When Green Card winner Noel Karrasch found the winning notification in his mailbox, he packed his bags without hesitation. His only problem: he didn't speak any English. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of The American Dream, Noel looks back on his first steps in the USA and gives important advice to anyone who dreams of living in America.
Noel, do you remember what it felt like 20 years ago when you got your Green Card winning notice?
Yes, that was incredible. I had always been a fan of the USA. When I signed up for the Green Card lottery, I had just returned from a vacation in Florida, and, out of that vacation feeling, I signed up for The American Dream - at that time for 80 Deutschmarks - and then forgot about it for a while.
At some point, a postcard arrived that said something like, "The Green Card drawing is coming up. Check your mailbox now and then." I didn't believe it. Later, the winning notification came, and I still didn't believe it.
Then I called The American Dream, and the team said to me, "Yes, you won!" I still didn't believe it. That was my reaction.
But I had a very low case number, which means if all the Green Card Lottery requirements are met, and the paperwork is returned in full, you get a Green Card.
(Editor's note: In the meantime, Noel can believe it himself).
What was the time like from winning notification to moving to the USA? Were there any hurdles? How did you overcome them?
What was the time like from winning notification to moving to the USA? Were there any hurdles? How did you overcome them?I didn't know any English back then. So I always called the team of The American Dream. I filled out the form for the immigrant visa together with your employees over the phone. The best thing about your company was that there was never a machine on the line. Someone always picked up the phone immediately and spoke to me.
You helped me a lot - almost like a personal assistant. I've never experienced that anywhere else since - even in America, where customer service is always outstanding.
It was the same with the Green Card interview: I followed the American Dream's recommendations. That's why it wasn't a hurdle for me but rather a process. I was pretty nervous, but I guess that's part of it.
Why did you decide to go with The American Dream in the first place?
At the time of the application, I didn't even know what a Green Card was. I was still in the "sunny Florida" feeling and saw your advertisement on the Teletext: " Living and working in the USA" - I will never forget that! So I called you, and that's how it all started.
What was the moment of your entry into the United States as an official Green Card holder like?
I left home at midnight: Frankfurt Airport, London, Miami. When I arrived in Miami, I was full of joy, of course, but I was also terrified. I didn't know what was going to happen.
I didn't know anyone. I didn't know any English. I just had a green card and flew off. The only thing I knew when I left was that if I didn't do this now, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
Once I got there, I had someone who rented me a room. That was it. That's how it all started.
The moment of entry was overwhelming. I was treading on holy ground, so to speak, in Miami. Immigration interviewed me for over two hours, and I didn't understand a word. That was exciting.
My first official act as a Permanent Resident was to go to Bonita Springs (which is in Florida between Naples and Fort Myers), rent a room and take my time looking around. Where am I here? What am I doing now? It was overwhelming because I always had this in the back of my mind: "What am I going to do now?"
The first few days were all about Social Security, bank accounts, and stuff like that. At that time, the Internet didn't exist in the form that it does today. So I could not just quickly look up all the information.
I more or less traveled in the dark and didn't know many things: for example, what a credit score is. My landlady helped me with everything.
How has living in the USA changed you as a person?
The USA taught me to think positively and not to be afraid of starting something new. I learned that you can achieve anything if you want to.
I didn't have that mentality in Germany, and I don't think I would have gotten it. In Germany, I was more cautious and pessimistic.
Here in America, you can accomplish anything. Of course, you have to work hard - you don't get anything for free over here. If you fall behind, you get back up and start again. This American mentality has shaped me.
What do you think is the best part of living in America?
The best thing about the USA is traveling. Many people think that Americans don't have any vacations, but we take many short trips. I take a day off at the weekend and then spend three days in Orlando.
The whole lifestyle is more relaxed. You don't feel so drained. I'm at a point in my life now where I can afford to travel. The best part is being free. You can do whatever you want around here - more or less.
You have setbacks, and sometimes you think it can't go on. But it always goes on. Here in the States, people don't look at you silly if something doesn't work out.
What advice would you give to other people who dream of getting a Green Card and living in the United States?
My advice to all who want to come to the USA: Don't give up!
This also means that if you're an engineer in Germany, you shouldn't be too vain to take a few steps back when you start a new life in the USA and perhaps take on a different job.
Back then - because I didn't know any English yet - I picked up golf balls in Florida for a fee, cleaned them up, and gave them back to the wealthy golfers. Sometimes you have to lower your expectations a bit and start small. But after that, anything is possible.
Knowing what you know now, after 20 years in the USA, would you make the same decision again?
Yes, one hundred percent. What I've achieved here, I probably wouldn't have achieved in Germany. You can't prove that, of course, but in the US, all doors are open to you if you want and if you work hard.