Tag Archives: American Expat in the UK

Four problems I never expected when I moved abroad

unexpected moving abroad

I have spent a fair amount of time waxing lyrical to future or potential expats about what they really, really (no, seriously) need to do before, or even after, they move countries. Things to be thought of and deeply considered before making the jump, or good ways for acclimating one’s self post-move. You can even see a few of my contributions to a campaign over at the HiFX expat resources page regarding this very thing, if you’re so interested. This campaign is actually what got me thinking about the things that I didn’t expect before moving, that now have (or have had) a lasting effect on my life. Things that you never see coming, and that no one else seems to talk about.

Part of this comes from having been what I like to call a “serial expat”-a person who lived the expat life in different countries here and there for extended periods of time, but always with the intent to end up back at home, some day, eventually. But then I married an Englishman, and suddenly my adventures in expatdom became my permanent everyday life.

Now I toe the line of an American in England, and while it’s a lot easier than it was when I first hopped off the proverbial boat, there are some issues I have encountered that never even crossed my mind! Here are just a few of those problems – write them down, and learn from my mistakes!

1) Keep your driver’s license up to date

This makes everything so much easier when renting cars when you travel or return home. In most American states you can actually update your license up to six months before your birthday (something I didn’t know until it was already too late!). You also have 6 months after your birthday. So plan ahead and do this! Renewing from abroad is almost impossible, unless you’re military or can prove that you are still a resident in your home state who is only living abroad temporarily.

2) Bank Account Shenanigans…

I have both an American and a UK bank account. Having the American one makes trips back to the USA a ton easier for me, and sadly, I also have to keep paying my US federal student loans (the Feds still don’t have a way to do that from an overseas account, believe it or not). The downside here is that, at least with my bank, you get charged for not using your account a certain minimum amount of times per month. So if you only use it to pay your student loans – like me – you get charged an extra few pounds every single month. It’s not cool, but as of yet, there isn’t a way around this.

3) You’re the only one who knows where you are!

No one is going to remember the timezone for your new homeland. No one. Not your Mom and Dad, not your friends… not a soul. No matter how many times you tell them. You’ll think that they will, but they won’t. So get used to thinking in multiple time zones for the foreseeable future. Sorry!

4) Every culture’s a different culture.

I have lived in several countries where I was very obviously different – the Marshall Islands, South Korea, and even France for a brief summer. In all of these places, I knew I stood out. Sometimes more than others. But when planning for my life in England, I never really thought about how different the culture would be. But it’s so different, mind-bogglingly so sometimes. The greetings, the food, the seasons. My advice is to make the effort to really recognize that everywhere is different than where you’re from, even if you speak the same language. Roll with it, and do your best to adapt while staying authentic to the parts of your own culture that mean something to you.

A weekend in Newcastle {part two}

After waking up early and lacking any sort of hangover on Sunday after the wedding, Jon and I wanted to make the most of the hours we had left in Newcastle before catching our flight back down south in the evening. After indulging in the hotel breakfast and some hot coffees (and saying goodbye to the bride and groom) we packed up, checked out, and hit the streets.

newcastle

newcastle

We strolled along the Tyne Quayside and came across a little street fair, which was serendipitous since I loooove a good street fair. We bought some local cheese and sampled some fudge and ogled people, as you do. And I tried to understand what people were saying, but that Geordie accent is just too much for me and it was all nearly impossible.

flowers in newcastle

newcastle street fair

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A weekend in Newcastle {part one}

This weekend Jon and I made our inaugural visit to Newcastle upon Tyne, one of the furthest points north in England, and the last major English city before hitting the Scottish border. Our good friends were getting married, and the groom is a Geordie (which is the name for a person from Newcastle, I have no idea why, though) and that’s where the happy couple had set the venue. I was pleased for the excuse to finally go up North and look around, since before this weekend the furthest up I’d been was when I visited Penny in Nottingham forever ago, back when I thought the Midlands and the North were basically the same thing. But they aren’t! And people from those places will yell at you if you voice that thought out loud! …….Lesson learned. Here is a handy dandy map for your reference :

uk city map

Getting up to Newcastle was easy enough, just a short hour-ish on a plane. Some friends of ours made the 9 hour drive and I was NOT jealous. The flight was so easy! We went from Gatwick, which is a small airport, to the Newcastle airport, which is equally small, and it was all so simple and pleasant that I absolutely dread the thought of my next flight abroad. Ugh. #firstworldproblems, gotcha.

sussex from above

Anyway, this long summer has fully segued into autumn, leaving Newcastle bathed in an altogether delightful early season chill that wasn’t too cold, and was also sunny. Perfect! We easily found our destination, the Vermont Hotel, after taking a tram from the airport into the city center. The wedding was taking place in the same hotel, and it was all historic and gorgeous. Oh, and there was a castle next door!

vermont hotel newcastle

castle keep newcastle vermont hotel

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Eliza Doolittles around the world unite!

Yesterday I was gchatting with Jon and typed “mum” without thinking (but I have a mom, of course). The other day I described my new class of rambunctious students as “cheeky” (no better descriptive adjective came to mind). I keep talking about the “holiday” Lindsey and I are going on next week (which is actually a vacation, you know). What’s happening to me?

Me (left) and Jon (right). .......Just kidding.

Me (left) and Jon (right). …….Just kidding.

