I used to dream a lot about going to study abroad in the US when I was younger. I buried that dream once I saw the cost of education there and decided to move to the Netherlands instead. My curriculum had me do my first two years at the same time and thus have me graduate in three years instead of the initial four. After the first year of studying, I was to have a mandatory internship, that I thought the university would set me to. On our first couple of days, it was made very clear that we had to find our own internships, and quickly.
I started thinking and searching where to go already on my first week of university. I had made a friend through the internet during summer and he lives in Silicon Valley. Because neither of us had any intentions travelling to each other’s continents in the near future, but we still wished to meet in real life, and because I had had a dream of moving to America one day, San Francisco seemed like the right place where to start looking for an internship.
I didn’t have many leads on coming here – my university didn’t recommend internships in the US and said that all the internships there are unpaid and my friend had never had to look for one on his own. Thankfully, you don’t have to dig through shady forums to find an internship there – I found mine on www.internships.com (try finding a more obvious URL). You can search for internships by location, job position and company. True, there weren’t a lot of paid internships in San Francisco but the ones that were seemed truly interesting.
I had an interview with the first and only company – Badger Maps – in November. The first interview was with the recruiter at 7PM because the time difference between the Netherlands and San Francisco is 9 inconvenient hours. I got to schedule my next interview, with who were to become my mentors, for the same day at midnight. My last interview with the CEO was about a week later. All those interviews were ca 15-20 minutes long and surprisingly relaxed. I didn’t feel like being interrogated, rather, it felt like a friendly chat between old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while and were discussing things they had done and learned.
I received the contract in my mailbox by Christmas and even though I was said, multiple times, to rush with issuing a visa, I still left it to a relatively last minute, because I had exams and otherwise a busy period coming up. I found a J1 visa sponsor from the US government website in March. It had a whole list of sponsors in Europe. After an interview with them , I was ready to go to the embassy… which I only did in the end of June, right in the middle of my most important exams. Tell me about stress!
I was terrified of the interview in the embassy. I shouldn’t have been, because the whole ‘interview’ (or what I expected to be an ‘integorration’) was “Hi there, where are you going and what will you be doing there?” “I’m going on an internship in San Francisco.” “Alright. Make sure to wear flowers in your hair then.” I got my passport with the visa in post after a couple of days.
I waited a long time before I bought my plane tickets – I only got them 2 weeks before my flight. I had planned to stay with my childhood friend for 3 days who is an au pair in LA. From there we wanted to drive to Las Vegas for the weekend and I was also supposed to meet the friend who I had met on the internet because he was there for work. The destination after Vegas was the Grand Canyon. Sounds bulletproof?
Well, it was not…
I had bought my plane ticket from Stockholm to LA. I was 100% sure that I wouldn’t have trouble getting to Sweden – my dad has a trucking company and the employees drive across Scandinavia all the time, and if not employees, then he also has a huge network of other drivers. I’ll be damned – absolutely no-one was heading to Stockholm that day. It was past 6PM and the ship from Tallinn to Stockholm had already left the port. I was starting to panic – my flight was 1pm the next day. Less than 24h to figure out a way to get across the sea! Dad took me to Paldiski, where there’s a ship to Kapellskär later in the evening. We stood there and stopped every truck that was about to get on the ship – hoping one of them would be heading towards the airport. We were already starting to lose hope and my father thought that he’d have to drive me to the airport himself but then another SUV pulled up next to us which was rare because that ship was mainly for truck drivers.
The guy didn’t even have time to exit his car before I asked if he’s getting on the ship – he couldn’t possibly have certain locations where he would need to be exactly on time. I was wrong, he was rushing back home to Denmark but after a quick Google search, he told me that he can drop me off at the airport since it would only add 20 extra minutes to his route.
I got to the airport at 9AM. I was then informed that my flight had been delayed for 2 more hours. How nice. I had never been to the US before and the amount of times I had had to go through security was, frankly, off-putting – firstly, the main security check where they almost took away my marzipan bar, then visa and passport check, another suitcase check and then another visa check. That’s how I passed those 7 long hours in the airport and soon I was off to LA.
Author: Birgitte Piip
Translator: Triin Tikk
Editor: Kärt Mättikas
Photos: Brigitte Piip