Real Life/Living Abroad

What it’s like living as an American expat in the UK

Recently I read Helene Sula’s blog post about what it’s like living as an expat on her personal blog Helene In Between. She’s an American expat living in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and two doggos. She shares her favorite bits, the challenges, and how they made it happen. I’ll be answering the same questions which I give full credit to her providing; please check out her post here and leave some love.

My story is slightly different from Helene’s. I met a foreign guy and let him put a ring on it. Stuart is from England and I’m from the midwest.

Our story is bizarre and we’re often told it sounds like a digital age fairy tale. Ah, yes, I still remember the first time I saw him smile on the chat room Omegle. So romantic, right? Over the years we stayed in contact by Facebook. Eventually, he came to his senses when he realized he couldn’t live without me, and ‘ere we ahh (imagine a cockney accent).

How did it happen?

We married in Iowa while somehow dodging filing for the infamous ninety day fiance visa. We were completely transparent with the immigration officer of our intentions to be married and for Stuart to return to the UK. Disclaimer: Not to be taken as legal or immigration advice!

Once we’d married, Stuart returned to the UK and I applied for what’s called a family spouse visa. Once I’d filed and sent off my passport, it took about a month and half to get our decision. There was a little sticker inside my passport detailing my residency with my decision letter. I also received a biometrics residence permit identification card when I entered the country as my legal identification card.

Do you travel a lot?

We don’t do as much travelling as I’d originally hoped to do; I thought we’d traipse around Europe at weekends, visit London more frequently, etc. But, like any newly married couple, we are in a period of our lives where saving is imminent due to our plans to return to the US in September when my visa expires.

We do little day trips to surrounding areas. We visit Brighton a fair bit as Stuart has family down there, we’ve toured castles in the surrounding area, and we’ll go on a lot of walks in the downs. The downs is an area of hilly countryside popular for dog walking.

Sidenote: the British are almost as obsessed with walking as they are with a cup of tea. And yeah, I’ve never gotten around to just enjoying a cup of tea to enjoy a cup of tea.

What’s been the biggest change?

The biggest change… All of the little things add up to form into what could only be described as “cultural differences.” For example:

  1. There is no such thing as a spare change jar to dip into for a spare 10 cents. And the barista will yell at you if you mistake a tip jar for a change jar… (fair enough).
  2. The only free drink refills that exist are for water. You still have to specifically ask for tap water or they’ll sneakily charge you for bottled water.
  3. Giving tips depends on multiple circumstances… Circumstances I still don’t understand so I end up throwing money at everyone in hopes I won’t offend them.
  4. Roast dinners on Sundays are a way of life for many. Americans don’t really have a standard cultural meal.
  5. And lastly, there’s also no equivalent to a classic breakfast or dinner diner. The nearest thing is called a ‘greasy spoon’… Google it. I’ll wait. Yeah, it doesn’t give the same homely vibe.

Also, the way that I speak has changed a lot. I use phrases and slang that would otherwise sound pretentious if an American heard me saying them. But they feel natural to me now. For some reason, the only thing I can’t get on board with is calling chips “crisps” or fries “chips.” It’s just wrong. Oh, and calling candy “sweets” doesn’t feel natural, either.

Recently when I said, “I’m having a right ‘mare” (basically ‘this is an absolute nightmare’ being the American translation) to my colleague at work, I was laughed at. Apparently hearing an American speak British is funny to both Americans and British alike.

What’s your favorite part?

No matter who I meet or where I go, they hear my accent and it’s a conversation starter. I’ve had so many confiding, touching, weird conversations with strangers (mostly with cab drivers… Londoners don’t really speak to you unsolicited).

It also fills the otherwise awkward void where there would be small talk. “So, it’s Ohio, isn’t it?” No, actually it’s Iowa, not to be confused with Ohio or Indiana. IOWA. I’m on a mission to put Iowa on everyone’s radar.

Also, England is so quaint and lovely. The countryside is gorgeous; they have these country lanes that are so tiny you’d think you were about to die rounding a blind corner. Not to mention the lanes have a canopy of trees that curve together to create a tunnel like something out of an actual fairy tale. I was in awe the first time I saw them. There’s so much history here too; just down the street from my in-laws is a church that is over 1,000 years old.

What’s the hardest part?

There’s always that lingering sense of otherness. I feel more British now than three years ago, but there’s those awkward “I don’t know what you’re talking about” or “I didn’t understand what you just said at all because of your accent” moments from time to time. It’s also difficult being so dependent on others, in a lot of different ways, but the main one being transportation.

Has life changed a lot?

In short, yes. If you’d told me I’d be an insurance broker, living with my in-laws to save money, and was ready to have a baby within the next year about two years ago I would’ve laughed. Oh, and if you’d told me I’d deliberately say no to a latte to save money I’d have laughed too.  I’m a different person completely – emotionally, spiritually, maturity-wise. Living in another country will do that to you. But growing with Christ will do that to you more.

How has moving affected your blog?

Living abroad has given me an inspiration boost. I want to write to remember my time, my daily life here, etc, and it’s also an amazing way to express myself when things can be tough for me emotionally. So, if anything it has encouraged me in my blogging.

What has this taught you?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that A) failure doesn’t make you a failure and B) it’s okay to admit failures and shortcomings. It’s okay to confront a situation for what it is. It’s okay to accept things as they are and respectfully decline to let it affect the way you live your life.

Yes, I have anxiety. It is what it is. But I also have a sound mind; one that allows me to read the Gospel and share my experiences through writing. No matter our illness, our souls are well in Christ.

Yes, I have anxiety. It is what it is. But I also have a sound mind; one that allows me to read the Gospel and share my experiences through writing. No matter our illness, our souls are well in Christ. Click To Tweet

The real struggle is to learn to repent of my misplaced ego in believing if my circumstances were different, I would be different. It’s just not true. I wouldn’t be a humbler, better, more perfect version of myself if my life looked different (or if my anxiety went away)… My life would only look different.

What do you miss most?

Being away from friends and family isn’t always good for me, especially when my Grandma passed away last May. That was hard for me. Also, I miss the familiar. I miss going to the mall and movies with my best friend, having breakfast in a diner with my Dad, or going on coffee dates with my Mom at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Which, by the way, Dunkin Donuts is also missed. American food, portions, and customer service. I miss the homeliness of the midwest; when I go back to Iowa, it feels like America wraps me up in a blanket of familiar comfort.

So far, for me, this is what it means to be an American expat in the UK. Have any questions? I’m more than happy to answer them. Leave them in the comments below!

About Rachel Chamberlayne

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