A Chilean immigrant on becoming a lawyer in the US

Written by Constanza Prieto

I am a woman, lawyer and immigrant, and I am proud of that. Being an immigrant, even by personal choice, is always difficult and requires a lot of courage.

I left Chile, my country, six years ago just after I finished law school. My reason for leaving Chile was a mix between following my love and developing a career as an international lawyer. I lived for almost four years in Paris where I hold a master’s degree in private international law, and then I moved to New York where I have been living for the last two years.

I came to New York City with a lot of pre-judgments and fears. To be honest, the beginning was hard. I arrived in rather cold and inclement winter, my English was pretty bad and I sent more than a hundred resumes without receiving any callback. I realized that it would be a major obstacle to find a job related to my profession.

Maybe the most surprising thing for me was discovering the importance of networking in American work culture. I grew up in a home where my parents told me that merits were the most important thing, and that if I studied hard, one day someone would recognize that. However, here I realized that marking contacts and being part of professional associations are some of the most important factors in your success. Additionally, how you “sell yourself” is very important here — this is still very hard for me because in my culture, being humble is a virtue, while in the U.S. I have the impression that it’s better to show and tell the world how amazing you are.

Sometimes I felt demoralized, but I always kept applying without giving up. I also met a group of Chilean people, and through them, I met American women who helped me with my resume and cover letters. Now, we are very good friends.

Gradually, as I gained a better understanding of American work culture, the doors began to open and I found job opportunities in the field of immigration law. My experience in New York helped me find a new impetus in my career, and I learned that part of the challenge is discovering in yourself all of your potential. Currently, I am working in a law firm in Brooklyn. New York is a city that was willing to welcome me despite my imperfect English and my limited work experience in the United States.

We are living in a sad time, when ignorant people have tried to associate the word “immigrant” with negative and hateful connotations. Today, more than ever, we must be proud to be immigrant women, and we have to be sure that immigrating will be a valuable experience and make a real contribution not only for us, but also for the nation that welcomes us. Hardworking immigrants founded New York, and we must remain to be part of that history.

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