I’m a 30-something southern belle expat from the US. I’ve spent the last year adapting to all things British including Victorian plumbing, the value of wellies and a new found acceptance of full fat dairy products.
After deciding I needed to shake things up a bit in my life, I moved here in May 2009.What challenges did you face during the move?
Realizing that things here simply don’t work like things do at home. Americans and British don’t speak the same language, far from it. We don’t celebrate the same holidays, eat the same food, drive on the same side of the road, have the same sense of humor, use the same words or express the same emotions.
Not to mention trying to understand the visa process and saying goodbye to friends and family.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Initially through an estate agent which was quite easy. However, I have learned that suitable rentals in central London are few and far in between. So if you find something you like and it has everything you are looking for (price, location, access to transport) then be prepared to take it immediately. Getting use to paying a lot more in rent for much less space was also definitely a challenge.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, I live and work in central London so I work with and have met quite a few. I have found that most of the friendships I have developed here are also with expats who seem to be more open to developing friendships than locals.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I do have British friends as well, although, I find it takes a bit longer to develop friendships.
What do you like about life where you are?
Living in London has made my world larger and much smaller at the same time. It’s allowed me to meet the most amazing and talented people. It’s given me confidence in my own abilities, and in my ability to be alone. It’s pulled me kicking and screaming away from a life, a career, a future that I simply always thought I’d have back in the US, and pushed me towards an uncertain life with few restrictions, filled with the excitement of risk and of the unknown, and an unpredictable future full of possibility. It’s torn me away from what I thought defined me in a career and in a relationship – and nudged me towards unexpected people, amazing experiences and lovely infatuations I never imagined I would have, much less needed to have.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Try navigating flats with Victorian plumbing and extremely small kitchen appliances, or being on the tube during rush hour, or better yet, not being on the tube during a strike when the London comes to a halt. Or, trying to make a doctor appointment through the NHS, enjoying only two months of summer, and coming to terms with the lack of personal space as you are confined to narrow, crowded high streets as you desperately search for any store open after 7pm (much less a restaurant open after 10pm).
Even though I have made new friends, I miss my friends in the US. As hard as you try, you’re no longer that person involved in the day to day life of even your closest friends back home. Nor are they involved in yours here. And there are many friendships that, sadly, just disappear slowly over time no matter how hard you try to stay connected. Here, I have had to reinvent myself and seek out new friendships in a city not known for being especially friendly.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be brave and go for it. Even though it won’t be the easiest thing you have done, chances are you won’t regret it. Living in London has introduced me to all sorts of experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise have by staying in the US.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to stay here for a while longer and continue to travel and have as many experiences as possible! I plan to eventually return back to the US, but who knows what the future may bring…
Read more about Carmen and life in London at martinigirl71.blogspot.com