Meet Erika ir Šarūnas. They started their US journey in Chicago, then Denver, and now they are settled in NYC! I have visited a good number of states, cities, national parks and still love to get out and travel every few months. Speaking of, their temporary winter getaway is the Mexico beach, where they have been spending the past few months.
Tell us your story.
Long, long time ago, almost ten years ago, we were hanging out at our apartment in Vilnius with a friend, and somehow the discussion about the US green card lottery came up. After a brief consideration, our group of 3, decided why not to try it! I still remember how we thought that doing our own photoshoot for required headshot pictures was a great idea. Let me tell you, holding a blanket behind a person in a dimly lit room to imitate the blank background is not the same as getting professional pictures taken. Let’s just say we learned our lesson quickly.
After collecting all the necessary information, all three of us filled out an application and then just kind of forgot about it. Days and months passed, and after more than a half a year, we checked the results. Surprise, surprise, Sharas got the confirmation that he was picked for the next round! I guess our group had a 33% chance since he was the only one getting a positive result.
The first few moments were exciting and confusing because we had both just started new jobs and moved into a new apartment. We never really planned to move out, especially to the USA, since it always seemed so far away. After some back and forth, we decided to go through the next steps and see what happens.
Once we got an invitation to the US embassy for our interview, we threw a small wedding on a cold January day and then went to the embassy for our interview a few weeks later. We’ve been living in the States for the last seven years already. Sharas is still joking that it’s the best lottery we have ever won. We started our US journey in Chicago, then Denver, and now we are settled in NYC! WeI have visited a good number of states, cities, and national parks and still love to get out and travel every few months. Our temporary winter getaway is Mexico beach, where we have been spending the past few months.
What was your life looked like before? Why did you decide to change it?
Our life was just like everyone else’s: we had 9-5 jobs, hung out with friends over the weekends, or visited parents, or traveled somewhere locally. Bigger vacations or trips usually were once-a-year adventures. We didn’t really have any big plans for the future. Luckily, that one decision years ago to go and try something new led to a pretty big change in our lives. Sometimes we think about how our life would have been back home in Lithuania, but we are just happy now and have zero regrets about making the leap.
What were the biggest lessons you learned on the trip? What did you understand about yourself?
We’ve learned how well we handle all the obstacles that are being thrown at us. We learned that most times, everything just depends on you and your actions and not other people. I think these experiences instilled more confidence in both of us through the years.
Do you feel your life has turned out differently than you previously thought? Maybe you found yourself different from what you always thought?
Yes! For example, I never thought that I’d fall in love with mountains so much. Thanks to those three years we spent in Colorado! Doing hiking, climbing, backpacking, and spending a lot of time outdoors were one of the coolest experiences. Nature there is just breathtaking. We grew up in a really flat land, and while Lithuanian lakes and forests are beautiful in their own way, standing at a 4km+ summit after a long day of climbing just hits you differently.
We’ve just climbed the highest peak in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba, above 5.6km. We would never be able to do it or even think about it if not for those years of gaining experience and learning about mountaineering. Those seven years abroad have brought a lot of new experiences, new chapters, and new people into our lives. I think it helped us understand ourselves better.
If you could go back to the beginning, what would you do differently?
In the beginning, you are uncertain about a lot of things because it’s a new place you don’t know what to expect or what is the right way to do some things. Maybe I would tell myself to be more self-confident.
If someone is secretly dreaming about the lifestyle you are living now, what would you tell them?
Take some risks and follow your passion. Cliche right?
Of course, evaluate all the cons and pros.pros and cons. It can look very scary when you’re leaving everything behind, your family and friends, and going where you’ve never been before, especially if you do it for the first time. But embrace yourself, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. What’s the worst that can happen? In the worst case, you just go back to square 1, which is not that bad! You just start again.
Is it scary to go on the adventure of a lifetime?
It is scary to leave everything behind and go to a different country. Especially when you don’t have anyone waiting there for you. The odds are against you at first, but it definitely gets easier!
What was happening in your head?
It took a while to realize that this is our life. Everything was new, and at least for me, it looked like a vacation, and it was fun. And then, after a while, it hits you that you are alone in this new big city, you get homesick, and it becomes sad. I think it happens to everyone who moves abroad. You just have to go through all these adaptation phases. It just takes time to adjust and settle down to a new life. Finding local friends helps a lot, so getting out there to meet people is something everyone should do more!
What are the most amazing things about living here?
There are so many great things about it. You meet new people from around the World, and it’s so diverse, especially in bigger cities! Don’t get me started about the food; somewhere like NYC, Chicago, or LA, you can try any food you want, literally any!
One of our favorite things is easy to access to nature. The US has a really great national parks system, the whole 63 parks. You could just go on a road trip and explore all the parks for days. That is how we found our love for mountains.
It’s a great country with its own problems, similar to any other country. No one is perfect, so you just need to learn to accept it.
Living the way you live. What was the hardest thing in this whole experience?
One thing is that we really miss our family and friends from Lithuania. We try to visit them as often as we can. We even moved to the east coast to get closer to Europe. So it’s faster and cheaper to fly to Lithuania.
What are the first steps in preparation?
You do need some preparation. Well, most people would need some anyway. The first thing you need is to figure out where you want to go, and for how long, what the place is like. The Internet is full of good and bad advice, so just be smart about it.
Of course, you need to do good research about the place you’re going. What’s the cost of living, how much cash do you need to survive for a few months, and how much do people usually make in your field?
Always have a second plan, just in case something won’t go as planned. We always have a plan B. It really helps if you have some friends and family that can help you navigate life abroad. We had no one, so we had some challenges at first. Even things like finding a place to live can be harder. That depends on which part of the World you’re going to, of course.
Lastly, you need to have some extra savings. Having that plan B option if everything fails just keeps your mind at ease.
What are your next steps? Is there any adventure you are planning?
We are planning to stay in NYC for now. At least it will stay the place we call home for now. Currently, we’re traveling in Mexico, so hoping to get back here sometime soon. We have some new mountaineering goals that we want to accomplish in south America, so Ecuador and Chile are already in our sights!