Thursday, May 3, 2012

4 years and counting

Today is no ordinary Thursday. Today is the fourth anniversary of my arrival in the UK.

It's very interesting timing for me. When I think back to landing at Heathrow with 3 suitcases and a bike, I never thought I'd be a) still here, b) in a long-term committed relationship, c) trying to buy a house four years on – and yet it all feels completely natural. I guess what I mean is that I never thought I'd have eased into such a comfortable routine for myself in London.

Moving abroad often carries with it the dreams of travel, new experiences, excitement around every turn, and while there is definitely an element of that spice, I've also found a myself embedded in a rather normal domesticity that includes weekly veg boxes, dry cleaning runs, loads of laundry, HBO TV serieses, and occasional meals out with couple-friends. In essence, my expat life looks surprisingly like the life I probably would have had back in the US – except that I have a postcode with letters in it rather than a zip code with numbers.

And yet I still don't feel fully settled here in London. My recent trip home to US was an eye-opener for me in terms of realizing how much I missed simple American pleasures like driving through the farmlands of New Jersey, sitting out on my parents back deck in the sun, calling my grandmother without dialling a complicated access code and doing math to figure out what time it is for her. I don't know that I would be living in the 'burbs if I were in the US right now, but I do know that I wish I could have better access to the rolling green hills and hayfields of my childhood than I do now.

Even harder was seeing my friends at the wedding in Florida. I haven't been able to give you all a full debrief of the week because it was a rather bittersweet reminder that our respective lives have been changing in parallel, sometimes too much for me to bear. I listened to them recount all of the lovely details of weddings, vacations, nights out, that I've missed over the last several years with an increasingly sinking heart, knowing that unless I move back I will continue to miss out on these simple joys. On the one hand it was wonderful to arrive in a place and greet them as if no time had passed, and I felt so honored and secure in knowing that our friendships are still strong despite time and difference, but on the other hand it was desperately hard to leave them, yet again, to leave the sun and sand and get on a transatlantic flight to a cold, rainy, seemlingly isolated life.

So I am trying, on this anniversary day, to think of all the good in my expat life, rather than what I left behind. I am looking forward to travel to Barcelona, Ireland, the Middle East, around England and maybe more this year. I am looking forward to plans with lots of UK-based friends this summer – new friends who maybe didn't know me when I danced on tables in bars in Syracuse, or who ran wild with me through the streets of New York, but people who recognize the person I am now and find me endearing despite my rather American earnestness and volume levels. I am looking forward to hopefully finalizing a house purchase (more on that soon for everyone's reading delight) and I am hoping the place we find is a home not just for The Irishman and me but also a place for me to welcome all of my friends from far and wide – a little oasis in this big city I now call home, where we can pick up the conversation wherever it was left off.

That is my resolution for year 5 in the UK. I think it's probably going to be a pretty good one.


  1. I am always amazed at people who move to a different country and don't miss their old one at all. I've been in the US for 22 years this month and a) still miss England, and b) still don't feel like I belong here.
    I have missed every single one of my cousins' weddings, but this year, finally there is one at a time where I can attend. Yay!

  2. Thanks Expat Mum! Sometimes its easy to think you're above it but in reality home is home. Anniversaries are a good time remember that.

  3. Happy 4th year anniversary! I make that in September. I fear that I may end up like expat mum, in this country for 20 odd years and still feeling like it's not quite home. I suppose things just work out and when I feel like your post sums up I try to do the same thing. Look at the positives of not only 'expat' life but my life here in London. In the grand scale of things to deal with in life, these aren't so bad.

  4. Yes, I'd like to also wish you a happy ukversary! My two year will be in October - still a ways away.

    You hit on so many points about what Melissa and I have both been discussing lately. I'm happy to see though that you're feeling more settled. I wonder sometimes if I'd feel the same were I to have a partner who was also settled here. i guess I'll figure it out in time!

  5. Thanks Melissa and Jen, apologies for the late comment! I think it's common to assimilate on the surface, but always feel a degree of pull to somewhere else. And when you have such good friends doing things without you, sometimes its harder to resist that pull. But the world is changing so much, we're so global now, that really I try to focus on the wideness of my life rather than the narrowness of one place vs another - does that make sense? Hope it helps! xx