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When I visited New York City for the first time…

– Is this a hotel address?

– So, as I mentioned earlier, it’s an apartment address.

I had already explained to the immigration agent that the address on the form was referring to an apartment in Jersey City, where my boyfriend was already staying for a few days. Maybe my answer sounded outrageous, but when he asked me the same question a second time, it was really the only – and most spontaneous – answer I could give. Make no mistake, I said it with a smile on my face. Today I understand that maybe he was trying to catch me in contradiction, after all, we know that immigration agents are trained to be like that, right? Anyway, he let me go, I grabbed my luggage and headed to the arrivals area.

August 16, 2013. It was the day I visited the United States for the first time.

Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t grow up dreaming about visiting Disney, nor did I imagine myself walking on the streets of New York City. Yes, I’ve watched all the classic movies and the TV series. But I just didn’t have this latent desire to visit the country. The truth is, I didn’t choose to visit New York, it just happened. I didn’t plan it, it wasn’t in my dreams or on my bucket list. My boyfriend came to work for a few weeks and invited me. I didn’t have to pay for a hotel and I had a job that allowed me some flexibility,  so I thought, why not? Funny to think how such a big change in my life started in such a casual, unusual, and totally unexpected way.

I still remember all the people at the airport lounge and not seeing Thiago’s face in the middle of that small crowd after looking for a while. He had arrived 10 days earlier and would be waiting for me at the airport. I confess that I freaked out a little bit when I didn’t find him, but, you know, Brazilians always find Brazilians and I soon got help. A girl with balloons approached me asking where I was coming from – she was expecting a visit from her boyfriend, who was on the same flight as mine. I realized she was Brazilian and she ended up lending me her phone. I called Thiago and he was on his way, late. He took the Path, subway, and Airtrain to get to JFK, since he was staying, as I said, in Jersey City.

We took the exact same route back and I still remember the feeling I had when I first saw the city for the first time, officially. We arrived at Penn Station and exited on Eighth Avenue to walk to the Path station, I saw the yellow cabs in the middle of that crowd and I thought: I’m in New York. It was the first photo I took in the city, from those times when Instagram was more spontaneous, there were no stories or Snapchat, and we were happy with the app’s filters. When we arrived in Jersey City, at one of the highest floors of that corporate apartment building, I saw the city skyline from the window. Looking a little farther to the side, small but recognizable, was the Statue of Liberty. I had that feeling for the second time. Yeah, I was in New York.

Those 10 following days were incredible. It was summer, it was hot, the days were long. I spent most of those days by myself, as Thiago was working. On the two weekends we had together during my period in the city, we did a lot together, but on other days I was on my own. We walked through Central Park, we saw the city from the Empire State Building and from the Top of the Rock, I got frustrated with the view of the Staten Island Ferry and then couldn’t hide my smile as I came face to face with Lady Liberty on our Water Taxi ride. I bought my first Mac lipstick, fulfilled my dream of beauty maniac, and visited dozens of drugstores, as well as Forever 21 stores. I tried different foods, stopped by Times Square a few times, went to see Carrie’s apartment, asked for several strangers to take my photos, lay on the grass in High Line Park, got lost on the subway just once, got anxious in restaurant lines because I didn’t know what to order, I tested my English levels all the time, and visited Brooklyn Bridge while remembering Miranda and Steve’s scene in Sex and the City. I didn’t have an itinerary, I just had a small list of places I wanted to visit and I had no idea of ​​the size of the city, the meaning of Uptown or Downtown, nor did I measure the size of Brooklyn – and maybe I didn’t even know about the existence of Queens and The Bronx. But I did it. I explored a city as a child who explores unknown places, I had no set times and I felt so happy to see myself doing decently in a city so big and that can be intimidating for so many people. But not for me.

New York didn’t intimidate me. Quite the opposite. New York seduced me and got me quickly. Perhaps today I wouldn’t fall in love that easily, but maybe it was something bigger that made me suddenly having an uncontrollable desire to experience more of that place that fascinated me so much at first sight. The energy? The noise? The lights? The freedom I felt? Perhaps I fell in love with my version in those far-off lands. Or maybe I fell in love with the possibilities that my mind was already dreaming about. I had no idea what living abroad meant, I just wanted to live it. I felt prepared, I was excited to have new experiences, and suddenly I decided that if I was going to live abroad, then it had to be in that city.

Make no mistake: it wasn’t easy to pack my stuff and get rid of everything I had – and who I was. But that’s what they say: if you can’t beat fear, do it scared.

It’s been 8 years since I visit this city for the first time, fell in love with it, and encouraged my boyfriend to get a job here. The rest, you know, is history. Although the days as a tourist are far from the reality of a resident and immigrant, I couldn’t help myself but celebrate this date. I had no idea how a life far from everything I was familiar with would look like, nor did I imagine that in a few years I would be giving tips to thousands of tourists who dreamed of visiting the city. But I do know one thing: I am very grateful to that Laura, who, like someone really innocent who did not know the difficulties of getting a visa – and the whole migratory path we face along with all the challenges of being a foreigner – spoke up about that latent desire that suddenly gripped her.

“What if you got a job here?” – I said to Thiago, right after some days in NYC.

[…] a realistic answer.

“But so what, it doesn’t hurt to try, if it doesn’t work we can try something else” – I said when he told me that getting a visa was difficult.

Glad I didn’t know. In certain situations, optimism and hope get more space when we have no idea of the difficulties involved. My goal after that trip was to start planning my move to Porto Alegre and live with Thiago. None of that happened. Nothing was the same after that trip in August 2013.

Yes, he was the one who got a job here, but the merit of this achievement belongs to both of us, a team aligned with the same goals. We supported each other at all times.

Big changes in our lives can also happen from the most unexpected situations. That Laura had no idea what she was going to live through, and maybe she’d be scared if she knew some of these things. If I could say something to her, it would be:

  • Try caring less about what others think of you. What they think or don’t think about you doesn’t define who you are;
  • Learn a little more about business and strategies, you know, creative people tend to leave this part out;
  • Buy a decent winter coat right away, I know you think they’re ugly, but you’ll end buying one, believe me;
  • Exercise;
  • Wake up early, it’s a matter of habit;
  • Immigration is not an easy path, but the Green Card will arrive;
  • Celebrate small achievements – this text is a celebration!

Finally: You will change so much that you may not even believe it…but above all, remember: it will be worth it.

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