Advice You Really Shouldn’t Follow: Moving to the United States

January 29, 2014


Hey, remember when people used to write me, asking me for advice, and I would give it to them right here on this blog.

It’s been a while since that happened, huh?

You probably thought this was because people stopped asking me for advice. This would make sense, really. I mean, this is ME we’re talking about here. People really shouldn’t be asking me for advice of any kind about any topic. Except maybe cookies. And, even then, my wisdom is kind of limited. Like, I can’t tell you how to bake cookies. Or even how to stop people from putting raisins in them.

But, it turns out, people have been emailing me for advice. I just keep forgetting to answer them, and then I come across their emails in my inbox weeks later.

In my defense, I get a lot of emails everyday. I mean at least five or six. And, at least one of those is addressed to me and not to some mysterious “Webmaster” or “Sir/Madam.”

So, yeah.

I suck.

But to help rectify the situation, here is an email I got from a reader some three weeks ago that I’m finally going to answer. Because, as they say, better late than never! (Well, maybe given the fact that this is ME giving advice, it might just be better to go with never.)

Hello! My name is Maria and I am from Spain, I am a long time reader of your blog (back to when you were living in China).

I have been thinking about writing to you for advice for your advice column for a long time. See, during the time that I have been reading your blog I have found that I am very similar to you: I act like a scaredy cat in most situations in my life, but I manage to experience them anyway.

The reason why I have decided to write to you is because I am going through a very hard time in my life right now (facing breakup, depression…) and I have decided that my life deserves a change. I live in Madrid, Spain, and currently finishing my university degree. I was thinking of moving to the United States right after.

For me, the United States represents travel and love (the mentioned boy is from over there), which fits my dreams perfectly. But I am afraid I have a vision of the US that might not be real. What I wanted to know is, is the United States as good as it seems from the outside? Is it full of chances? Open minded? Do people go through life and move on from things more easily than elsewhere? How hard is it to make new friends? How hard is it to get a job if you are not American?

Well, hola, Maria! I know we don’t have a lot of time to waste seeing as you have already been waiting, like, a million-billion Internet years for me to answer your email, so I’m just going to get to the point and answer all the questions you asked in your last paragraph as quickly as possible.

So, here goes:

Errm, not sure.

Umm, maybe.

I guess?


Also, depends.

Really depends.

There you go! Aren’t you so glad you waited three weeks for that? Totally worth it, huh?

The thing is, Maria, I don’t know the answers to any of the questions you asked me.

I don’t know if the United States is going to be as great in reality as it is in your vision. I don’t know if you’ll be better off here than where you are now. I don’t know if it will help cure your depression or get you over that boy. I don’t know if you’ll meet cool, open-minded people or a bunch of close-minded jerk-faces. I don’t know if you’ll make friends or get a job.

Heck, I don’t even know if you should move to United States.

But I do know that you can.

And isn’t that what you’re really asking me?

Can you? Can you really do this big, bad, scary, crazy thing?

And the answer is YES.

YES, you can.

You can have this experience — just like you’ve been having all those other scary life experiences — all despite that scaredy cat voice who’s screaming from the corner of your soul, “Ahhhhh, what are you doing? STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”

But you know something about that scaredy cat voice?

She has no idea what she’s even talking about. Not one single clue. She doesn’t know who you are or what you’re capable of doing or where you’re capable of living.

You should never listen to her for advice.

She’s even worse than me at giving advice.

Although, she is a bit better at getting back to emails.

Okay, for reals, people, does anybody have some advice to give Maria — especially about, maybe, say, work visas or making friends in the US or something like that?
Also, do you have a problem you want to get some advice on and don’t mind waiting three weeks for it? Email me at unbravegirl at
Or, hey, maybe you want to get some advice from me in person? I’ll be speaking at Women’s Travel Fest in NYC this March. Come! Ask me questions! Watch me break out into hives and start crying because, AHHHH, PUBLIC SPEAKING!

