Gary McLaughlin and his fiancee FrancesGary McLaughlin

Throughout my life, I always considered myself as a child of America. Despite being born and raised in Dundalk, Ireland, I’ve constantly had a deep fascination with the United States, even in my formative years.

Apparently, my first crush was American model and actress Christine Brinkley, who appeared as the ‘Uptown Girl’ in Billy Joel’s music video of the same name. Film wise, I was infatuated with the Ghostbuster series and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Even my favorite television shows were American made, such as Home Improvement and Alf, a forgotten soul of 80's television.

It’s was no surprise then that as I developed, so did my love affair with American culture. Ghostbusters gave way to titles like Goodfellas and Any Given Sunday, while Tim Allen’s trademark chortle was replaced by the scripted gold of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

I had a dream  to live and work in America. The problem was not getting here, but rather the opposite, staying there.

After studying for four years at two universities, I found myself on the sidelines for my local newspaper, quite literally, covering sport, a dream job for most men, but yet I was unfulfilled. All my life, I dreamed of America and the nightmare of not giving it a go sometimes haunted me in my sleep.

Two years ago, my partner Frances approached me with the idea of relocating to the States when she was finished her degree in building surveying. With the construction industry on its knees, she had no other choice. After evaluating my options, it looked like the dream would remain but that as getting a visa required a lot of luck. Thankfully, for the first time in my life, my luck was in.

On a whim, we applied to the US Diversity Green Card Lottery in November of 2010 and left it at that. We thought nothing more of it and explored other options. Australia, for me, was a last resort. Too far away and the romance of it was nothing compared to New York and everything that America offered. Still, without the lottery, we could either come to America on an 18-month work visa and hope for the best or stay at home. It was all up in the air.

Everyone knows that feeling as you go to check a lottery ticket. Seconds before, you allow yourself to dream of such riches, only to see them fade away when the winning numbers do not resemble anything on your ticket. That’s how I felt before I checked our lottery applications on July 15, 2011 as the first draft of results were posted online.

We checked Frances’ application first. Unsuccessful. Why would mine be any different? As I entered the necessary information, I too began to dream but never thought about the reality of things until the page loaded before me. To use an old sports analogy, this was a game changer.

The foot was almost in the door. I was one of 100,000 people worldwide, whittled down from 23 million that got through to the next stage. From that number, 50,000 people would get visas.

There was no time to be lethargic. The US Embassy would not accept late submissions of paperwork or due diligence not being performed correctly. I even had to undergo a full medical examination, something I never thought of, in order to acquire the credentials required for the visa.

Finally, the day arrived, October 11 as I was interviewed by the Embassy.

From the moment it was granted, trepidation and fear of the unknown set in as Frances and myself settled on New York as the final destination upon our arrival. What did I really know about New York? Apart from films, television and popular culture, the city was an unknown variable to me; vast and progressive, powerful and seductive, yet elegant and classy.

October to February was a whirlwind of preparation and anxiety.
Three months suddenly became three weeks, then three days. In that space, I went through all the emotions that an emigrant does when leaving the country for an extended period for the first time.

Several leaving parties were held, perhaps too many in fact as pints flowed as if the recession was a thing of make belief. The car, a Toyota Corrolla, which served me so well for two years was hastily sold and the credit union account was all but cleared out, much to the bemusement of the woman behind the counter.

Still, nothing could prepare me for the eventual airport scene, one which I had been dreading since I broke the news in mid-November to the parents. Someone described it as a moment befitting a funeral, one which I thought at the time was a ludicrous statement, until Frances and myself went through it.

That morning, it started when I left man’s best friend behind, the dog. He didn’t know what was happening, but it still didn’t make it any easier on me.
It’s true what they say about Irish sons as most never want to leave their mammies behind. Although I tried to hold back the tears in the new plush second terminal at Dublin Airport, it didn’t work as I waved goodbye to the family with tears running down my face onto my quivering lip.

I was New York’s now and like that, I boarded the plane like a leprechaun, who found his pot of gold through the visa lottery. Whether I find the perfect job in New York could be another luck-comes-good story. Hopefully though, lightning strikes twice.