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A new life in Kansas City

Holger and his wife had been waiting to win the Green Card Lottery for nine years when it finally worked out in 2017. In this interview, Holger tells us how unexpected the news was and what ups and downs the family went through during their immigration to Kansas City.


Holger and family in the USA

Holger and Sonja have lived in Kansas City with their children since 2019.

Holger, how did it feel to receive your Green Card winning notification?

I remember this very well. I was on my way home from my new job, which I'd only had for four or five weeks - my absolute dream job as a trainer for a food company. I took the subway home, looked at my phone, and found the email from The American Dream saying that I had won the Green Card Lottery.

I was excited but didn't want to believe it at first. So I emailed The American Dream and waited for confirmation. And when the confirmation came, I was so happy! But there was also a lot of uncertainty.

We were living life to the full in Vienna, and we had everything we wanted: great jobs, a great apartment, and a second child on the way. So there was a great deal of ambivalence at that moment. We were like, what is going to happen now?

What did you do before to make your American dream come true?

We've both lived in the US before - I was an au pair and later a trainee. My wife actually grew up in the US because her father worked there. So we both had a history in the US.

But even though we had both worked in the US, we couldn't get a Green Card. We even traveled to the US every year and tried to keep in touch - again and again. But we knew that the chances of getting a Green Card were almost zero.

Living and working in the USA

There is a long history between Holger and the USA.

Knowing what we know today, we would certainly prepare differently and try to piece together the requirements for immigration. But back then, we decided to return to Austria for the time being.

Nevertheless, the decision was clear: If there is ever another opportunity to go to the USA, we will do it. And then, we participated in the Green Card Lottery for nine years. We said to ourselves: If it happens, we will go. But if it doesn't happen, it's okay.

We had a happy life and were comfortable where we were. However, we kept feeling things out.

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The biggest hurdle was that our second child was on the way. And that brought up the question: do we want to do this? We had a low case number, so it was clear that our Green Card interview would be early - probably between October and November.

But our daughter wasn't due until mid-September. So we knew that the activation trip and all the other first steps to the Green Card would happen in the first half of this little weenie's life. We didn't want to travel with a six-month-old baby.

Holger, Sonja and daughter on vacation in the USA before winning the Green Card Lottery.

Still three: When Holger won the Green Card Lottery, his second daughter was on her way.

Our first attempt was to contact the embassy to see if we could reschedule our interview. They were very nice and supportive, but they also made it clear: "We can surely move you down, but then there's a risk that you won't get an interview at all.

So if you get ranked lower on the list for the Green Card interviews, you run the risk of losing your chance to immigrate to the USA altogether. That's why we decided to attend the early interview. We thought: What is the worst that can happen? If it doesn't work out, we'll just go home.

The interview at the embassy was on November 2nd. Our younger daughter, who is now five years old, still has her passport from that time. In her passport photo, she is only three days old. That's something you'll never forget.

How was your activation trip to the USA?

We were well prepared and booked a direct flight from Vienna to Chicago for our one-week trip. One that goes during the week and not on the weekend because the airport in Chicago is overcrowded on the weekend. And we have reserved seats with the baby bed right in front of us.

Plane before takeoff

To activate their Green Cards, Holger and Sonja flew to Chicago with their 7-year-old daughter and baby.

But even with all the preparation, there were still hurdles: Our older daughter got sick two days before the trip, which was a huge stress for all of us. Then we got to the airport, and there was a strike by the ground staff. The flight was delayed, delayed, delayed...

Anna kept getting sick just before the trips. We had not told her about the exact date (surprise factor) this time, and then the strike happened! And on top of that, there was the fear that she would get sick again before the next day's departure. However, Anna has never been sick again before a trip!

We have friends in Wisconsin who helped us a lot with the preparations, and we visited them. We could also have documents sent to them - like the Green Card - and register an address there. We opened a bank account, got phone numbers, and made our first purchase for the non-existent house: a Kitchen Aid - the American kitchen dream! It was a stressful week. A 7-year-old girl with you and a few-month-old baby that you carry around all the time. You're a little limited. And it's still pretty cold in Chicago in March. But we made good use of our time in Chicago.

What happened after your trip to Chicago?

Before we started the actual move to the USA, we had to ask ourselves a few questions: Where do we start? Where do we want to go? Should we look for a job first, or should we start with a house or an apartment somewhere?

So we made several trips to the US, taking turns to minimize the stress on the kids. Sometimes I traveled, sometimes my wife did, sometimes with the kids, sometimes without, and so on.

Vacation in the USA in Graceland and Hollywood

Where do we want to live? Before the final decision was made, the family traveled to the United States several times.

All the traveling was also important to comply with the rules of the US government: as a Green Card holder, you have to enter the United States regularly, and at the border, you are often asked when you are going to immigrate for good.

On our vacations together, we looked at houses and places and eventually settled on two areas: One was north of Chicago, where our friends lived. We know the area, and it is an economically up-and-coming area where, for example, HARIBO has built a factory.