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On January 29, 2014 at 10:26 pm Priya said:

    I know there’s a visa Maria can apply for to live and work in the US. I’m not sure what it’s called… I think it starts with a J. Also, the USA is a BIG place. Figuring out where in the USA is an important part of the process. (You probably shouldn’t move to the same /city as the boy. I don’t think it’s helpful to move somewhere because of a boy, especially if you’re trying to get over him.)
    Priya recently posted..Bleh Excuse Me While I Go Cough My Lungs Out. And A List Of Things I Learned From Being Sick This Week

  2. On January 30, 2014 at 4:05 am Hata Trbonja said:

    Hello ladies,
    I am a big fan of trying things out first. Maybe go for a month to see if you like it. Rent a vacation apartment somewhere and live like an American for a month or so. Maybe even do some job interviews while you are there. This is what I did before we moved to France. It really opens your eyes to what life is like in the US. Transportation, food, shopping, night life, blah blah blah. I hope it works out. Big hugs to you Maria.
    Hata Trbonja recently posted..Discovering Marie Antoinette

    • On February 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm Sally said:

      This is very practical advice, Hata. Sadly, I have never been the practical type. I tend to never try anything out first and instead just move to Brazil/China/Michigan without a whole lot of forethought. But, so far it’s worked… kind of. 🙂

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:12 pm Maria said:

      Thanks for the advice! I had thought about living there for a month or two to see what it’s like first.
      Hope life is going well in France! I love France and go there a lot, as it’s so near from here.

  3. On January 30, 2014 at 4:23 am Carmel said:

    Agree with both points above. The US is so diverse from region to region, so it’s a good idea to start doing some research on places that might fit your personality and style. Although, I LOVE Spain and can’t imagine anyone wanting to leave there, but you know, that’s me. 🙂
    Carmel recently posted..PAK OU CAVES

    • On February 1, 2014 at 12:06 pm Sally said:

      Haha. I thought the same thing while reading Maria’s email. “But, you live in SPAIN! You can have sangria and tapas whenever you want! Why would ever want to leave??” I probably would feel a bit different if I grew up there… or maybe not. I mean, SANGRIA AND TAPAS!

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm Maria said:

      Thank you! I’ll make sure to research the area of the country that suits me better.
      LOL! Sangria and tapas and the rest of Spanish food are one of the hardest things about leaving. x

  4. On January 30, 2014 at 7:42 am Ellen said:

    I concur that she should travel around first to get a sense of what its like and what she likes. For moving here, getting work authorization is a must and I do not know much about that. But for meeting people, she should plan on having roommates and consider cities/areas that tend to have a lot of people coming and going (NYC, DC, Detroit, etc., maybe LA) – I find that in those cities are easiest to make friends because most people have been new there at some point.
    Ellen recently posted..Quebec City – as cold as you would expect

    • On February 1, 2014 at 12:04 pm Sally said:

      I agree with your city suggestions — except for maybe Detroit. 🙂 I lived in DC for a couple years and it was a great place to make friends as so many people were also transplants there.

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:17 pm Maria said:

      It’s definitely a good idea to move to cities where there are new people! I have lived in a couple of small towns before where people didn’t come nor left and it was harder to make friends.
      Thank you! 🙂 x

  5. On January 30, 2014 at 10:16 am becky hutner said:

    Hi there Maria! As a Canadian living in the US with my British husband, I’m quite familiar with visas & the (mostly) joys of being here.

    There are many visa options, depending on your situation. Option #1 is a 3 month tourist visa during which time you could figure out next steps. Another option is enrolling in another degree program for a student visa. Depending on your education level & field, a US company might be willing to sponsor you for a work visa but those situations are hard to come by. Again, this is without knowing your background at all!

