I’m not sure I expected to learn much, nor change much, when I came to live in the USA. I just wanted to have a new experience. Suffice to say that experience has definitely changed me and I have learned a great deal about others, cultures, myself and about life in general.
These are my musings on what I’ve learned during my three years in America as a British expat trailing spouse, and how these things have ultimately changed me.Courage
It takes a lot of courage in the first place to come and live abroad. I took all that courage and packaged it up to use whilst I was living in the USA. I learned that courage to take on new experiences, to say yes to things, as well as to say no to things, can give you a new sense of purpose and develops your stride. Things become clearer and you begin to take risks where before you might have been foggy or procrastinating. I no longer procrastinate.
As a woman left to her own devices whilst your husband is at work you can feel alone and lonely, never mind where you are. I was adamant that I was to have independence and my own life here in America. I didn’t want to take his money, sit on my backside, and feel jealous about his fulfilled life. So I filled up my life, I got work, I volunteered, I met people. This sense of independence again gives you a reason to get up in the morning. What is the point of being somewhere new with a world outside your window to explore if you don’t want to get up in the morning? Every day became an adventure and I felt a renewed sense of spirit with this independence that my husband admired.
Once you find yourself with this new life you have created, offering opportunities over every horizon, you begin to feel empowered. Expat life is frustrating at times, and the culture can be confusing, but once you stop saying ‘I wish they did it like us’ or ‘We don’t do it that way at home’ you become more accepting and when this happens, you empower yourself to enjoy and experience life more fully.
One of the biggest realizations for me during my expat journey was that I had opened my mind more widely to people, culture, and experiences and I had a thirst for knowledge like never before. I never turned down an invite in the beginning; I met with people; I challenged myself to reach out and connect; I began to make the first move; and I kept an open mind all the time. When you can behave like this nothing and no one is off limits and you begin to realize everyone has something to offer, and no one person is right, and no one person is wrong. We are different and that’s what makes us interesting.
Along with an open mind, I began to have the courage to do new things. From police ride-alongs to camping, from hiking to working on TV shows, I tried it all. The more you try, the more you discover about yourself, and the more rewarding and rich your expat life becomes.
Never regret what you did, but what you didn’t do and use it
I spent some time at the two year mark regretting the things that I hadn’t been able to do or see and that I’d had to turn down. I began to feel frustrated at not having had these experiences and dwelled on them. The only way I could change this was to try something else, or attempt to make those things happen again. I felt negatively and wanted to turn it into something positive, so I made another bucket list. It worked and those new experiences came my way. I haven’t regretted anything I have done during my three years as a British expat in the USA; all of it has had an impact on me and has shaped my American journey.
Adventure / Carpe Diem
Carpe Diem became my motto during my quest for adventure. It’s easy when you apply it. Take the risk, say yes to stuff, keep at it, and make it happen. Adventure doesn’t always come knocking; you have to seize the day, the hour, the minute, the second.
More tolerant and less tolerant
This is an interesting conundrum. I’ve become more tolerant and open to people, situations and cultures during my time here in the USA because I’ve learned new things and questioned many things. But, conversely, I’ve also become less tolerant. When you have a thirst for adventure and the appeal of new experiences knows no bounds, you can become less tolerant of people and situations that you feel aren’t in your plan or are negative or bring you down. I know very much who I want to spend time with, and what kind of thing makes me tick. I’ll try new things all the time, as I’ve mentioned, but if I’ve tried it and it hasn’t rocked my boat, I’ll move on, dismiss it. So this is an odd one, but if you don’t include this ability to weed out the bits that hold you back, you’ll get bogged down with them and they’ll get in the way. Harsh, maybe, but true.
Time is precious
Simply, make the most of it. Get up, make it happen. This is what I’ve learned. Time does not go by so slowly, it whizzes past. I’ve felt that there are not enough hours in the day to achieve and accomplish what I want and so every second counts. Yes, I relax, and that’s precious too, but tomorrow could be my last day, and I just want to have done something with my time that I’m proud of. This expat adventure made me realize that.
Sociable and connections and engage
This is all of it. Be sociable, connect and engage. I’ve come on leaps and bounds in the aspect and it’s been so rewarding. We are a community and we function as a society and I have become an expat on the inside, not on the outside. Acceptance is a wonderful thing.
I learned a great deal about volunteering and giving back to the community. But I also learned that when I write about my experiences I help others to view their own town, state and country through my British eyes, and many have commented that they discover new things through my words. People in the UK have also read my blog and I’ve shared with them a less stereotypical view of America; my hope is that they become more accepting through my humour and my words. This is my giving back.
Claire McGill is a British expat who enjoys writing about American bits and bobs on her blog. She says: "I've lived in Maryland for three years and still get joyfully confused, amused and bemused about certain things in the USA".