Our second choice was Kansas City. We had friends there as well. One of my children from my au pair days lived in Kansas City and put us in touch with a real estate agent. It turned out to be a really good partnership. The agent helped us a lot and got us through the first time very well.

Moving to the USA with container

Moving with a container: A dream home was waiting for Holger and his family in Kansas City.

In the end, the first thing we did was buy a house. The decisive visit that led to this was a 7-day stay during which we looked at a whopping 75 houses! We then moved in the summer of 2019.

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What is the best thing about living in the USA?

I think it's freedom. Having a lot of space, being able to afford a big house, and being so close to everything we love. And being able to raise our kids bilingually. We settled in quickly and are living our American dream here!

We were lucky to find a home in a great city and neighborhood with really great people. Many have young children here, which is very helpful when you have children of your own.

Dogwalking in the neighborhood in Kansas City

Great neighborhood: Holger's family feels very comfortable in Kansas City.

Having lived in the US before, we were aware of some of the disadvantages: less vacation time and having to work harder. But here, you hold the keys to your happiness. There are fewer rules here than in Austria or Germany, where everything is more regulated and rigid. In the USA, we can do our own thing. If you work hard, you can succeed.

How has life in the US changed you as a person?

I had to adjust to a lot of things. As I said: I had just found my dream job in Austria as a trainer for a food company. And suddenly, I was in a new country and had to prove myself all over again. I think you have to be open to that. I had to take a few steps back, and that changed me.

Things to do in Kansas City

For Holger and his family, living in Kansas offers more freedom than living in Austria or Germany.

I had also decided to find a new openness for myself. You know American hospitality from movies and television or stories, and we tried to approach it accordingly from the beginning, for example, knocking on the neighbors' door and saying: We are the new ones, and we want to introduce ourselves.

It was also a challenge to fit into American life, which is very structured in terms of the rhythm of the day. Finding the right mix of my own European lifestyle and the American lifestyle was something I had to do for myself.

I am used to a work culture where - when work starts at two in the afternoon, you are ready to work at two. In the US, however, I learned that starting work at two o'clock means that people come to work at five past two. That was something new to me.

Working in the USA in the supermarket

The American work culture is initially unfamiliar to many Europeans.

In a previous job where I often opened the store in the morning, this was a problem: I would come in at 7 a.m. to open the store, and the 7 a.m. people would not be there! How can that be?

With time, you get the hang of it: They will all show up in the next few minutes. And you just prepare your day differently. I walked around in the morning, turned on the first registers, and just opened the store a little differently.

I was still ready to start at seven, and the first customer could arrive at seven. It was a self-checkout, but there was help available. You just have to get used to these things in the US.

Is flexibility the first thing to learn when moving to the US, then?

Flexibility and creativity. My wife and I had very different experiences. She had landed her dream job at the newest, swankiest, biggest hotel in Kansas City that was about to open. And then the lockdown came, and that's where it stopped.

We had made big plans and even hired an au pair, and then suddenly, a whole paycheck was missing. Then she had to get creative because one of the big differences in the US is that you don't have a fixed monthly salary; you only earn money when you work.

Emigrating to the USA during Corona

The COVID pandemic thwarted all plans: Holger's wife, Sonja, got creative and quickly opened a daycare center.

Sonja then took on temporary jobs, including babysitting. This led to great friendships. Some needed a babysitter during COVID, and others needed money, so we ended up with a couple of kids here. After that, my wife dabbled in jobs until she got a promotion at a company in Kansas City.

I run a store now. I'm a little less tolerant and flexible because I'm responsible for the day-to-day sales. So I have very clear rules. If you're supposed to be there at seven, you're supposed to be there at seven.

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Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

Yes and no. I am happy with the way my career has turned out. On the other hand, looking back, I probably would have done things differently. I came from the European system, and I had my own rules and straightforwardness.

Austrians are known to be a little rough sometimes, and Americans are not used to that at all. So, in the beginning, I had to apologize a lot for how I sometimes talked, and I also had to deal with some misunderstandings.

The German or Austrian straightforwardness is sometimes misunderstood here, but it also has its advantages. If you have goals and implement standards and things turn out to be successful, it shows that rules are not wrong.

I also think it's very important to let people know that you don't mean anything bad by it. You come from a different country, a different culture. You just learned things differently.

Life in the USA

Some cultural differences certainly have their advantages.

What advice would you give to people who dream of getting a Green Card and living in the USA?

I think the most important thing is to prepare well for life in the USA. I wouldn't rush things. Yes, there are time limits, for example, for the Green Card activation trip, and you have to enter the country regularly to eventually immigrate. But I would take it slowly.

First, sit down and make plans: Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? If you do not have a lot of experience in the USA, you should take trips to get to know the country a little.

And try to make contacts. That helped us a lot. For example, when looking for a job in the US, it makes things a lot easier if you already have an American phone number and address.

I see that myself: if I get applications from abroad with a non-American mailing address, they don't get through. That's because the visa issue comes up immediately.

But the most important thing: Don't be intimidated! There will be setbacks. Our wild time with COVID is the best example. If you are smart, prepared, and take your time, you can live the American dream!

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