It’s time I interview somebody from my own country – Germany. I thought long and hard about who would be a worthy representative with an interesting story and I found a great candidate: Meet Mike from Bavaria.
Mike, where are you from originally?
My home town is Senden in Bavaria, Germany.
How long have you been living in the United States?
My wife Sabine and I moved to Chicago in 1995 and then to Charlotte in 2005.
Why did you decide to move to America?
I always wanted to at least work for a few years outside Germany. When I was looking for a new job at the end of 1994, the opportunity came up to work in the USA. So I joined the team of the US subsidiary of a German machine manufacturer in Chicago.
How did you get your visa/greencard/citizenship?
Initially, the intent was to stay for a few years and so the company I was working for applied for a H1 visa for my wife and me. Such visas are good for 3 years and can be extended once for another 3 years. After being in the USA for about 1 and a half years, we started the Greencard application process. It took nearly 4 and a half years to get this approved and we received our Greencards with less than a month left on our H1 visas.
Eventually, we will also apply for citizenship, but when we do so, my wife and I also want to maintain our German citizenships.
What was the most difficult part of your immigration?
The most trying time was certainly when we waited for our Greencards. It seemed to take forever and the uncertainty with the time expiring on our visas was difficult to bear.
How did your family do during the transition?
My wife Sabine gave up her job and due to limitations with the H1 visa could not get a work permit in the USA. So she made the best of it by first attending English classes at a local language school and then she went to a local college and got a degree in Office Administration. Once we got our Greencards, she was well prepared and ready to get back to work.
You’ve been living here for a while. What do you like the most?
I like the fact that there are far less rules and regulations. The people here are far less concerned about tomorrow and they are not afraid to try new things. The attitude here is “everything that is not explicitly forbidden, is allowed” and change is mostly met with a “why not” attitude. While in Germany the prevailing notion is that everything new is bad and that everything that is not explicitly allowed is strictly forbidden.
Is there anything that you miss from home other than family?
As a Bavarian I missed good beer for a long time. Luckily, I have had plenty opportunities to travel back to Germany on business and for family visits. And since about 4 years, we have the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery here in Charlotte. They brew excellent beers based on the German purity law and have also a nice beer garden that offers brats and pretzels. A place like heaven on earth for a Bavarian like me.
What techniques worked best for you to learn English?
What “helped” my wife and I the most was that during our first years in Chicago, we really did not meet any Germans. So other than at home, we had to speak English all the time. And at home, we always had the TV running. My wife loves cooking and baking shows and I am a home improvement junkie. Another “technique” is watching movies in English that we had seen before dubbed in German. Since you know the context and story line it is much easier to focus on the language. Plus you can easily pick up slang that you would never learn at school.
Looking back at your migration to the U.S., would you have done anything differently?
Knowing what I know now especially in regards to visa regulations, I would have tried to get an E2 visa instead of an H1. Since I was in a managerial position, it would have made the path to a Greencard much easier and my wife Sabine could have gotten a work permit right away.
Can you give other immigrants any advice about life in the USA?
Learn English before you get to the USA and be extremely open to the fact that things are different here than compared to especially Germany. It may not seem like that at first but once you have been here for a while it becomes very obvious. Home ownership, health insurance, schools, etc. all function different from anywhere else. And for anyone who has children, I highly suggest to make sure that they grow up speaking English and their native language. Speaking multiple languages is a huge asset for a successful career.