Ten Lessons from 10 Years Spent on American Visas

10 years.

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.

show-up-year-1

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.

Really 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.

The problem?

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.

Why?

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.

travel-year-6

Start small.

Save.

Find a good deal.

And go.

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.

reading-books-year-8

I had to change my approach. I couldn’t read harder or magically focus.

I needed help.

Help wanted.

Help found.

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.

 

Photo Links:

Jacob Owens on Unsplash

Dakota Corbin on Unsplash

Jeshoots.com on Unsplash

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Are You Making These Mistakes When You Move to America?

Admit it… you’re excited.

Your American visa was approved? Check.

Plane ticket bought? Check.

Bags packed? Check.

Now you wait.

If you’re a foreign national, everybody gets excited at the thought of moving to America. Even for a short period of time.

Yes, there are moments of anxiety and fear. But for the most part, moving abroad to start a new chapter in your life – or try to start a completely new life – is a very exciting experience.

If you’re planning to move to America as a non-immigrant, you likely have list of goals you want to accomplish, things you want to do, or places to visit. And while it’s good to focus on positive aspects to make your move a success, it’s also a good idea to know pitfalls to avoid that can ruin your experience.

Here are three critical mistakes to avoid so you can make the best of your experience after you move to America, whether you are on an immigrant or non-immigrant visa.

Mistake #1: Not Understanding American Culture

North.

South.

East Coast.

West Coast.

And then there’s the Midwest.

Having lived in America for more than 10 years as a non-immigrant, I’m still learning about each part of the country, either from friends or by visiting different states in the US. Each part of America has an identity, customs, and culture.

It’s a lot to understand as a foreigner.

But while most people who move to America come from countries with a culture that is quite different, that’s normal. There’s no “mistake” in a difference between cultures.

The mistake I see most foreign nationals make when they move to America? They don’t make the effort to understand the culture.

They don’t make an effort to understand their adopted home (for however long they are visiting).

In short, they don’t make an effort to fit in.

Trying to fit in doesn’t mean that you’re trying to be someone else; far from it. Fitting in means being open to new experiences, especially experiences that are different from what you’re used to seeing.

If you fail to understand American culture when you move abroad, it could ruin your experience.

Mistake #2: Not keeping in touch

When moving to America from another country, the jetlag sets in for the first few days depending on how far you are from your home country. Even in America, there are at least seven time zones.

When you first move to the US, the time difference might make it difficult to call home to talk to friends and family in your home country. Jetlag makes it even harder. But there are tons of remedies to overcome jetlag and adjust to a regular schedule when you move to America. There aren’t a lot of remedies for the time difference because that exists for as long as you live in America, far away from your home country.

The mistake I see foreign nationals making is failing to keep in touch with family and friends. It’s really hard to keep in touch when you’re wide awake, but your family and friends are asleep because of the time difference.

To give you an idea of time differences:

  • Paris, France is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST) in America.
  • Mumbai, India is 9.5 hours ahead of EST.
  • Shanghai, China is 12 hours ahead of EST.
  • Sydney, Australia is 14 hours ahead of EST.

So depending on your home country, time zone differences can be a huge challenge for any plans you make to keep in touch with your friends and family.

Mistake #3: Ignoring immigration laws

American Immigration laws are complicated.

There are many types of American visas, both for immigrants and non-immigrants.

And depending on your home country, you might have more steps to follow to obtain your visa and remain in compliance once you’ve landed in America.

A big mistake that foreign nationals make when they move to America is that they ignore immigration laws. While the laws are complex, you will always have resources available to help you understand what you are allowed and not allowed to do depending on your visa.

If you’re an international student, you have access to international affairs officers at your college/university who work almost exclusively with international students and scholars. Knowing the law is important. For example, as a student, you’re required to maintain full-time enrollment. Being a full-time student is determined usually by the number of course credits you take when in college/university. If you don’t have enough course credits, you may fall out of compliance with the terms of your visa.

If you’re an employee on a non-immigrant visa, your HR department will work with you to provide all forms you need as long as you remain an employee. But you can’t use your work visa for one company to work for another company.

Ignoring U.S. immigration laws is a big mistake that foreign nationals make but it can be easily fixed.

 

 

Avoid these three mistakes when you move to America and you’ll have a much easier time adjusting to your new life.

