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:

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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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Five Tough Questions to Ask Yourself Before Moving Abroad

Be honest…you’ve wondered.

Your life.

Your new life.

You’ve wondered if you have what it takes to succeed in another country.

Moving to a new country is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Each country has its own laws, regulations, and rules to follow. I still remember how nervous I felt when I decided to go abroad for college. And that was more than a decade ago.

Every simple detail made me anxious. I doubted myself.

Am I filling out my forms correctly?

How should I answer questions when I’m applying for my visa?

What if my visa gets rejected?

All of my doubts about moving came from not knowing what to expect.

By asking yourself these questions – and answering honestly – you will either be closer to removing any doubts you have about moving abroad, or you’ll save yourself some time and money if you decide that moving abroad isn’t the best decision for the current phase of your life.

 

Do you know why you’re going abroad?

Before we can even get into specific details about moving abroad you need to ask yourself a very honest question:

Why are you moving abroad?

Most people move abroad for one of three main reasons: work, education, or family.

Your reason for moving abroad would likely be one of those.

Yes, there are more exciting reasons for moving abroad: to fulfill your dreams, and goals, among many other reasons. But pursuing success is made possible through gateways like work, education, and family.

Today, another option is to take time off from responsibilities to travel as a tourist for a couple of months, even hopping from country to country and not being restricted to one place. This article focuses on moving abroad for relatively long periods of time (and vacations don’t count).

 

How long do you plan to stay?

Ok, so you know why you’re moving abroad.

That’s a great first step.

But do you know how long you plan to stay once you move abroad?

The length of your move abroad depends mainly on how long you’re allowed to stay in your country of choice. Visas provide the permission and the proof needed for your move. Some countries don’t require visas for short visits (usually under 90 days). But during that time, you aren’t allowed to go to school or work. So it’s best to know why you’ve moving abroad – it will help you determine how long you can stay.

If you know why you’re moving abroad, then it’s important to check with the embassy in your home country before moving for requirements that exist for your reason for moving abroad.

 

Do you want visitors?

Settling into a new place takes time. When moving to a new city or country, you have to get used to the customs, food, and culture wherever you decide to move. During that time, you’ll likely get homesick.

At this stage, you haven’t yet boarded the plane for the official start of your move abroad. But after a few weeks living abroad, you might miss your old way of life. You might miss your friends and family. You might miss little things about home that made you happy.

Visitors can help you to cope with being homesick. Knowing if you want visitors and when they can visit you will give you something to look forward to, and help you avoid feeling homesick.

If you know that you want visitors, but it will be difficult or expensive for a visit, you can also consider going home for a visit on your first vacation if you moved abroad for work, or long break if you moved abroad for school.

 

Who will you call in an emergency?

Unexpected events happen all the time. While it’s good to be prepared as much as possible, it’s hard to plan for an emergency.

You might miss the last bus.

You might miss a flight, and have no money left.

Or worse, you might get injured.

Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. By definition, an emergency is unexpected. What do you plan to do in an emergency?

In America, when you fill out important documents, you are often asked for an “Emergency Contact” or “Beneficiary.” If something unfortunate happens while you’re abroad, it’s a good idea to know who you can call in an emergency. You can call a family member. Depending on the type of emergency, it might be better to have someone to call whom you trust and lives close by when you move abroad.

How will you cope with setbacks and failure?

You’ve already imagined yourself living abroad.  Everything is great.

But then something unexpected happens. It’s bigger than an emergency. It can’t be fixed in one day.

You lose a scholarship that you need. You fail an important class. You didn’t get a promotion you earned. Or worse, you lost your job. And your visa is attached to it. You feel as though you’ve failed. You might even want to move back home.

How will you handle challenges when you move abroad?

Are you the kind of person who can rebound quickly after a setback? Or does it take you some time to cope or “get over it?”

Before you move abroad, it is helpful to define your work ethic, habits, and personality. Any setbacks or failures you suffer abroad may come as a surprise, but knowing how to bounce back can help turn the experience into a valuable lesson. More importantly, it might help you to continue on with your journey of moving abroad to pursue success.

***

These are tough questions to answer. You may not have all the answers now, and you don’t need to have them right now. But take a couple of hours to write out answers to each of them. You’ll not only be more prepared for your big move abroad, but you’ll be more determined as well. Answering these questions – and others that you might have – are what you need to answer to remove any doubts you have about moving abroad.

Are there other questions you’ve been asking yourself about moving abroad? What do you want to know?

 

Thanks for reading.

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