I am an American expat living in London. My husband and I have lived here for over 5 years now and really enjoy it. I write a blog called Finding My New Normal. I am Mommy to an angel in heaven. My son was stillborn at 36 weeks in August of 2010. I started my blog, Finding My New Normal to try and work through my grief and find my way back from the brink of despair. My goal is to figure out how to live my life without him. Things will never be the way they used to be. So I am looking to find my new normal.
Before our loss we struggled with infertility so this blow was especially hard. We are now in the process of trying for another baby. This time, due to my age and some genetic issues we are going forward using an egg donor. The world of egg donation is completely new to me. So I have been writing a lot about this new journey. Blogging has been such a refuge for me. It’s where I can share my feelings in a way that I am unable to do in real life. I don’t hold anything back. For this reason, I don’t reveal my name. Somehow I feel safer blogging anonymously.
Since Erin and I are both expats and are doing this BritMum’s swap together, we decided that we should share our experiences of living in England. I was excited about this idea as I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my expat experience on my blog. So here’s my chance.
I still remember getting the call from my husband. “Are you sitting down?” he asked me, “They want to know if we will move to England?” Of course my first question was where in England. Not that I had ever been to England, or anywhere in Europe for that matter but it seemed a sensible question to ask. The answer was London and my answer was yes. I still think back at how crazy we both were for agreeing to move to a country neither of us had ever been to.
My head was all dreamy and full of these fantasies of what it would be like. I imagined that everything would be better and more advanced than California. I envisioned the Hubby and me jetting off to various parts of Europe each weekend, eating fantastic food and drinking fine wine. Life was going to be amazing!
I figured that since I was moving to an English speaking country that I would have an easy transition. Wow, was I wrong about that one.
We moved to London in December. It was cold; much colder than I had ever experienced before, and the days were super short. Being from Southern California this was completely new to me, and I didn’t like it one bit. Our furniture and belonging would take 3 months to arrive by boat and so we were stuck with this horrible rental furniture. We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor because the bed they brought us wouldn’t fit up our narrow curving staircase. We had 4 cups, 4 plates, and 4 of each piece of cutlery. It is really not fun to only have 4 spoons let me tell you. It was kind of like in the dorms in college again minus the exams and beer bongs. I didn’t know the names of any stores or where to buy even the most basic items. I vividly remember my first meltdown over the fact that I had to buy a new hairdryer and didn’t have the slightest idea where to go. Yes that’s right, tears and tantrums over where to buy a hairdryer, not one of my proudest moments.
Things weren’t all better and more advanced in England. In fact, I struggled a lot with the customer service (this is something I still struggle with even now). I was shocked at how long everything took. It took weeks to get the TV installed. It took over a month to get a UK bank account. I wanted a mobile phone but I needed a bank account so I had to wait even longer for that. Shopkeepers and salespeople seemed to be bothered when I interrupted their personal conversations and asked them for help.
There was much more of a culture shock than I imagined. Once the initial excitement wore off, and the Hubby became busy with his new job it all hit me. I was a foreigner in a strange land. Yes, people spoke English, but it was different. They had different words for certain foods (think arugula/rocket, eggplant/aubergine). They had different words for things like the trash can and the elevator. I didn’t understand the expressions and abbreviations for things. Even the change in my pocket was unfamiliar and I needed help counting coins to pay for things. I didn’t understand some people’s accents on TV or in real life. I didn’t know my way around. I was so afraid to get lost trying to find my way home that I only went outside when the sun was out. As a result I was home every day by 3:30 with nothing to keep me company but the television. I didn’t have any friends. I was so lonely.
What in the world had I gotten myself into?
Calling home to complain wasn’t an option. All my friends and family thought I was living this luxurious life in an exotic place. I could travel whenever I wanted, I didn’t have to work, and I was living in London. Who was I to complain that I was lonely? I tried talking to the Hubby about it but after a few times I couldn’t bear to see the pain in his eyes. He felt responsible for my unhappiness. He had brought me over here, and I was making him feel guilty without trying to.
That’s when I found a local expat women’s club. It was a club for people just like me. Fish out of water who were just looking for a connection. I went to my first meeting and instantly felt like I belonged there. There were women who told me where the big grocery store was and which bus to take to get there. There were women who told me which cleaning products worked best (and their US equivalents). There were women who would listen to me complain about being lonely; women who understood because they had been there too.
That’s where it all turned around for me. I started making friends. Our furniture finally arrived from the US. I was learning my way around town. London was starting to feel like home. I was thrilled, and so was the Hubby. We took a trip to Amsterdam, and then a trip through Germany and Belgium. In each country we found new foods and wines that we liked. Not exactly the fantasy I had first envisioned, but I was hooked.
Almost 6 years later and I can honestly say that I love living in London. No, I don’t love the weather or the short days in the winter; but this is my home now. I have surrounded myself with an amazing circle of friends. Friends who have been my support system when things got really bad. Friends who swooped in like family would when my son died. Friends who did things for me and reached out like I never expected they would, even though I have only known them for a few years.
Losing a child is never easy, but it’s especially hard when you are thousands of miles and many time zones away from your family. Without these amazing friends I wouldn’t have made it. I probably would have packed up and gone home. But their love and support have made me realize that London is home. That I can make it through anything, no matter where in the world I happen to be living.
I love my life as an expat. It’s been such an opportunity to experience another culture and to see things from another point of view. I have a global perspective that I would never have had without this experience.
We have been able to travel and experience Europe in a way that we never would have been able to do while living in the US. We can get on a train and go to Paris for the weekend. We can go to Spain for a week and not have to worry about jetlag. What’s not to love about that??
If any of you lovely readers ever get a chance to live for a while in a different country I say go for it! Yes it’s a challenge. Yes it can be frustrating. Yes it can be very difficult and isolating. But if you keep an open mind and a spirit of adventure it can be the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a chance to learn about different cultures and practices. It’s also a chance to learn more about yourself. You really learn who you are and what you’re made of. It’s an experience I highly recommend!
Thanks so much Erin for giving me a chance to visit you and your readers today. If any of you would like to read more at my blog please stop by Finding My New Normal to visit me. You can also find me on Twitter, I’m @FindMyNewNormal.