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My experience as a legal US immigrant

Updated on May 8, 2013

The American Dream

As a young child in Brazil born in 1980 I was strongly influenced by the American culture thru movies, tv programs, music and the overall strong USA imperialism that exists in Brazil. Going to Mc Donald's to grab burgers and fries and going to watch Indiana Jones and Batman in the theaters were common activities that we enjoyed as a family; and the more I experience the american dream in my hometown of Belo Horizonte, Brazil the more I wanted to discover America. In this lens I will try to cover few of my experiences in America since my first trip in 1995 and my journey living and studying in the US. I will make sure to share many immigration tips as well as all the struggles and fees that I had to pay in order maintain my legal residency for the course of 12 years living in the US. I also write this page as a tribute to my Grandmother Edite Mafra who simply provided me with amazing opportunities in life and helped me open so many doors! Hope other international students who are living or are interested in living abroad find this page inspirational and hope that other immigrants can relate to my story!

Last updated: 05/08/13

Orlando Trip 2005 Tia Eliane Group.
Orlando Trip 2005 Tia Eliane Group.

My first Trip to the US

At the age of 15 I got my first chance to experience the United State and it was love at first sight! This trip was my dream come true, a gift from my grandmother Edite for my Sweet 15 and I choice that I had made since I was 6 years old. The options always were either a trip or a sweet 15 party and I never hesitated once and I always looked towards my trip to the US. At the age of 15 I acquired my first Tourist US Visa thru the travel agency and headed to the US . The trip included 3 nights in NY, 7 nights in Orlando enjoying all the theme parks, 2 days in Miami for shopping and lots of new friends as the group I went with had at least another 50 adventurours teenagers. I simply had the time of my life and I was simply amazed by the American culture in general and knew that I wanted to come back and check out some different areas of the country. Therefore as soon as i came back to Brazil and started High School I stated to plan another trip. But my next trip was a little longer...

info about my first trip:

The traveling agency that we used at the time is Tia Eliane Tours located in Belo Horizonte, Brazil as this information might be usefull for my Brazilian peers that plan to travel or send their kids for a US or European tours. In addition this this link might be useful to anyone who would like to visit Brazil and is looking for a reliable travel agency to plan your trip or special events within Brazil.

www.tiaeliane.com.br

Costs for an average trip similar to mine is: $2,200.00 without airfare but includes hotel,13 nights 10 in Orlando and 3 in NY (Hilton or similar), breakfast, entrance to theme parks (Epcot Center, Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, The Magic World of Harry Potter, Disneys Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Sea World, Busch Gardens), 3 guides per bus of 45 people, 2 parties and more!

Visa Acquired: B2 -Tourism, vacation and pleasure visitors

True fact

American food really makes you fat!

Over the course of 11 years I gradually gained 28 pounds

Georgia State Flag
Georgia State Flag

My Second trip - 6 months living with an American family in Rome, Georgia

After coming back from my first trip to the US I realized that I soon wanted to go back and experience more of the American culture and I suggested to my parents and grandmother the idea of becoming an exchange student. My grandmother who is a person who always encouraged me to live different experiences and explore new horizons loved the idea and she felt that spending 6 months with an American family and attending an high school would not only make me fluent in English and set me apart from my brazilian peers but it would also help me gain a sense of independence. Together we went to STB, a travel agency in my city specialized in exchange student programs, and we started the application process. We registered for the program and waited about 6 months for a family anywhere in the US to pick me. The thrill started on the wait and as soon as I was picked by the family we started communicating and before I even left Brazil we already had ties. The family that choose me was from a small city called rome Georgia and I feel like i got a chance to experience the real deal, the true day to day American life from summer to the snowy days. We had a blast as my host parents had 3 girls, 2 years older than me, one my age 16 at the time, and a younger one who is the reason I learned english so fast as she was so patient with me and thought me so many words. I had the chance to be a Junior at model high School and academics were a little hard in the beginning but as I my english improved so did my grades. I made to the basketball and I happen to be a little short and got involved in a lot of artistic activities. That was simply a blast. So by the end of my 6 month experience I not only I had improved my English but I also made great friends and lived great experiences.

info about my first trip:

The traveling agency that we used at the time is STB located in Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Web site: http://www.stb.com.br

Costs for an average trip similar to mine is: $5,200.00 without airfare and average monthly costs of $600 for daily expenses, food and books. experience includes 6 months residing with an American family and being part of their day to day activities. Activities will vary according to the family that picks you.