Sometimes my use of British-isms over the preferred American vocabulary is out of pure necessity-one needs to be understood, and I do in fact reside in the UK now. And I work at an English school, with English/British people. Honestly, it often depends on my mood and how much (or how little) teasing and torment I can handle at any given moment were I to just say something the way I want to say it. But using these Britishisms on my own time, with my own husband? Well now it’s getting weird. And I’m not sure how I feel about it.

The unconscious fluid change into becoming someone who sometimes just can’t remember what an American would say about a certain situation, at a certain time (yesterday I called a stroller a push-chair and then I wanted to punch myself in the face, but luckily I was only talking to Jon and I sort of forgot what we call a stroller for a second, but almost immediately corrected this faux pas) is really troubling to me. I’m not sure if it should be, but I get it now-how language truly is always changing and really isn’t as much of a  controllable substance as one might think. Not just something that changes over vast amounts of time, but something that can change over a much shorter span.

Jon says that my voice and how I speak become completely different when I am with my family and friends in the States. And I believe him, because of course that’s true and I would revert to the truest form of myself. But what if I’m heading too far into the rabbit hole, only to lose all my most American bits and pieces? Of course I’ll never become a true English person, whatever that means, but toeing the line where I’m too English for the Americans in my life and too American for the English ones…..what to do, what to do.

I live in a gray (not grey, not yet) area. And sometimes it’s frustrating. I wonder what I’ll sound like 5 years from now?

A particularly sunny bank holiday weekend

One thing I love about living in the UK is the sporadic but always delightful surprise that is a “bank holiday”. Without real reason or purpose, the country shuts down and most everyone has a day off work. It’s very, very awesome. And the icing on top of the bank holiday weekend that I’m currently still enjoying was that this one, shockingly, was sun soaked and gorgeous and (no lie) hot! Like, in a regular country where it gets hot!

Alright, I kid, I kid. I know England is a normal country, by all meanings of the word. And actually a friend of mine pointed out the other day that she couldn’t understand why everyone isn’t just thankful for the sunshine and bits of heat we DO receive, seeing as we’re on the same line of latitude as much colder countries, like most of Canada for example, and Russia, too. And she is right. And I digress.

Sooooo bank holiday weekend! It’s been great. Foodies Festival on the Hove Lawns, a gorgeous day spent in London, a sun-soaked morning/afternoon lounging in the back garden with a stack of magazines and some cherry cordial, and several birthday parties later I am sporting a helluva sunburn and feeling oh-so-rejuvenated for the summer that seems to have arrived. Knowing England, it won’t stick around, and so I’ll take what I can get.

I’ve finally gotten my DSLR fixed, and managed to take a bunch of lovely photos this weekend, so I’ll be sharing a post or two about the weekend’s adventures this week. (You thought I’d given up and was going to continue only using my camera phone forever, didn’t you?? But no, my baby was broken…). But in the meantime, here’s what instagram said happened. Off to enjoy my last few hours of freedom in the sun….

So why do you live here?

driving in Ohio, October 2011

Today at work a very lovely colleague asked me the most common of expat questions: “So, why do you live here?”.  And while it’s a perfectly fine question, in theory, it sort of feels invasive, you know? Like-what are you doing in my country, weirdo? Obviously, that is not what was meant, but……sometimes it feels that way. Especially when you’ve been asked that question about a million times before.

Usually my answer is short and sweet. I married an English man. The end. But that’s not really all of it. I mean, I’m not some damsel in distress who blindly followed my prince across the ocean, feel me? Because it most certainly didn’t go that way. At least, not in my head. Nor in real life. It was far more complicated than all that.

So the real reason, besides just looooooove, is how much easier it was for me to move to England, and have a fulfilling life that didn’t just involve being a wife, but also didn’t involve being the only one who could legally hold a job. The options for Jon to come to the USA were small. I was a graduate student with no immediate job prospects, he had a great, steady job in England. The visa requirements for coming to the States are far more complicated and far more bureaucratic.  The timeline of us being able to be together would have been months and month and months over what was expected for me to come to the UK. We actually began the process of getting him an American visa, but nearly a year after we started that, we thought we’d see if I could get an English one, and within two weeks of filling out the application, I had one. So living in America just wasn’t in the cards then, no matter how badly I wanted it. But maybe someday we can both be there, live there, work there, long-term. I hope. We’ll see.

And that, all of that, is the longer, more complicated answer. Although really it isn’t that complicated to choose the easier, cheaper way of doing things, now is it? This way, I get to have a (mostly) great job, alongside my husband who also has a great job, in a country with universal healthcare and awesome maternity leave and public transportation and easily accessible high-quality food. And, like, pubs and stuff. And it all came together rather quickly once we decided to go for it.

So no, I didn’t just move here for love, and I didn’t just move to England because I married an English man and he made me and obviously wives go wherever their husbands go. It was a lot of things, all combined, and we made the decision that worked for us, and our little partnership. And if I could, even with how lovely and great England is, I’d move back to America and be amongst my people, right now. Maybe I’d also live a few other places, were this just a magical free dream world, but America….I miss it, and I love it, unrepentantly. And no matter how great England is, my loyalties still lie at home.

So in conclusion, and to end this long winded train of thought, that is why I live here. So…maybe don’t ask anymore? Of if you do, just be cool about it. That’s all I’m asking.