Making It As An Immigrant
Updated: Mar 22
I have been in New York for 11 years. Gavin and I won green cards in the green card lottery. It’s part of the United States diversity visa program where 50,000 people win each year. We had entered the lottery and forgot about it. It was our anniversary and Gavin came home with an envelope. I thought, “Wow, a gift certificate!” It was a letter from immigration saying we won green cards.
Soon after, Gavin was offered a job and we decided to come to New York for a year or two. We thought it would be an adventure. We left South Africa in 1994, and afterward lived all over Australia and New Zealand. Gavin worked for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We had great outback adventures, living off the beaten track in places like Tasmania, an island off Australia, coal mining towns and South Island, New Zealand. Gavin has fascinating stories about performing surgeries on patients with the base hospital on the phone and a nurse holding open a text book. He was also often the link with remote communities. On route to holding clinics, he would have to get mail, videos, stop at the pharmacy and taxi rank. The doctor is the lifeblood of these places. We eventually lived in bigger communities including Sydney. After completing my MBA, I chose to take off time before going corporate to start up a young professional Jewish outreach organization.
In 2000, we arrived in New York and I was sad to leave behind everything that I had built in Sydney. After living in nine cities and five countries, including Israel and England, before I got married, I knew that arriving somewhere and making it feel like home would take a long time. Feeling settled is more than having a job, a house and the phone line connected. It is knowing your way around without a map. It’s bumping into someone you know at the supermarket or knowing which hairdresser to go to. It’s also not feeling invisible at a shul kiddish.
So there I was in June 2000. I had just arrived in New York and Gavin was meeting me after work on Day Two in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying (thanks to Cheap Hotels). I had been traveling and had an infection in my foot and I needed to see a doctor. I called the doctor’s room from the hotel lobby and the receptionist asked for my zip code. I did not know it. Gavin found me sobbing in the lobby. I realized that I had left an established life of friends, influence and stability and was starting from the bottom. I did not even know my zip code.
Objectively, over the last 11 years, we have achieved a lot. We have friends, influence, stability and jobs. After all our travels, we have lived in the same home for 10 years, had three kids and we have a dog too. I have created JICNY, launched Metroimma and co-founded jdeal. I have 12,000 contacts in my outlook. The NY Daily News even did a piece on us on immigrants who have made it in New York.
Yet I am still an immigrant trying to make it. Last week we had a major issue that we needed to solve. Someone asked if I could ask my parents or family for help. I replied, “Um, no, they live a 17-hour flight away. And, no, neither of us have any family in the country.”
Immigrants are known to be tenacious and tough. Last week’s Cranes Magazine stated that 58 percent of small businesses are owned by immigrants. WE have endurance and persistence. However, that being said, 11 years later we are still immigrants trying to truly feel at home.
Metroimmas, please share your stories of adapting to and making it in the United States…
Originally published: November 2, 2011