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Escaping the hamster wheel: our new life in Florida!

When Melanie heard screams in the house, she thought something had happened to her beloved Rüdiger. Luckily, it was just the joy of winning the Green Card Lottery! In our interview, the couple talks about their adventurous emigration to Florida and gives some essential tips for a new start in the USA.

USA immigrants in Florida

Happier than ever: Melanie and Rüdiger have made the leap to the USA.

Rüdiger, Melanie, what was it like when you received your winning notification?

Melanie: I remember that very clearly. I came home from work, and we sat together on the couch and drank coffee. On the side, I looked through my emails, and there was the annual notification from The American Dream that I unfortunately didn't win. I asked Rüdiger, "Did you win?"

Rüdiger: I said, "Nah, I guess not."

Melanie: And then we just went on with our daily routine. As I was ironing upstairs, I suddenly heard Rüdiger screaming. For God's sake, I thought, he's hurt himself and must be lying there severely injured! But when I ran to him, he was still sitting on the couch—with tears in his eyes! He looked at me and kept saying, "We won! We won!"

Rüdiger: Yes, my ticket won!

Melanie: We were thrilled! Feelings went up and down like a roller coaster! It was pretty crazy. We told our son David right away. He was 19 and wanted to go to America as well. He had always said: "You have to win before I'm 21 so that I can get a Green Card, too!" At this point, you might want to run off and tell the whole world!

Immigrating to the USA as a family

Son David also immigrated to the USA with his parents in January 2023.

Rüdiger: But of course, it was too early for that. When you win the Green Card Lottery, you must still complete the immigration application. That means we didn't even know how the whole thing would go over.

How long had you tried to resettle to the USA before, and what did you do to achieve this?

Rüdiger: First of all, we have participated in the Green Card Lottery for 11 years. It was clear to us that we did not want to go to the US on an investor visa or something like that because you always hear about visa problems as soon as the children turn 21. They often have trouble staying in the country and must get another visa, e.g., through college or some other way. That was never the route we wanted to go.

Florida vacation

"We lost our hearts here". Rüdiger and Melanie are in love with the Sunshine State.

Melanie: However, we have always wanted to immigrate.

Rüdiger: I have been traveling in the US for over 25 years, and I have always enjoyed the country and people. The folks I have met here have always been very positive towards me. Not one bad experience. Also, we just wanted to make a change in our lives.

Melanie: We pursued our dream of immigrating to the US year by year with our Green Card Lottery tickets. However, we did not focus our lives on resettling but began our efforts when we received our winning notification.

Sights in the USA

Rüdiger had been traveling the US for 25 years before he finally won the Green Card Lottery.

There were a few uncertainties during your immigration process. What was going on there?

Rüdiger: We filled out the immigration application with the help of The American Dream, and shortly after, everything was sent off. It was pretty straightforward, but after that, we didn't hear from the US authorities for 14 months. We really wanted to take a vacation in the USA in between, and some people were critical of that. They say that you shouldn't go to the USA while waiting for immigration because you might get into trouble with the authorities.

Melanie: However, after much deliberation, we decided to fly to the US on vacation in the summer of 2022.

Rüdiger: We celebrated Independence Day with friends on July 4th. One day later, on July 5th, we received notification that we had an embassy appointment for a Green Card interview! That was a big relief!

4th of July in the USA

Melanie and Rüdiger did not want to miss Independence Day in Florida, even though their immigration application seemed to be on hold.

Melanie: We immediately tried to make an appointment for the Medical Exam, which must be completed before the interview date. But there were no available appointments at all!

Rüdiger: That was due to the Ukraine crisis and some kind of sponsorship, whereby Ukrainians also had to pass their Medical Exam in Germany. Unfortunately, there are only four licensed physicians in the whole of Germany: they are in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt. For us, Frankfurt am Main would have been responsible, but all medical appointments were taken. We really tried everything, even at unspeakable hours. I got up in the middle of the night during our vacation in the USA and tried to make an appointment by phone.

Melanie: In the end, we got an appointment in Munich and then drove right across Germany. We left at 3 o'clock in the morning and drove back the same day. That was 1,300 km, just for our Medical Exam!

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What a hassle! Did everything go smoothly after that?

Rüdiger: In principle, our immigration would have been quite easy once we had completed the paperwork and appointments. We had decided not to make a separate activation trip for the Green Card and to fly back, but to stay immediately.

What we could not foresee then: shortly before our departure, a hurricane hit the area around Cape Coral. As a result, the housing market completely collapsed, and the available homes suddenly became twice as expensive to rent.

Melanie: This made things even more difficult for us. The flights were booked, but suddenly, we had no house. We decided to rent a vacation home for a month. Sometimes, you have to improvise. Our slogan is not without reason: "Simple doesn’t take skill."

You grow with your tasks, then?

Melanie: Exactly. When I met Rüdiger, neither of us was in the easiest of situations. At some point, in the midst of a crisis, he said this dry sentence to me: "Simple doesn’t take skill." And it has been with us ever since. We don't take the easy path. And in the end, it's the goal that counts. You always get there somehow.