    Like Priya said, the US is huge so obviously your experience will vary significantly depending on where you choose to land. I’d be happy to offer some guidance on location & visas…just holler on this forum & perhaps we can exchange contact info.

    best of luck!
    becky hutner recently posted..Myanmar in 3 Anecdotes: Adventures in Transportation

    • On February 1, 2014 at 12:03 pm Sally said:

      Good suggestions, Becky!
      Another option for the student visa, in case you don’t want to enroll in a whole new degree program, is to enroll in an English language program — either at a university or with an English language school. These programs are usually a LOT cheaper than a degree program and are a great way to meet other people studying in the States. Only problem is that you usually can’t work while on a student visa.
      I was also thinking about maybe applying to be an au pair — I know a lot of young European women who have done this. I think the agencies usually help you with the work visa and finding a job. Only problem is if you don’t like kids or end up with a weird family!

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:20 pm Maria said:

      Hi Becky and Sally!
      I have looked at enrolling at a degree program but it’s so expensive so I may go for the tourist visa before figuring other things out. Enrolling in an English program or being an au pair is also a good idea! I have also heard of summer schools at universities which are also a lot cheaper and anybody can enroll.
      Becky I’ll write to you on the contact form on your blog in short, thanks for offering! x

  6. On January 30, 2014 at 12:14 pm Heather said:

    I’m all for taking a big leap of faith. I moved to NYC (from DC) without ever having been there before and without knowing a soul – simply because I wanted to live there. It ended up being the right move for me and I stayed for five incredible years. The first month was hard and I questioned my decision every day. I was lonely and missed my friends and family, but challenged myself to stick it out. It took me two months to make my first real friend so my advice would be to give it time and not to give up right away if you are unhappy or lonely. Also, it might be easier to find sponsorship for work in big international cities like NYC, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami.
    Heather recently posted..The Best Meals We Ate in NYC: Northern and Eastern Europe Edition

    • On February 1, 2014 at 11:56 am Sally said:

      Wow, I’m impressed you moved to NYC without ever having been there! Although, I guess that’s what I did when I moved to Kalamazoo… although Kalamazoo doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as NYC!
      And, yes, I agree making friends can take some time — especially in the States where people tend to be very outwardly friendly but take a while to actually become your friend. My students often complain about this — that Americans are really nice to them but they find it really hard to make American friends.

      • On February 3, 2014 at 5:23 pm Maria said:

        Thank you both for the feedback on American people! I didn’t know this feature! I have a few American friends but I can’t really tell from them how people are in the United States in general. x

  7. On January 30, 2014 at 3:52 pm Sine said:

    I loved this, Sally! I too have gotten many emails over the years (not counting the “dear sir” and “dear webmaster” ones) and have spent inordinate amounts of time diligently answering them. Giving answers to questions I couldn’t really answer. I like your approach, which is really the only truth there is – yes you can, but I can’t tell you whether you SHOULD. You have to figure that out all on your own. To Maria, the best of luck in Spain or the USA. Being an expat has been very rewarding to me, so by all means, I’d say take the plunge. But whether you’re going to be happy or not depends on what you make of it.
    Sine recently posted..A Shout-Out to Benoni

    • On February 1, 2014 at 11:53 am Sally said:

      So true! I have met lots of really happy expats and lots of really miserable expats and been one of each of those myself a few times. It’s all what you make of it.
      Although, admittedly, location does help. Big, international, fun city with lots of cool things to do and people to meet? Happy expat. Big, not-so-international, not-so-fun city with not a lot of cool things to do besides watching Hulu at home? Not so happy expat.

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm Maria said:

      Thank you both! I agree the decision can be very rewarding but depends on what you make of it. 🙂

  8. On January 30, 2014 at 7:41 pm Isabelle said:

    Thanks for letting us know about the Women Travel Fest, I had never heard of it. I had a look at the website and it seems great! I’ll check for flights… Need someone to share a room for the weekend?

  9. On January 31, 2014 at 6:02 am Krystal said:

    I agree with many of the women that have already posted. Look for life in a city, but look into the cities in the US and find one that you think you’ll love. I’ve lived in tiny town Kansas; New Orleans, LA; Sacramento, CA; and Houston, TX. From my experiences of moving to 3 new cities as a young adult without knowing a soul, it’s always difficult in the beginning. It’s knowing that you moved to that city for a reason that makes you willing to stick it out until you find those friends and activities that you enjoy.

