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!
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 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.
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. Click To Tweet
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?