It's up to you ... make it in New York and you could find yourself backstage at Fashion Week. Photo: Reuters
Ex-pat Stephanie Flack offers her tips on how starry-eyed Aussies can make the move to the Big Apple.
Upon telling my friends, co-workers, and basically everyone I came across that I was transplanting myself to New York for a year to live and work without a job lined up, I was flooded with the same four questions.
1. How did you score a green card?
2. You do know they're kind of in the middle of a GFC?
3. Why on earth would you want to live in America?
The fourth question was rather more implied from the "Are you insane?" look on their faces.
Firstly, no green card was needed. I was able to get one of the new J-1 visas which opened up for Aussie and Kiwi tertiary students who are either currently enrolled fulltime or have graduated in the last 12 months.
And correct, I'm not entirely compos mentis.
Going over without a job lined up is tough stuff. But unless you want to go down an unpaid internship path or work on a ski field, it's near impossible to secure a job in the US from abroad.
Since I fell into the recent graduate category, the window of opportunity to get the visa options was only open for a year. GFC or not, I had to just go for it and hope for the best.
US working visas are otherwise near impossible to get and restrictive if you do. You'll need a company to sponsor you who'll have to prove to immigration that you are the Pavarotti of your field.
The J-1 visa is one of the most flexible working visas on offer. Although only limited to one year, you can work as much or as little as you like for any number of employers. No pre-arranged job is needed before going either.
Obtaining the J-1 visa is a surprisingly simple but pricey process. Be prepared to pay at least $1000 in visa fees and admin costs depending on which sponsoring agent you use. They ask you a few questions, check this, stamp that, charge a small fortune and off you can go.
There are a number of approved organisations that can act as your designated sponsor and thankfully for me, you don't need to prove that you are in any way exceptionally talented in your field.
Whilst the sponsoring organisations don't offer much support in terms of helping you find a job, they're there to provide the means by which you can legally be employed. That is if anyone will actually hire you.
Americans are known for being an insular looking bunch. It is understandable that most Aussies would rather flock to Europe instead of the States. But if you can control your eyes from rolling all over the place from having to explain that Australia is nowhere near Germany and that English is your first and only language, then the experience can offer you more than what you would get hanging out with other Aussie working in a London pub.
Americans are a curious bunch and if they give them a chance, they'll open up to you and opportunities may flood your way.
Picking the US city you want to live in will also have a big influence on how your experience will pan out. Smaller cities mean less opportunity. Bigger cities mean more competition.
And if you are one of those people who are influenced by a city's weather, you might want to factor that in too.
My decision on where to go was easy. I'd always wanted to live in New York and wanted to see if I could make it there. And I love the novelty of snow.
As I discovered, it's only the tourists who wear the "I heart NY" shirts. The locals wear the "I hate NY" version. Everything that's great about New York can also be its downfall.
The extensive subway allows you to roam all across its five boroughs and never need a car. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to be in a world class rugby scrum, boarding or alighting a New York subway train is a good emulation.
Rent prices don't seem to get lower the further away you get from town which makes living close to Manhattan a logical decision. The suburb I lived in had an unusual and alarming number of chemists, almost one on every corner. But if none of them work out for people, I guess there was the enormous funeral parlour on the main street.
I thought finding a job would there be hard, just not impossible. I started experiencing my own personal GFC - Gonna Freakin Cry. Things were far from easy and New York was certainly kicking me in the butt. I was smacked in the face with just how culturally different our countries really are.
It took a good two months to really get settled, sorted and score the lowest paying job of my life. Despite feeling sad and sorry for myself, I couldn't really complain about my situation, given the number of people who had recently lost their jobs.
Eventually I was able to add some pretty amazing jobs and skills to the resume that I hadn't anticipated.
I found myself working with fashion labels and freakishly tall models at New York Fashion Week. I learnt how to gawk over celebrities while acting like I didn't really care.
I also learnt that models can eat the full catered buffet given the chance. It's not that they don't want to eat, it's just the smell of so much ego in the air can turn anyone off their lunch.
I also represented New York in ice skating, travelled around a few states competing with them and won some gold hardware for the mantelpiece.
My name also appeared in a booklet under a thank you list on the same page as Donald Trump for an event I worked on - except his name was in bold with "very special" added.
Whilst my experience was far from easy, in my mind, I made it in New York.
If nothing else, I've been left with copious amounts of anecdotes to tell my friends, like the time I was working on a photo shoot for an actor in Central Park.
A police officer, who was also a photography enthusiast, approached us to find out what was going on. He started to get involved and helped us with the lighting. We asked him what sort of things he usual likes to photograph. He said he enjoyed "shooting people". Much laughter.
I now don a "I feel rather moderate about NY" shirt.
But despite suffering ocular damage from all the eye rolling, I'd go back to the US in a blink.