 

Thanks for reading.

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If You’re Not Doing These Things, Your Visa Application Never Stood a Chance

Mistakes happen.

Some you can correct. Others, you can’t.

It gets annoying when you make mistakes that could have been avoided with very little effort.

Having studied, worked, and lived in America for more than 10 years as a non-immigrant, I’ve filled out quite a few applications and forms during my time here. Some are basic applications. Others are really important. The most important application I have filled out in America has been for my non-immigrant visa.

[America is strict when it comes to applying for a visa AND getting the visa before you land in the country. Other countries aren’t as strict, and will let you apply for a visa on arrival]

Applying for a visa is boring.

It’s tedious.

It’s nerve-wracking.

But every year or so, I have to do it to remain in compliance.

That’s the case for millions of non-immigrants living in America legally. Applying for a visa requires a form with lots of pages, and copies of important documents. It doesn’t even matter what kind of visa you’re applying for.

Every day, many people who submit applications for an American visa their application approved. Unfortunately, many people get their application rejected or denied. There are many reasons why a visa application may be denied.

To avoid having your visa application denied, it helps to control the factors you can control.

One of the biggest factors is filling out your application correctly.

In my 10 years of applying for visas and renewals, I learned the importance of my past. Not in a philosophical way. I mean my past LITERALLY.  

Below you’ll find the most critical actions you can take to ensure you:

Fill out your visa application forms correctly

Avoid having your visa application denied

 

Make Lists

Most application forms for American visas ask about your current status. This covers your address, your contact information in America, and details about your family.

Then it gets tricky.

To fill in your visa application form correctly the first list you make should be a record of your travel history.

 

Know Your Travel History

When foreign nationals travel to America, a record is kept on a form called the Form I-94 or Arrival-Departure Record Card. In the past, the traveler filled out a paper form – part of the form was the arrival record, and another part was the departure record. Each time a foreign national landed in America, the Customs and Border officer kept the arrival record, and the traveler kept the departure record for the next time s/he exited America for any reason.

Now, the Form I-94 is available as a website, and travelers do not need to enter any of their details for it. Lucky for you, you can access your arrival and departure history of entering and leaving America through the I-94 website. It’s easy to use. So, you won’t really have to make a list of your travel history. The I-94 website makes the list for you!

To use the website, all you need to do is enter your name, date of birth, and passport details.

Then it shows your travel history for the United States.

This website is REALLY helpful when filling out an application form for an American visa.

Why?

The website has a record of your arrival in and departure from America. This isn’t useful only for visa applications. It’s also helpful for filing America tax returns. Some American tax forms for foreign nationals ask for the number of days spent in the US in a particular year. This requires knowing each trip taken that resulted in exiting and entering America. That’s an article for another time.

While the I-94 website is very helpful, it can also cause problems.

How?

If you enter your information correctly and your travel history shows up, a date may be missing.

Or you may have traveled many years ago before the I-94 website existed.

If any of your travel dates are missing from the I-94 website, it is up to you to remember those dates in case you need it for your visa application form or if the visa officer at the US embassy asks about your previous travel.

TIP 1: Keep your expired passports. If your Form I-94 is missing any dates, go through your passports and find the stamps that show when you arrived or exited the US.
TIP 2: Use an app for your digital boarding passes. You will always have your travel history at your fingertips. There is an iOS app and an Android app for keeping boarding passes.

 

The next list you should make covers your job history.

Know Your Job History

What were you doing a year ago?

Five years ago?

Did you get promoted? When?

Our memory can betray us sometimes.

When it comes to visa application forms, it’s important to keep track of your job history.

An easy way to remember your job history is to take a look at your resume. Most people use their resume to list every job they’ve ever had.

That can be a good thing when it comes to applying for a non-immigrant visa for America.

But your resume might only be helpful if you remember to update it. Most people create their resume in the traditional way – on paper. Now, there are tons of apps that help you to create a modern version of your resume. It doesn’t matter what method you use to create your resume, as long as you have one.

TIP:  Linkedin is one of the most widely used websites/apps for professionals. It’s an easy way to keep your resume updated by entering the date and your title of each position.

Make a list of these two things – your travel and job history – and you’ll save time applying for your non-immigrant visa, fill out your forms correctly, and increase the chances of your visa application being approved.

 

Thanks for reading.

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