Since I was about 10 years old, I’d dreamed of moving to America. At that stage, it would still be another eight years before I’d pack my bags and scurry on over for the first time, but still I knew it was where I wanted to be.
To be completely honest, I took my first trip there at nineteen solo for nearly seven months simply because I didn’t love my degree at uni and wanted an out.
I was studying health science majoring in speech pathology at Sydney University, and even though I had friends all around me, I felt stuck, trapped and knew deep down it wasn’t right for me.
So off I went to look at flights to leave, and by leave I mean a whole semester. But I needed an excuse (and money) to stay so long. Enter Summer Camp. In about one hour of looking around, I told my mum what my plan was and she was fine with it because I think she thought this was one of my over-the-top crazy ideas that I’d never see all the way through.
But by that weekend, I’d already found the camp company I was going to go with, attended an information evening, gone through the long application process and paid the hefty fees – it was happening!
It was towards the end of 2012 and I remember Camp Counsellors USA (CCUSA) saying that it could take up to about April or even June to be guaranteed a spot, however, it seemed as though my acoustic guitar playing and accompanying original camp inspired lyrical application just caught their fancy (can’t sing or play guitar – but it worked!) with a confirmation email approving me in early November and placing me at the Girl Scouts camp Singing Hills in Minnesota.
And just like that the next six months couldn’t come faster. I was working 100 jobs for minimum wage but I had this world of the unknown to look forward to. I didn’t know anyone going nor did I know anyone who’d gone to a summer camp in the past.
I won’t get into the details here - but camp itself was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Those two months was honestly so life changing and I can’t even explain how. I was so lucky the camp I was sent to – we were all from different parts of the world, got along like we’d been best friends for years and the love and support that was there was indescribable.
The next four months saw me loiter around the US. I had two visas – a J1 for camp and a B1/B2 for travel. All was valid, all was legitimate – but I was not aware nor did anyone tell me nor is there any information still to this day about it – that with two visas, you must leave the country and re-enter for the next to be activated. Let this be a warning!
I entered on the J1 and just assumed the B1/B2 was good to go. I’m not even kidding when I say I was 100m from the Canadian boarder but wasn’t bothered to cross it – if only!
Again, will spare you the details here, but pretty much I was caught four days before the end of my trip, detained, taken in a police car, kept overnight in a real prison and its cell, wore actual jail clothes all before being deported back home.
But that in no way stopped me from wanting to return to the US. Within the next year off I went again (after I learnt the hard way that I could no longer be able to apply for an ESTA visa) and was given a five year B1/B2 visa – the one I’ve been using to get in and out of the country to this day.
Since then, the countless times I’ve re-entered the United States I’ve always had to be sent back to airport jail for questioning – and even though I don’t have a criminal record nor was I charged, the incident lives in my fingerprints.
This has never once bothered me – until I started the process to apply for my green card….