The reason I’m in Paris these days is that my work visa for the United States is about to expire tomorrow. I didn’t apply for an extension of my current work visa, because this would have required my sponsor having to deal with USCIS again and I wanted to spare her from another unpleasant experience. I could see the stress in her face when USCIS didn’t want to believe her that she is the leading figure of the communications department of a respectable museum in Los Angeles when she called on my behalf last April to find out why it’s been taking so long to get a decision on my visa extension application. USCIS doesn’t communicate with the beneficiary, only with the sponsor and I wanted to go to the Venice Biennial and couldn’t travel because of my pending case. Hence, this time I applied for a self-petitioned green-card, just before the New Year arrived, for which I didn’t need a sponsor. Yet, I don’t know if it’s coming through. The chances are only about 50 percent. Only about 140.000 work-related green-cards are given out every year. Had I just stayed within the country to wait for the result, I would have been out of status and violated immigration laws. And if I had filed for an adjustment of status, I would not have been able to work for several months until I would have received a temporary work permit. Currently, there are massive delays.
Dealing with immigration and the move has caused me an enormous amount of stress. First of all, I had to give up my apartment last year. Therefore, I’ve been living out of my suitcase for months and moving around like a nomad, never knowing exactly what the new situation will be like. Second, it is a disruption of one’s routine. And as we know, “Der Mensch ist ein Gewohnheitstier” (man is a creature of habit). Third, it’s challenging dealing with so much uncertainty. Fourth, I’m dealing with loss, although perhaps only a temporary loss, depending on what USCIS decides. Los Angeles feels like home to me after 24 years. I came here when I was twenty years old without the intention to stay. I lost it once before because of high foreign tuition fees at UCLA and returned to it eight years later.
Knowing that there are many people, who are currently dealing with similar issues, having lost their homes and having to relocate and having to move to a country where they don’t understand the language yet, here are some of the things that have helped me to get through this:
- First of all, I looked for an alternative place to live in, in which I no longer needed to worry about visas anymore. I didn’t want to return to my home country, where I would face long unemployment due to the mindset in my culture. In my country, I was already too old for my profession twenty years ago. So, instead, I looked for a city that Americans would like to come to visit and which has a strong tie to America, so I chose Paris because it’s the city where Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed and Gustave Eiffel built the Statue of Liberty.
- Then, I did something very un-American. I allowed myself to cry and to feel the sadness and to express it. It’s unhealthy to think one needs to be happy at all times. Imagine the world of classical music without any sadness. There is a reason we produce tears. Apparently, crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps one’s body to rest and digest. It also releases endorphins, which eases emotional pain. Nothing could be worst to one’s mental and physical health than to shove down negative emotions. By talking about what was truly going on in my life, I felt such a relief and the tears suddenly stopped coming. Although yesterday, when I sat in the metro from the Champs-Élysées–Clemence station to Joinville-Le-Pont and a refugee started to play and sing Un Amor by the Gypsy Kings with his soul-full voice, my tears unexpectedly kept running. I don’t know exactly what triggered them. However, I was surprised when then a young blonde Parisian woman who sat across from me briefly took my hand and wished me a good day.
- I accepted the reality of my bruised American dream. It just hasn’t panned out as I hoped. Perhaps it never will. My path had many obstacles, perhaps too many. Some things were completely out of my control.
- Since I studied nutrition in high-school I have always paid attention to nourish my body with healthy food. So, I kept eating healthily and rested over the holidays. I always believed that food influences our mood. I personally love to eat colorful food. In Germany, we say “das Auge isst mit” (You eat with your eyes). On top of eating healthily, I also fasted for a few days, which I do every year, to free myself from bad habits and to gain clarity.
- I practiced self-compassion. I know I gave it my best shot. I sat down and reflected on where I came from, under which circumstances I grew up and what I had to overcome first to get from one step to the other before I could reach one of my career goals and then I actually see what I’ve truly accomplished. And through this realization, I’m able to say to myself, wow! What an amazing journey regardless of the result!
- I exercise, I do Yoga at home, I walk stairs, I run (I used to cycle throughout LA) and go for walks in nature. Moving my body, makes me feel tremendously alive. It also shows me that I have other skills than just mental skills and it allows me to regard my body from the point of view of what it’s able to do and not what it looks like on the surface!
- I met up with friends before I left. I always make it a point to say my goodbyes in person to the people, which I feel close to. For we never know what happens in life and what the future holds for us. There is always the possibility that this was our last chance to see each other again. Therefore, I nurture my friendships. I stay in touch with friends. Friends can be a great support system.
- I watched and still do watch inspirational videos. It’s always good to see how other people overcame their challenges. Hence, I’m not the only one, struggling with something. And yet, and I want to be true here, there is of course, always a bit of a sentiment that I’d rather be on the other side, where things went easy and smooth. I acknowledge that about myself and allow myself to express this. TED TALKS are among my favorites, as well as inspirational talks by Buddhists.
- I prepared for my life back in Europe. I visited Paris several times in the past few years. Last year, when I came to visit, I already started working here and registered with some job agencies, which now keep sending me offers. I inquired about sim cards and apartments and got a good sense of what the cost of living is. I mentally prepared myself for Paris in January. I knew it would be icy cold and there would be dark days. So, I soaked in the California sunshine for as long as I could, knowing about the possibility of being affected by the seasonal affective disorder. If worst comes to worst, Lisbon, which has a much milder climate, is just around the corner.
- I did some research on American institutions in Paris and through this and a Los Angeles artist, I found out about the American Center for Art and Culture in Paris and will make an effort to go to their events, so that I wouldn’t feel completely cut off from American culture. I also inquired about events through InterNations in Paris, an organization from ex-pats from all over the world which I already joined back in LA more than a year ago. So, I’ll definitely go to one of their events soon. I also already made two American friends in Paris and will meet up with them.
- I took care of all my bills before I left the US, because I like to leave things on good terms, even if the authorities wouldn’t be able to catch me in Europe. It also gave me a sense of normality in the chaos and the feeling that I got another task accomplished.
- I write about my experience, which is a tremendous relief for me and reduces my anxiety. I also like to take photographs. Taking pictures for me is like meditation. At that moment I forget about everything around me. I find so much pleasure looking at the influence of light or the facial expressions of people or how shapes in nature form abstract images. I also listen to calming music, which relaxes my nervous system. Among my favorites are Debussy, Ravel or Ryuichi Sakamoto, or some classical Chinese instrumental music.
- e world.