    I highly suggest doing research before the move, but I also HIGHLY SUGGEST THE MOVE! There’s a LOT to see in the USA and there’s no better way than living here and taking trips whenever possible. I would suggest looking into cities with a lot of character like San Francisco, New Orleans, NYC, Boston, and Chicago. Best of luck, Maria!!!
    Krystal recently posted..Live Your Life!

    • On February 1, 2014 at 11:48 am Sally said:

      These are all great suggestions! Plus, with these big cities, there are a lot of people who moved there from another place. I’ve found those are some of the easiest places to make friends — where everybody else is kind of new and needs to make friends, too! Whereas, smaller cities or towns are a bit harder to make new friends in because a lot of people have grown up there and stayed there and already have lots of friends and family members there.

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm Maria said:

      I find the United States huge! I wonder if I finally go how I will make it to all the places I want to see! Thank you! x

  10. On January 31, 2014 at 9:56 am Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    I’d say to try it out first, and to NEVER make another person the primary reason to move to another country, unless you’re married/engaged/have been together a heck of a long time – the guy might be a different person in the US from the person he is in Spain.

    As for everything else, well, I guess it depends on where she’s moving to. New York is different from Mobile is different from Honolulu is different from Missoula.

    And you’re right, she shouldn’t listen to the scaredy-cat voice. If I’d have listened to mine, I’d never have taken the first steps to creating the life I have now. Nor would I have ended up eating an amazing bacon and egg sandwich thingie at a breakfast place where I couldn’t. read anything on the menu the other day
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Belgian Fries: Welcome To The Shack

    • On February 1, 2014 at 11:44 am Sally said:

      Totally agree with you about not moving for another person — unless you’ve been in a relationship with that person for a few years and you know who he/she is. Or, unless, they’re really, REALLY hot. Just kidding. Kind of. (P.S. I will totally move overseas for any Shang or Gilles Marini lookalikes. Just so you all know.)

    • On February 3, 2014 at 5:29 pm Maria said:

      Hello Tom! Thanks for the advice! I agree about the never moving for another person and I hope I remember that in the future. I follow your blog and wish you very good luck in your new life in Taipei!

  11. On February 3, 2014 at 5:15 am Ceri said:

    I always tell scaredy cat voice that I CAN move to the United States. It’s just US immigration that have say no. 😛
    Ceri recently posted..My Korean Bucket List

  12. On February 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm Montecristo Travels (Sonja) said:

    Like you said the US is a big place. Do you want to go where there will be some Spanish influence (say like … Florida…Miami?) or do you want a total change? Like say, deep snow and Mountains? It’s a tough call. Warm or cold? Trust me when I say that Spain has no IDEA of what the word cold means (I speak as a Canadian … I believe I have the right gage for cold it is -25C, that is -13F, today with snow up to my knees… and it will be snowing until April!).

    I guess the challenge is that the US is very BIG. Not as big as Canada (Spain would fit about 20 times into Canada) but BIG. Each State is almost like its own country. NYC has the modern vibe, the open minded artsy, metropolitan thing … There is Colorado and then there is Arizona … etc etc etc. I think a need to narrow down based on climate is maybe a good place to start. Do you want access to a beach? Are mountains important? Do you love art and architecture? Think about that first and take it from there.

  13. On February 9, 2014 at 4:07 pm Melanie said:

    If it seems a bit (a lot) overwhelming to find the perfect-fit city for you in the United States, this website may help things along:
    You complete a pretty long inventory of what is important to you in the place you live- ideologically, geographically, everything- and at the end, they present you with your top-5 cities!
    I am facing the same quandary in moving to China, so
    Best of luck to us both!


  1. unbrave girlRandom Stuff List - unbrave girl
  2. Pho Lucky, Detroit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge