True Story: I Immigrated To The United States

What's it like to immigrate to the United States? How much does it cost? How long does it take? One woman shares her story!
What’s it like to immigrate to the United States? How long does it take? How much does it cost? These are questions most of us have but are too polite to ask. Below, Gala Darling shares her immigration story!
Tell us about where you grew up.
I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s one of those places which is really beautiful, but as a teenager with big eyes and perpetual curiosity about the world, is never enough. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand & it’s small, the population is only about 400,000.
My home was in Eastbourne, which is about an hour from the city by bus. All I really remember from my teenage years is catching that bus and listening to Bauhaus on my DiscMan. Then I’d spend hours wandering from Lambton Quay to Willis Street to Manners Mall to Cuba Mall to Courtenay Place.

When did you first begin to think about living someplace other than New Zealand?

I feel like I had always known that NZ was not where I want to live. Actually, as a child who read a lot of Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club books, I felt cheated by the fact that I didn’t live in America! I didn’t know what a Twinkie tasted like and I was mad about it!

All those crazy American traditions, like cheerleading squads and sororities and drive-in movies, were larger than life. I wanted so badly to be part of it! I think I knew it was only a matter of time until I peeled out.

What was is about The United States that appealed to you?

It seemed like it had a really strong youth culture. I lived in such a small place and found it difficult to meet people who I clicked with. I suppose I thought that if I lived in a bigger city, the odds would be better.

Plus, all the books I read (I was a huge bookworm) made it sound like the best place on earth. I would say that Judy Blume, Francine Pascal and Ann M. Ryan have a lot to answer for!

How old were you the first time you visited? What do you remember about that trip?

I was 7. My parents took me to Disneyland and then Hawaii. I remember my parents buying me a Minnie Mouse which was so big I could hardly carry it. I remember going to Toys ‘R’ Us & MARVELING at the scope of the place.

I remember seeing a guy sitting in the back of a pick-up truck holding a rifle. (?!) We went just after the riots in L.A., and my parents’ friend drove us through some of the areas which had been affected. I remember burnt out shops and smashed windows and not understanding at all.

When did you decide to actively pursue living in the U.S.? Why?

I came back to the States when I was 22. I spent time in San Francisco, attended Burning Man in Nevada, and stayed in New York City for about a week.

When I stepped out of the cab in NYC, I instantly felt like I was home. I had never felt anything like it. I loved it so much and the thought of moving to Australia (which was my plan) didn’t excite me at all. I wanted to be in NYC!

Anyway, a year and a half passed and I found myself back in New York. My boyfriend at the time and I had come over for a party (also, to celebrate his birthday). A week later, he had to go to London for work and I decided to stay in the States for the three months I was allowed on my generic travel visa.

After about another week, I decided to get a proper visa so I could stay for good.

Tell us about the immigration/visa/green card process. How difficult is it? Where are you in that process? Are you interested in becoming a citizen?

It actually wasn’t as horrifying as it could have been. I have heard the most hideous stories about people trying to immigrate, and my experience was really a walk in the park. I did some research on immigration lawyers online, and went to meet one for a consultation. He told me it would cost $3000 in legal fees (not including application fees, etc.), payable in two parts: $1500 up front & $1500 when I got the visa.

It took me ages to get the money together, and also I was being really lazy about it. Anyway, eventually I scraped up the funds and started collecting press clippings, reference letters, etc. I came out at the other end with an O-1 Visa, for “Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement”. Fancy.

My visa means I am able to stay here for three years. I don’t know if I’d want to become a citizen, but I’d love to have residency. I haven’t done a lot of research into the differences yet. All I know is that it’s important for me to hold onto my passports from New Zealand and the United Kingdom!

Tell us about the process of adapting to life in America. What are the biggest cultural differences that you’ve noticed? Are people constantly freaking out over your accent?

The major thing I’ve noticed about the USA is that men behave really differently here. In New Zealand or Australia, you’re often not sure if a guy likes you or just wants to be your friend. It’s another story here! Men in America are SO forthcoming! They’re really into the pursuit and the chase, and making a big deal over you. I think antipodean men are much more laid back, almost to the point of passivity.

People, generally, are more outgoing here, or at least more outspoken. Maybe it’s just New York City, but sometimes it seems like everyone in the street wants to talk to you or give you a compliment. It’s awesome. In New Zealand, people ignore one another. Haha! No, they don’t really, but NZers are generally much more shy and reserved.

American television gives me The Fear. I live with my boyfriend and we just cancelled our cable subscription, which is the best thing ever. I feel like watching the commercials is enough to do anyone’s head in! It’s so aggressive and fear-mongering and repulsive!

Yes, people freak out over my accent all the time :>

What are your favorite cities in America? Favorite foods? Traditions?
New York City forever! I also really like Austin and Los Angeles, even though it is insane (and I don’t drive).  I love Las Vegas, too. I’d love to explore the South more. Actually I’m dying to do a roadtrip all over the States! I would love to load up an old car with my boyfriend and dogs and hit the road, Jack.