Visa Acquired: J -Exchange Vistisors

San Diego State University Logo
San Diego State University Logo

University years in the US - A Californian Dream

During the time I spent in Georgia I had the opportunity to visit few universities and the idea of acquiring a degree from the US really grew on me. I was amazed by variety of courses and majors available in the US and given the fact that I was heading into a graphic design field I knew that in America I would be able to acquire better skills and then we started to plan for my university years in the US. I knew that i wanted to go to California where the climate is warm and it is a culture rich state.So i acquired my F1 visa and headed to the US and this time I knew that I was going to be away for at least 4 years. Luckly with the help of my grandmother I was able to visit my country at least one a year. So I first arrived in Riverside, CA and started on a community college in the city of San Diego as an international student.

The costs for Intenational student tuition is considerable high and eventough I was in a community college, I still had to pay a lot more than my American collegues. Here is a break down of charges per unit.

Resident Student: $26 enrollment + $14.per unit

***Intenational Student: $26.00 Enrollment + 14 per unit + $185 per unit***

After completing my Associates Degree and my general Education I transfered to San Diego State university where I acquired my Bachelors in Arts and my emphasis in Graphic Design. Here is the breakdown cost per unit

Resident Student: $1,714.00 registration for 6 or more units

***International Student: $1,714.00 registration plus $339 per unit

In addition health insurance is mandatory for international students and it costs on average $700

If you are traveling abroad...

make sure to keep your passport, documents and your cash safe at all times!

Working- Optional Practical Training (OPT) & Economic Hardship

As part of the experience of being an international university student studying in the US is Optional Practical training. Optional Practical training is an opportunity for an international student to work in the Us for 1 year, in its field of study, during or after completing the degree. This opportunity really allowed me to work for a variety of places such as an Art Gallery in Solana B

each, Ca, as well as work as a graphic designer and fashion designer for few jewelry design companies. I choose to use my OPT In between completing my Bachelors degree and Masters degree so I could gain versatility in the workforce and I really think that this opportunity served me well.

In addition to gaining one year of OPT an international student is also able to work during his stay in the US in two ways. One that is often known by many students is the opportunity to work on Campus while maintaing a full time student status, sadly I did not get a chance to do any work on campus myself but I do have many friends that have turned an small opportunity such as a cafeteria job to a great career as a teacher or as a high ranked administrator so starting working part time on Campus can not only earn you a little money and school credits but it will most certainty enhance your work experience and consequently your career.

Another possible way in which international students are permitted to work on and off campus part time only while maintaing a full time student status is by applying for Economic Hardship. In my case I applied for Economic Hardship since at the time it was more fit my circumstances. At the time the price of the Dollar was really tripling the costs of tuition for my grandmother and family to be able to afford in Brazil and after receiving a offer from a major jewelry designer to work and design for her I decided to apply for this type of work permit from the INS and after sending many documents as proof of our economic hardship I was granted the opportunity to work off campus. This really enabled me to grow and experience many the many facets of the jewelry and fashion world and at the same time I was able to help with my living and school expenses and by the last few years of University I was living tight but I was so excited to be fully independent.

