Who are you?
Hi! I’m Jaime. I’m originally from the Puget Sound area in Washington State and I’ve lived in the UK for over seven years now. I work in book publishing and currently reside in North London with my husband, who’s British.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first came to England when I studied abroad at the University of Oxford as a junior at Mount Holyoke College.
After graduating from Mount Holyoke, I returned to the UK to study for a Master’s Degree in Renaissance Literature from the University of York.I had a few months left on my student visa so I decided to come down to London and look for temporary internships in publishing. Right after I finished the internship, I was hired at one of the world’s largest publishing houses. The rest, as they say, is history!
What challenges did you face during the move?
Oh boy, so many. I think the biggest challenge for me was the fact that I had no friends of my own. And London can be a hard city to meet new people. In general, the British are much more reserved than Americans. Whereas I could probably make a friend while waiting in line for my coffee at Starbucks back home, it takes a bit more effort here. Fortunately, I was proactive and joined a gym and an orchestra (the Royal Orchestral Society, which performs three concerts per year), where I made new friends over time.
Surprisingly, I’m more homesick now than I was when I first moved to London! I think I was just so in awe of the new city I was living in and my fantastic new job – everything seemed like a new adventure and I had no time to miss my friends and family.
How did you find somewhere to live? (e.g. how did you locate a suitable property? what was the buying/renting process like?)
I scoured websites like Gumtree, Moveflat, and Spareroom. I went to a lot of “interviews” with potential flatmates and tried really hard not to take it personally when they didn’t pick me. I was fortunate to live with some really friendly and interesting people when I lived in shared housing. I made a conscious decision not to move in with my now-husband at the time because I wanted to develop my own identity and life in London so that I didn’t end up feeling resentful if he went out with his friends, etc. It turned out to be the right choice, I think!
I had such glamorous ideas of what living in London would be like … and it wasn’t like that at all. The first property I lived in was located in a very rough part of East London. The surrounding area was dirty, smelly, and I encountered quite a lot of street harassment. But still, I ploughed on, determined to make it the best experience that I could.
My second flat was in St. John’s Wood and it was lovely. I lived with two other women my age and my now-husband lived just a 10-minute walk away.
We’re now looking to buy a property in London, but it’s taking some time because the house prices have just shot up and it’s a very competitive market! It can be really frustrating, but we’re trying not to rush things.
Are there many other expats in your area?
I hear a few American accents around Islington, but not too many. I work with a few Americans (whom I’ve naturally befriended!) but in general, I hang out with people with lots of different cultural and national identities. It’s nice to have that diversity. I would never hang out exclusively with expats, but at the same time, it’s so nice to have someone who can relate to your experience – or at least, parts of your experience.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
The majority of my friends are British, so I would say that my relationship with the “locals” is pretty good! I think this might be different if I lived in a country where English wasn’t the national language, however.
What do you like about life where you are?
I absolutely love all the opportunities that living in London has to offer. I feel like there’s culture at my doorstep and it’s something I’ve always been thirsty for – ever since I was a young girl. I fell in love with the English countryside when I first visited England on a school trip at the age of fourteen. I don’t think of myself as a “foodie” but I am really enjoying the food revolution that is taking over London at the moment, with loads of pop-up restaurants and pubs being totally transformed by a higher standard of cooking and experimental cuisine.
When I’m in London, I feel like I’m really living life to the fullest!
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Without a doubt, the distance from my family is hard. It’s terrible, actually. Thank goodness for things like Skype, FaceTime and smartphones, so I can keep in touch with them more often, but the fact is that they live nearly 5,000 miles away and I can’t just pop back for a “quick” visit.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
As I mentioned before, Brits are much more reserved than Americans. Sometimes I appreciate this, because I like having the silence when I’m commuting, etc. but it can be frustrating at other times e.g. when you’re trying to make friends.
Also, Britons seem to have a very different idea about customer service than we do in the States! You’re really left to your own devices here when shopping, even if sales assistants can see that you’re clearly struggling to find your size, etc. you’re more likely to be ignored. I have so many frustrating experiences here that link to poor customer service and it’s usually my biggest complaint!
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Ah, my favourite subject – shopping! I love the style in Europe: it’s so chic, put-together, and generally a lot dressier than what we get up to at home, which I’m a fan of. Living in London has definitely made me more materialistic; I’m surrounded by well-dressed people every day!
At the same time, however, I feel we have much less choice here in the UK than we do in the US. In the States, I’m spoiled by huge grocery stores that have whole aisles devoted to chips (or crisps) alone and several varieties of everything. We also seem to have a lot of gadgets that make day-to-day life easier in the US.
In general, life in the US seems more convenient: stores are open for longer hours, you’re constantly presented with an array of choices everywhere you go, and (unless you live in a big city like New York), you can just jump in your car and go. I miss silly things like having a really good tumble dryer! And an American-sized fridge!
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I absolutely love the food in the UK and my pet peeve is when Americans back home say, “Isn’t the food disgusting there?” No, actually, it’s really good and often much better than what I’ve had in the States! I’m extremely lucky to live in a triangle of amazing local pubs, where they whip up delicious dishes with fresh ingredients (including fish sourced from the famous Billingsgate Fish Market) and within walking distance to some wonderful restaurants as well.
There are so many new restaurants opening in London – I never feel as though I can keep up with it all!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
My biggest piece of advice – especially after seeing expat friends come and go – is that your experience is what you make of it. If you choose to see the negative in everything, then your experience will be negative. If you choose to see the positive, then you’ll enjoy yourself a whole lot more. I’m not saying that things don’t get frustrating or irritating, but it’s what you do with that frustration and irritation that will pave the way for your daily life here.
What are your plans for the future?
I have no idea! I’ve always said that I’d stay in London until I got bored, but who knows? Maybe we’ll move back to the US – maybe we’ll stay here. I haven’t quite decided yet. I’m an Angloyankophile, after all. I love the best of both worlds.