My Green Card Story: From Frankfurt to New York
It was a Friday in March 1997. I had just completed a busy week at work and learned that my role had been eliminated. Today I know that this experience paved the way for the future. Just four weeks later, I started working for Arthur Andersen. The appearance of my resume had not concerned me before, but having that highly reputable name on it more than likely helped me securing my first job in New York.
The possibility of living and working in the United States had fascinated me for a while. I had visited and liked the country and its people. While working for Best Western Hotels, I unsuccessfully applied for a U.S. position. Not long after that, I met with an American recruiter looking for IT talent in Europe who said "come back when you have a Green Card". He explained that candidates without a college degree are not attractive enough for companies to sponsor a work visa.
Coincidentally, a friend had mentioned the Green Card Lottery to me around the same time. "Just sign up", she said. "You have nothing to lose, other than the fee". I doubted my chances but mailed the application anyway. One day late in the summer of 1997 I received a large envelope in the mail. I thought: “U.S. Department of Justice? What the heck do they want?” I opened it, and my jaw dropped. I was being considered for a Green Card. I had forgotten about this altogether! So I sat down and read the instructions. They were requesting documentation in preparation for an interview at the consulate. Moving to America suddenly seemed possible. I did not hesitate for a moment. I was certain that I would go.
The interview in the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt happened in January 1998. My documents were screened and a nearby physician examined me. The consular officer was very courteous. He casually looked at my credentials and asked why I wanted to live in the U.S. I was intimated by the procedure and assumed that a rejection of my application was still a possibility. I probably answered his questions with a little more detail than needed. The officer then made me swear that my application contains the truth and said "Congratulations and Good Luck, Mr. Schneidemann". I had a Green Card.
I had remarkable luck again, getting my first job in New York. It was a long shot when I called the company's German office saying: "I am calling in reference to an ad for open positions in your German office, but I am not interested in a job in Germany. I have a Green Card and was wondering if there are opportunities available in the New York Office?" Only later did I learn that I was speaking to McKinsey & Company’s second highest ranking IT Officer. After several rounds of interviews, I accepted an offer. Uniquely, they hired me purely based on my experience and without a college degree. My short tenure with Arthur Andersen may have helped me to get the job. It was now time to move. No moving truck required. Just a flight ticket.
The sales associate' voice sounded familiar, I thought I had spoken to her before when I had booked a vacation. “I was calling to reserve a seat on a flight from Frankfurt to New York. One way only”. I sensed that she had not seen many requests of this kind. She asked “why?” and I responded "I am moving to New York because I won a Green Card in the Lottery". She congratulated and asked "Do you want to give yourself a treat?" A one-way business class ticket would cost just a little more than an economy class roundtrip ticket. I liked the idea. Preparing for the move had kept me busy. A treat was in order, I thought. "Yes, please make the reservation", I said.
I stepped into the travel agent's office a few days later to pick up the ticket. Departure in Frankfurt on June 7, going to Kennedy Airport in New York. One seat. Business Class. No return flight. As I wrote the check, she asked whether I had found a place to stay. I explained that I had a reservation in a Manhattan hotel but wanted to find an apartment rather sooner than later. She nodded and mentioned that the cost of living in New York is high. "Would you like to contact a Bed & Breakfast in Brooklyn to see if they have a better rate?" she asked, handing me a piece of paper with a name and telephone number before I could answer.
The flight attendant welcomed me with a bright smile and led me to my seat. I buckled up and tried to relax. The plan was to enjoy Korean Airlines' business class amenities on board. But my mind had other ideas. I thought a lot about my new job, that I had to open a bank account, find an apartment, get a driver license, and so on. I was already organizing my life in the big city. As I glanced out of the window during takeoff, it finally sank in that I was embarking on the greatest experience of my lifetime. I also felt some sadness, as I quietly said another farewell to my parents and friends.
I left a taxi approximately 10 hours later, in my new, temporary home: Brooklyn, NY. I was exhausted and glad to have arrived. The door of the brownstone building opened. "You must be Oliver, our new guest". I smiled and said "Yes". She welcomed me to Regina's New York Bed & Breakfast and helped me with my luggage. My life, crammed into three suitcases.
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Before covering how I launched my new life in New York City, there are a few more things worth noting about the Green Card application.