s currently stashed in crates in my sister’s garage, which were too heavy to bring with me!
So far, is your experience better than you expected or harder? 
It’s tough to say. I think some things have been unfathomably easy – I still can’t believe the fact that I basically fell into a job two weeks after immigrating, and within three weeks of leaving Australia for good I had a job, an apartment all of my own, and a new hometown.
Other elements – like getting a license, or seeing a doctor, for instance – have been more frustrating than I expected, but that was probably more due to my naiveté than anything else. It’s also been slightly difficult to adjust my lifestyle to match my lower salary, but that’s something of a luxury problem to have really.
Either way, the experience has been unbelievably surreal. Many times in my first few months, I had moments where I’d stop whatever I was doing and think, “holy hell. You’re in the U.S. You live here now. You’re living the dream. You actually got here.” I don’t feel that so often anymore, because I’m much more settled, but I think that’s also testament to how well the U.S. fits me as a country in which to live. This feels entirely like my home, and even though I miss Brisbane sometimes and my family and friends are half a world away, I feel this is quite a permanent situation for me.
Would you do it all again?
 
In a heartbeat. No doubt about it. But I’d do better research and know what I was getting into, with regards to healthcare and bureaucracy.
IF you had to put a price on it – what would you think your Green Card is worth? Would you sell it for $x or would you not sell it for any money?
Hell, what a curveball of a question! Way to bury it until the end. I don’t think I could put a price on my green card. I’ve had so many unbelievable experiences since I moved out here – from the minuscule (like learning to walk on icy pavement) to the ones that benefit my career (writing a newspaper column that people actually read and congratulate me in, for example) – that I simply wouldn’t have had. If I sold it now, I’d be left wondering what sort of adventures, challenges and life lessons I’d miss out on by forfeiting my ability to live in other parts of this country, which is something I absolutely want to do.
Back in May last year, when I first found out I was a selectee, I had an attack of conscience because I felt a green card was “wasted on me” when it could be going to some family in a third-world country who truly needed to start a new life. But my roommate at the time put me straight, saying that I had just as much right to the green card as that hypothetical family, because we’d all been in the same hat together. I was just lucky enough to get plucked out.
Lastly any other advice or comments for people in a similar position to you?
 
Subscribe to CrawfinUSA.com? Haha. I think my biggest piece of advice, which you can take or leave, is: don’t close yourself off to opportunities in parts of the U.S. that you may not have heard about. Sure, everyone would love to tell their friends back home that they live in New York or Los Angeles, but there’s so much more to this great country than those two cities. I’ve done so many things in the last 10 months that I never ever would’ve had the chance to do, if I’d had a list of five cities I wanted to work in and that’s that.
I guess that goes for everything about living over here, though: be open-minded in everything that you do, and you’ll be rewarded for it. This really is the land of opportunity – don’t let it pass you by just because you hadn’t considered living in Kentucky, or Maine, or North Dakota!
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2 thoughts on “After the honeymoon: Reflections on the first year

  1. Great post. Can I clarify with you the hassles you he with medical stuff? It’s the one thing I am most concerned about and want to make sure I don’t make any rookie mistakes myself when moving my family over there this year on our greencards.

    1. Ask away. My hassles mostly stemmed from having trouble finding a doctor in my insurance network who could fit me in for an appointment. Bear in mind that my employer-paid coverage wasn’t terribly extensive and I was in an area where approved physicians were limited.

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