What advice would you give to someone who’s considering immigrating to another country?

One thing I learned when I moved to Australia from New Zealand was that changing country isn’t just about the physicality. You have to be open to discarding things you were used to or familiar with, and embracing new things.

My ex-boyfriend and I would have regular tantrums, for example, when we had a craving for fish and chips. (It’s just not the same in Australia!) Really though, that energy would have been better spent embracing something new that thrilled us just as much.

It's natural to crave the things you associate with home, but that doesn't do you any favors. Share on X

You just have to keep evolving. Your life has changed and that’s a wonderful thing! Keep your eyes on the horizon!

Have any of you ever lived (long-term) in another country? Any questions for Gala?

P.S. True Story: I’m Undocumented + True Story: I Immigrated to America … And Then Moved Back To My Home Country

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  1. Corrine/Frock And Roll

    Great interview, Sarah! I'm also originally from Wellington, New Zealand (I moved to Sydney in Australia ten years ago!), and although I love Australia, I *definitely* feel the occasional homesick pangs to return to where I grew up. But on a side, slightly unrelated note, I now feel massively clever for learning that Gala lived in Eastbourne – I saw one of her photos once on Flickr and thought I recognised that beautiful suburb!

  2. balancejoyanddelicias

    I'm a immigrant too, first from China to Argentina and then from Argentina to US. I can totally feel related to Gala's story 🙂

  3. natalie

    i was a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan from 1998-2000 and it was amazing. it really became home to me. i love Gala's point of embracing something new instead of dwelling on what you miss – a good thing to remember in many situations, i think!

  4. Sarah

    If you explore the south, come in the fall when the leaves change. The mountains here are beautiful!

  5. miss morgan p

    I moved from the US to London at 18, and have lived there since! I'm just on a 4-year student visa but I want residency so badly… To me it's essential to spend time abroad in order to understand what it means to be American/British/from-wherever; it's something best seen by contrast.

  6. Erin

    I love what she said about television. I AGREE. =)

    Someday I'd like to live long-term in another country…England, perhaps…

  7. Kate

    This makes me incredibly happy because I've been meaning to send her an email for a while asking her all about the process and which visa she got as I wish to immigrate to the United States at some point in the future, however I don't think I quite count as an individual with extraordinary ability or achievement 😛

  8. Anonymous

    i am an Australian living in Liberia, West Africa. Which is i think is as far away – both geographically and culturally – as possible.

    I often miss home, but when i do go home (about once a year) i miss West Africa. Am worried i am destined to always want what i cannot have…

  9. Luinae


    I've immigrated to three different countries in my life- AND I'm only 14, and it's always a wild ride. All were English speaking, but the culture shock is always there, no matter what. Four countries in fourteen years has been very stressful.

    • JessB

      Yikes! I’d love to hear more about this story!

  10. Kim

    Really interesting read! Thanks for sharing your story, Gala!

  11. Raquel

    Good interview! I currently live in Wellington, NZ, but I grew up in 8(!) different countries and I've visited 28 more. Immigrating can be stressful, wonderful, weird and confusing, but thanks to my Mum's penchant for packing up every few years, I know how it's done. I plan to leave New Zealand at the end of next year again.

  12. Anonymous

    I really enjoyed this interview. I'm currently in the process of emigrating to Canada from the UK. Gala's story has really inspired me, and now my boyfriend and I will be starting a new life in the future! Exciting! Pancakes, ice hockey, poutine – here I come!

    Congratulations to Gala for being so brave and lucky her, she sounds like she is having an awesome time! x

  13. The Pieces

    My two favourites together at last! Such a good article and interesting too, thanks girls:) I have never totally moved overseas but I have lived in Canda and the USA for over a year on a working holidays. I recently moved across to Melbourne from Western Australia which I hope to be permenant xo

  14. Brilliancee

    I'm the exact opposite! I moved from USA to New Zealand. My dad is American, my mom is Kiwi and I've been living here for 6 years and just about to finish university.

  15. Fi

    Great article, but did you possibly mean "I immigrated TO the United States"?

  16. Sandra

    I moved from Germany to Australia 5 years ago. And even though it was a tough ride in the beginning it was worth it.
    Living in another country especially one where you are forced to speak a foreign language opens your horizon and turns you into a completely differnt person.

  17. Talley Images

    I find all this fascinating… especially since Ive lived in the deep south my whole life (love to have dinner if you visit us, Gala!)thank Gala for sharing

  18. Anonymous

    Ann M. Ryan? I thought it was Martin

  19. Aimi

    I liked this a lot, especially since I'd like to make the opposite move: the US to Wellington, New Zealand. Haha. It's been really hard to get the money together.

  20. alaine

    I love New York too but it's hard to be say from family.

  21. Alaine

    Er away from family

  22. kylie

    Thats an emazing story

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