It was June, 2004. I was turning 21 that summer and decided to go work abroad for three months and visit my sister who lived already in Miami, Florida. And when I spent summer there with her I decided she was my only sister and I wanted to stay. It was the most spontaneous, crazy and stupid decision of my life.
The road was hard - I was not planning to stay so I only brought $300 for my "new life". I tried to work in one restaurant as a hostess and didn't get paid for almost two months. I was broke. Then I got a job in McDonalds in the famous South Beach. My first two week’s salary was $27 after they deducted uniform expenses... My sister was also a broke student so she couldn't help me - I moved on my own to live in a studio apartment (same bedroom) with two ladies from Dominica Republic who didn't speak English. There were days my food budget for the day was $1.
But what doesn't kill you - makes you stronger. As I started working two jobs, more hours (sometimes 16-20 hours on my feet on double shifts) and making a little better money, things slowly started improving. I met nice people who helped and inspired me. I got a new job at a friend’s office but had to take one-and-a-half hour bus ride to get to work every day. Buses in Miami are not that nice, only poor people take them, homeless people. Once I even got vomited on in the bus - that was disgusting.
In 2006 I got my real estate license, borrowed money for my first car (which I crashed on the third day on crazy Miami highways). I started doing real estate and office management. Within a year, I applied to go back finish my degree at Florida International University – a Bachelor's in Finance. My two years of Economics studies at Vilnius University didn't really count so I had to redo my entire Bachelors Degree.
During 2007-2009 as real estate industry crashed, I took out student loans and worked as a bookkeeper 30 hours per week while taking five classes per semester to get me through school. Those were crazy days, I don't know how I did it. My Friday nights were not at some party but at Accounting and Finance Student Association meetings.
In 2009 I graduated with Summa cum Laude (GPA 3.97 out of 4) and received an internship and a full time offer at one of the largest banks in the world - Bank of America Headquarters. This was a turning point where hard work stared really paying off. I moved to Charlotte, NC. And got back to do my master's in Finance online program at University of Michigan right away.
I worked a lot, late nights and I was studying too. Things were still very hard but my life started looking much better. I learnt fast and got great reviews from my managers, started building a great professional network which still helped me to get best banking jobs later. I left Bank of America three years later as AVP, senior risk specialist.
A few years have passed now and I am back in Miami. I just bought my first almost luxury looking condo here in the centre of the city. I am now a senior consultant in Financial Services Risk Management at a world class firm - Ernst & Young. Now, I have a really good life. I guess I made it, and what matters most to me - I never betrayed my principles, my dignity and kept my values even during the hardest times.
What is next - I hope to create my family here, get married (hopefully soon) but never forget my best friends and my parents who are still in Lithuania. I come to visit once or twice a year. Even after this all time - I am still Lithuanian in my passport and in my heart.
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