My arrival in England might be what you’d call a ‘soft landing’. I had just finished up a stint in Holland, where I lived as an expat for three years. In comparison to The Netherlands, England was a relatively easy transition. The first couple of months I was sure I’d arrived in some sort of strange America. I mean, they spoke English. They had bad reality television. They even understood my need for salty fried foods and preservatives. (I was ecstatic to have a real breakfast again.) When I had first moved to The Netherlands it only took about a month for the excitement to wear off and the hard truths to show themselves. England has taken its time, which is so dang typical.
The ‘real’ England has shown itself slowly. The annoying England. The ‘I wish I could move back to America today’ England. People forever showing up way past when they said they would. A six month waiting list for an appointment with the doctor. Beans, beans everywhere. I find the cursing in England to be both a cultural mystery and a nuisance, and have a hard time accepting the free-flowing verbiage when I am walking down the street with my four year old. Getting a visa in the UK is a nightmare, and I have met a lot of expats here that will wholeheartedly agree. Although I am a legal resident now, there were days when I wondered if I would ever jump through enough bureaucratic hoops to be allowed to stay. I will say that as an American I have it pretty easy, I have known others that unfortunately were deported back to their home countries because they couldn’t work the system.
We live in a sea-side fishing town, which is a far cry from my upbringing in small-town Texas. The White Cliffs of Dover are just down the road and we spend our weekends rock pooling and searching for sea glass. It’s a good life. Living in “The Garden of England” I have the best of all worlds; rolling scenic hills, historic cathedrals, gorgeous country-side, metropolitan cities, and beautiful beaches. But I still have days where I just want to go home.
I think as an expat you get to the point where ‘home’ becomes a strange and almost mythical concept. I have found that when I do go back home, I don’t quite fit in anymore. The monotony can be excruciating, and with no public transportation or fresh baked croissants – adjusting can be tough. The things I once talked about with people are no longer of relevance in my life. People back home have a hard time comprehending living abroad, and I have a hard time understanding how they could never leave. Perhaps this is why so many of us are drawn to the expat communities, it is nice to have people who understand the bad days and relate to the good. I think that the separation you begin to experience with friends and family is one of the pitfalls of Expat life, but at the end of the day I remind myself that I have chosen this life and it is a choice I am happy with.
I think most of us would agree that the perks far outweigh the disadvantages of living as an expat. I am a 30-minute train ride from France, and only an hour from London. I can fly to most European cities in less than three hours, and do it cheaply. I know people from all over the world, I can eat just about any cuisine you can dream of, and my life is never boring. I am incredibly thankful for my expat lifestyle and am happy to call England my home, for now.