Watching a Baseball game in Florida

Before immigrating, Rüdiger, Melanie, and David spent a lot of time in the USA - especially in Florida.

Speaking of goals, how was your first entry as a proud Green Card holder?

Rüdiger: Not simple (laughs). Our Eurowings flight was postponed so many times. The flight time kept changing, and then the airport. Ultimately, we didn't want to travel with this airline at all. We ended up flying with United via New York. The airport experience was exciting, as we had to wait in a special room for people who were denied entry to the USA.

Melanie: But everything worked out. We arrived at the airport in Fort Myers, picked up our luggage, and drove to our vacation home, which, luckily, was furnished! We came with two suitcases per person and did not want to move with containers.

Holiday home in Cape Coral

Vacation home in Cape Coral: After the hurricane, the three immigrants initially had to improvise.

How did you spend your first few weeks in the USA?

Rüdiger: We couldn't work for the time being because we didn't have Social Security numbers yet. We used the free time to buy cars and look for a few items for our household because the move into a rental house was coming soon.

Melanie: We canvassed the yard sales in the area and had already procured a trailer that Rüdiger needed for his business. With it, we could transport everything well.

At that time, it was nice to see how little you could actually get by with. We had lived in total abundance in Germany, and then, shortly after relocating, we thought: Oh, how are we going to open this can of tuna now? You start to think about many things in a completely different way, and you get creative: the gentlemen went into the garage with the can and opened it with a screwdriver.

We met many great people on our shopping trips. Had we bought our stuff in a furniture store, we wouldn't have so many stories and encounters with incredible individuals. Oh, by the way, we own a can opener again, but it came from Germany—just like our Tupperware.

Who supported you in moving to the USA?

Rüdiger: We had a lot of help from The American Dream in filling out the forms and preparing for the embassy appointment. And, of course, there was already a small circle of friends because of the time we had spent here before. Cape Coral is a bit like a small town, only bigger. Especially, the German community here is well-connected and branched out.

Through our friends, we were able to get a nice house for a year's rent. After the hurricane, we would have had trouble getting a year's lease without our friends.

Life in Florida

In their free time, Melanie and Rüdiger enjoy "The Good Life" in Florida.

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Why did you choose Florida?

Rüdiger: Actually, because of the weather! We were never happy with the summers in Germany. And on holiday, we always went to Florida in the summer—even in the hottest season, we found it excellent here! It gives us much more quality of life.

Melanie: You have to clean the house and do laundry no matter where you live, but if you can do it in such a beautiful place, where the sun shines every morning, and you can see the palm trees, it makes everything better!

There are also many friendly people here—just like in many places in America we have traveled. What can I say, we lost our hearts in Florida. For the three of us, it was always clear: „If it's the USA, then it's Florida!"

Life in Florida

Everyday life under palm trees - for Melanie, Rüdiger, and David, it was always clear: „If it's the USA, then it's Florida!"

What does your daily life in Florida look like?

Rüdiger: We are both working in property management. I founded a company that does property maintenance, which involves work around the house. At the moment, it's low season here, but actually, there's always something to do in the apartment buildings.

Vacationers do not want to do any work themselves. From a broken deck chair to a lock, we take care of it all. Melanie works in vacation rental and guest services.

Melanie: So we are always on the move. It doesn't matter if it's Monday, Saturday, or Sunday. We can organize things the way we want—that's the advantage of being independent.

Living and working in Florida

Working under palm trees and playing pickleball at the end of the day: being self-employed, Melanie and Rüdiger can determine their own daily routine.

Rüdiger: You never know precisely what things are going to come on that day. That's what makes it interesting for me, what makes it fun. And in our free time, we hang out with our friends. We have game nights or play pickleball—just the American way.

Melanie: Living AND working together can be difficult occasionally. There is a difference between getting up in the morning and going to work separately, like in Germany, or having a lot of time together, like here. We really enjoy it, but you have to adjust and get to know each other in a completely different way.

We are both on the same page. If it gets critical, we would rather change the setting than jeopardize our marriage. Sometimes, you hear that immigrating means the end of a marriage because both partners have entirely changed because of the new life. But we love each other too much for that.

What makes life in the USA different from life in Germany?

Rüdiger: I don't have to look out of the window to see what the weather is like. I'm always perfectly dressed (laughs). A pair of shorts and a T-shirt.

Melanie: (laughs) We got off the German hamster wheel, and that was our goal. We liked our office jobs in Germany, but the chance to get out was just great! Now we know what we are working for and are really enjoying this change.

Rüdiger: We didn't lack anything in Germany. We had our house, our cars, and our secure jobs. But we wanted to do something different before we might be unable to do it any longer. After all, we are not 25 anymore!

Sounds like you have done everything right! Any advice for people who still dream of immigrating to the US?

Melanie: Keep going and don't give up! We have been participating in the Green Card Lottery for 11 years, and all I can say is: keep on dreaming!

Rüdiger: But you also have to know that America is not waiting for you. It's not like they say: hey, we'll give you everything for free! You have to work for your dream. Living here is no vacation. If you keep that in mind and are realistic about it, it will work out!

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