Masters and H1B
Masters and H1B

Heading towards Masters and H1B work visa

As I finished my one year of OPT Practical Training I realized that it was either time to go back home to Brazil or continue with my education. My visa limitations did not permit that I stay and try for a job in my area so I decided to start my Masters degree in Business and administration with focus on E-commerce since I had started a business online. The process of applying for a Masters was quite simple since I had graduated from an American University already and I choose a University that gave me the flexibility of studying at night while being able to work in building my business during the day. I used my business degree to create a business plan for my long time boyfriend who was opening his retail store for home finishings and since the plan was very successful he decided to offer me a job and his company www.Travertinemarket.com which at the time was names SEMAR Inc applied for a H1B visa for me which allowed me to work full time while completing my masters. This opportunity was very beneficial to me and I had to adjust my time well since I was not only studying very hard but was also working really hard for travertine market and at the same time building up my business called www.miximports.com. I was also very excited with the fact that the H1B visa was valid for 3 years with the possibility of a renewal, but most importantly it was the road towards a long waited Green Card, which I could apply for within 2 years of holding the visa. I felt very victorious and proud of myself and even tough my time was very tight during the 3 years of completing my Masters I managed to graduate with HONORS!

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States I have been in America.

Here is a new use for google maps! I wanted to use it to showcase all the states in the US that I have visited. I hope to get a chance to visit them all as they are all so unique and so beautiful.

show route and directions
A marker1995 first arrived in NY and have been back many times as I simply love this town and state -
New York
get directions

B marker1995 and few other times -
Florida
get directions

C marker1997 where I spent 6 months -
Georgia
get directions

D marker1996/97 traveled to Tennessee while spending time in Georgia -
Tennessee
get directions

E marker1998/2011 My current home state -
California
get directions

F marker1998 and more -
Nevada
get directions

G marker2001 and more -
Arizona
get directions

H marker2013 -
Pensilvania
get directions

I marker2013 -
Virginia
get directions

J marker2013 -
New Jersey
get directions

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Did you enjoy reading this article? As a new lens maker I would love to know which areas I can improve. Love, Michelle

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your story. Great lens!

    • Mix Mafra profile image
      Author

      Michelle Mafra 6 years ago from Corona CA

      @anonymous: I will be more than happy to be interviewed by her. i will make sure to send you an email right away. That will be my pleasure and I am always excited to be part of a school project and help the little ones.

      Thank you for for stopping by and for leaving me this comment . Happy Holidays from Michelle

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great article and very educational. My daughter is doing an immigration project at school and if you would be available for emails for questions, would you be willing to answer a few questions? She's a doll, 13 and would love to "interview you" with questions you have not already answered. My email is cinbobslad@msn.com if you could contact me please?

      Thanks!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your story. My husband's best friend emigrated from Brazil and attained U.S. citizenship a couple of years ago.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      So wonderful of you sharing your experience with being in the US.

    • xiaohuaz lm profile image

      xiaohuaz lm 6 years ago

      I came here from China in 1997.

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 6 years ago from Quezon City

      Thanks for sharing you experience with all of us Michelle, I'm from the Philippines and have relatives who are US immigrants so I understand where you are coming from. It's goog to know that you've adjusted to life in the US very well. Best of luck to you. (:

    • Mix Mafra profile image
      Author

      Michelle Mafra 6 years ago from Corona CA

      @delia-delia: Dear d-artist,

      That is so true. I feel that us immigrants sometimes appreciate more of the infrastructure that America provides. Especially because we know how hard things can be in other countries. I think we have a deep appreciation for this country as well as the opportunities that it gives us. You are so right. My grandmother is an outstanding person who loves and provided me with so many great opportunities. She is still with us and she is so proud that I was able to finish my university and my masters degree here and education and experience is everything for her. She is simply an amazing womam. She is pure wisdom.I will be posting a lot more of our story in this page as I just got started and hope you come back to check it out, these days I have been working extra hours so I did not get a chance to update it much but soon I will. Take great care, I think I can call you as my first Squidoo friend! I have few acquaintances already but I feel like you are my friend already! Thank you for supporting a new squid!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 6 years ago

      Nice informative lens! what a great grandmother you have! I am an immigrant and noticed how much of the USA is an influence all over the world, music, food(McD's) clothing etc....yet we are hated...I just don't get it...I'm glad you like America, it is the country of freedom and opportunity..only those that "chose" to be here know the true value of this country.