Already 15 years living in The U.S. I originally applied for Quebec and had first approval for me and my family. We decided to go for 12 months in The U.S. to learn English, and we did. Here life took a big turn for us, and I am a permanent resident ...
Where are you from, Anna, and what are you doing nowadays?
I was an expat in the US for quite a long time. In 2000, I landed in Detroit, and after two days I was in Indiana. After two months, I settled in Chicago. I came with a business visa, but my intention was to learn English. I had already filed immigration papers for Quebec. My idea was to relocate there. The States were somehow a test of my ability to adapt.
Why did you choose to expatriate to the USA?
As I said, it wasn't my first choice and intention. It just happened that way. I didn't plan it.
As a Bulgarian national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move to the States?
I obtained a business visa, because for 10 years I had my business over there. Things unfortunately weren't going well with all the changes in our country. Instead of having more freedom and opportunities, we, small business owners, were fighting corruption and a corrupted mentality on all levels. In my heart, I am a very honest person (I see myself this way), and I couldn't sustain the fact that I should pay for every administrative service with something under the table.
How long have you been in the country?
I have been in the States for 16 years already. Time goes really fast. Isn't it?
What has attracted you to Illinois?
The biggest Bulgarian community abroad is in Illinois, so I knew some people here.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
The food - I didn't like it. People - I loved those entirely different people around. They were smiling and very friendly.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodations that are available there?
I was looking for an apartment in Chicago when I was still in Bulgaria. I happened to live in the same area and type of building when I came here. Without an established credit history, it is almost impossible to find and rent a home. A friend of mine recommended me to a building owner from Bosnia. Our languages are very close, so I didn't have problems in communicating with my neighbors and the manager. It was difficult to do many things without having a credit history here.
Nowadays, new people have similar challenges and need help. You need to establish a good credit history to buy good insurance. You need previews insurance (at least 6 months) to buy good insurance. You need an established good driving record to buy good insurance. The same thing is true with your mobile phone plan, when buying a car, renting a home, opening a bank account, finding a good job. Your credit is checked for each major event. It is very important to build it well. It will save you a lot of money and frustration. You should read about it a lot and have good mentors.
I have cases when people who have been here in a student exchange program, now come to settle as permanent residents. The system has their information and recognizes them. If they had all their accounts managed well in the past, they have no difficulties in establishing themselves more quickly. So, when leaving the country you should close in an appropriate way all opened accounts and pay all pending bills.
What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
Some professions are in demand, like programmers, software engineers, technical people- practitioners and chemists. In all cases, you should know English, or at least basic professional English and stick with your job.
How do you find the American lifestyle?
I didn't know a lot about the American lifestyle for the first two years. I was going to the local city college to learn English. At the same time, I started working part-time at the ethnic Bulgarian newspaper in Chicago. The community was growing and needed all kinds of services. This part-time job helped me to connect with the local administration.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
I said that it wasn't my plan to settle here, but I met my second husband and plans changed. He knew French very well. Even the language wasn't a problem. His excitement to move to Canada was "0". I explained some advantages which we may have had when there, but it didn't help. So I started thinking about my establishment in Chicago. The adaptation started to go its own way because you don't know what you don't know yet.
I tried to establish a business, and became a member of a Chamber of Commerce. I received a lot of help from Chamber people. The Bulgarian community was growing strong and building its own market as well. Long story short: you are trying until it happens. One important element from the American culture: if you need help, you should ask for it.
It is inappropriate here when someone insists that they will help you. Eventually, they will ask you first if you need help. This country has strong individualistic spirit. Your personal space is respected, but you should respect others' personal space as well.
What does your everyday life look like in Illinois?
For the five years, I have had my insurance agency: the business and the office are mine. Nothing fancy, but mine. I never ever dreamed or imagined I would be an insurance agent. In 2005, I obtained my first license and started learning and practicing. For three years, I was an employee for one very well rated large insurance company. They hired me because of my experience (connections) as editor and publisher (I forgot to tell you, that for two years I was publishing my own newspaper). When I felt that I could work on my own, I left.
Corporate America wasn't my place. It was 2010, the most financially difficult time. I started by offering travel insurance and entered the other markets in a few months. It wasn't and isn't easy. Nowadays, my week is simple: 12 working and learning hours in my office. I can take a day off, or a few days off. I have twice gone back to Bulgaria. My feelings and memories about my country of origin are pretty idyllic but I don't feel, like many people do, nostalgia.
Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?
To understand American culture is equal to understanding all cultures you can meet in a metropolitan area. When it comes to old generations established Americans, they are also different. Don't force yourself to make friends. People who are attracted to you will become your friends. When I was new, someone told me: your best bosses will be Scandinavian by background, and your worst ones will be...
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Illinois? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
It depends. My standard of living back in Bulgaria was higher, but I expected that the change would cost me time and evaluation in the new environment. A good mentor and financial support are important here.
How do you spend your leisure time?
A few days ago, I went for an architectural cruise on the Chicago River. All the funds were donated to a new no-kill cat shelter. The weather was very cold for mid-May, but I love Chicago any day. I go to events like this pretty often: spectacles, art museums and musicals. During summer, I go fishing with friends or alone.
We have beautiful parks and a lot of water sites here. After 10 or 20 minutes driving, I can be staring at water for the next catch. Many artists from Bulgaria are visiting and performing in Chicago. When I say Chicago, please understand I refer to the Chicago-land area. Suburbs here are flowing one after another without big differences. In fact, I have lived in a suburban area since 2007.
What do you like the most about the country?
I like the most that there are many things here to enjoy.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
My family is split. I have one son here and one over there. I have a granddaughter there. I miss all holidays traditionally spent with my family.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in the USA?
You should open your heart and accept this country if you want to be accepted. If you feel that your place is not here and your thoughts are constantly somewhere else, this country is not your place. There is nothing wrong, just move on and look for your land elsewhere under the sky. In my first year (2001), my English teacher shared the fact that only 60% of newcomers are establishing here. So it is your choice whether to be in this statistic.
What are your plans for the future?
I am in pre retirement years and thinking to secure my retirement income first. I don't plan too far ahead anymore. I hope you understand: Instead of living in Montreal, I live in Chicago.