That’s how long I’ve lived in America. And I’ve spent all of it while living on US visas.
During those 10 years, I’ve:
-Lived, studied, and worked in five states.
-Vacationed in 16 states.
-And learned a lot during that time. Here are some of my biggest lessons from each year after spending more than 10 years in America on visas:
10 Years of Lessons
Year 1: Show Up
This is one of my favorite surprises about living in America. Showing up usually means being accountable and taking responsibility for your actions. In this sense, I mean literally showing up. In person.
Show up to new places.
Show up and enjoy new experiences.
I met two of my best friends in college by showing up to a random meeting about registering for a radio show. I showed up to learn more about the radio station, and having a show, and made not only two great friends, but countless others. And I also managed the radio station for two years. None of that would have happened if I didn’t show up, literally.
Other times, I’ve signed up for networking events and parties that I wanted to back out from at the last minute. But I usually meet at least one person that I connect with at events who makes me feel that showing up was worth it.
Year 2: Moving is hard
After the excitement of the first year, I returned to my home country of Trinidad and Tobago for the summer break. And it was then that I realized how much I missed it. I didn’t miss it as much during the semester because being busy helps to take our minds off certain things.
Missing home was one of the things that school distracted me from. But when I went home after the first year, it was clear to me that while I made the right decision to study in America, moving can take a negative toll on us as human beings. And in colleges and universities around the world, international students usually move around a lot, both during school, and after graduation.
Moving is hard.
It can bring both excitement and fear.
Year 3: It won’t always seem like it’s worth it
Failure happens. All the time. It’s a part of life. And when you fail at something, it might feel like a waste of time. That making the effort, and not getting the result you were hoping for, wasn’t worth it.
Back in 2009, I had my biggest failure. I was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship. The Rhodes scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards you can get. It’s offered in most countries. I was one of five students in the final round for the Caribbean. One of us was absolutely certain to get the scholarship. And then disaster struck.
I missed my flight for the interview.
On the plane, I prepared for the interview. And I spilled my orange juice.
All. Over. My. Laptop.
My laptop turned off. And my notes and all of the advice I got from my professors disappeared.
That’s not the worst part.
I did terribly in the interview. By far, the worst interview of my life.
I spent a lot of time preparing for the interview to get the scholarship. I failed.
There was no second chance. So applying for the Rhodes didn’t feel as though it was worth it.
Year 4: It’s OK to get pushed around a little (but have a back-up plan)
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated.
Get a job? Sure.
Get a visa? Great.
I was graduating in 2010, just after the U.S. economy was at its worst. It was hard to find a job, especially one that paid a decent salary. I was in my final year of college, so the last thing on my mind was going to school for 1-2 more years.
But I hedged.
I had a back-up plan.
I applied to graduate school in late 2009, and got admitted in early 2010, months before I graduated. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
If I had found a job, I would have needed my (hypothetical) employer to sponsor an H-1B visa less than a year after starting to work for them. Why would they have sponsored a visa for me when there were hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed Americans they could hire who didn’t need a visa.
Year 5: You don’t have to know what you like. Knowing what you don’t like can be just as important
I’m always amazed at people who know for sure what they like when it comes to many aspects of life: food, people, TV shows. The list goes on.
I’m not one of those people. I usually figure out what I like by process of elimination.
Me: Do I like this? I don’t know. I don’t hate it. I’ll give it a chance.
While nobody likes having people around who can’t make up their mind about things, they’ll respect you if you know for sure what you don’t like.
Year 6: Traveling will change your life (for the better)
It doesn’t matter why you travel, it will change your life, whether you’re traveling for work or vacation. It’s common to see Americans bragging about flying everywhere around the world and taking selfies in first class. But that’s a really small number of people. And they plan, save, or use credit cards for their trips.
Find a good deal.
Year 7: It’s not always about you
When I was in school, I’d go to my home country during vacations. Winter break made the most sense since it was too short to get a job or internship to make it worth it. During summer break, I would find an internship, travel, or find something else to do other than go home.
One of my best friends from home would always ask me when I was visiting. It was easy for me to say I couldn’t afford it or find some other excuse.
But after a while, I realized that going home wasn’t supposed to be fun all the time. It became more of an obligation: visit family and keep in touch with old friends.
So one year, I decided I’d surprise my friend by visiting home on her birthday. Every time she asked me when I was visiting that summer, I said I didn’t know. And then one day I showed up to her office unannounced. While I haven’t managed to recreate the surprise factor, I’ve visited my friend on her birthday a few times since that first surprise.
Year 8: What got you here won’t get you there
I’d thought about writing a book for a long time. Back in 2012, I was reading a lot about business, and fiction books. I even listened to audiobooks. It was different from how I had approached reading in the past because I wanted to read with a purpose. I wanted to read and put into action what I had read. Not only did I struggle to find time to read because of work travel, but I couldn’t focus even when I had time to read.
I had to change my approach. I couldn’t read harder or magically focus.
I needed help.
Some people have coffee addictions and weird noise machines to give them energy and help them focus. They swear by them, and can’t live without them.
My weird “can’t live without them” items? Tea and music without lyrics.
I discovered Cognitea and an app named Focus at Will in my quest to read more and be more productive so that eventually, I could write a book. I’ve been a loyal subscriber and user of both since 2014. Although I haven’t yet finished writing a book, I’m much closer to finishing now thanks to changing my approach with Cognitea and Focus at Will. What got me to where I was in 2014 stopped working.
And now I’m way more productive and closer to achieving my goal.
Year 9: It’s OK to have regrets, as long as you learn from them
I’ve always been suspicious about people who say they have no regrets.
Really? You don’t regret a single thing in life? Whoever doesn’t have regrets must be the world’s greatest decision-maker ever.
Regrets? I have tons of them. Both big regrets and small ones.
My biggest regret? Failing to write about my experience in the US to help others who may be struggling or just starting out. Leaving your comfort zone is one of the hardest things you can do. We are creatures of habit, and most of us avoid big changes. But I’ve learned from my regret, and I’m slowly managing to write about my experience moving to America.
Year 10: Your best is yet to come
It’s safe to say that whoever you are now is probably not who you will be in the future.
One thing is for sure: we can’t predict the future. But we can prepare for it.
How? By learning new things, enjoying new experiences, and maybe even taking my advice from this post and traveling if you don’t already do so.
If you live in America on a visa, you’re not at your peak. And that’s a good thing.
Your best is yet to come.
Thanks for reading.
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