July 11. One year ago today we landed at Heathrow airport. The mix of emotions we were feeling at the time – fear, excitement, exhaustion (!) – were only a precursor to what we would… More
Sitting here in the U.K. on a wet, grey Monday in January, it’s just another day. Another start to a work week that contains the usual mental preparations for all that needs to be done in the days ahead. Without a day off of school, media news stories or commercial reminders, it’s easy to forget today is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. In fact, if it weren’t for posts by friends on social media, it would be far too easy to not remember it at all.
This isn’t a commentary about the holiday itself. Dr. King’s life deserves every ounce of honor we can bestow upon him as a freedom fighter for racial and social justice. I’d highly recommend a post I read yesterday that eloquently sums up the struggle many Black Americans are feeling right now. Chelle Wilson’s words reminded me how, more than any point in my life, we desperately need Dr. King’s legacy. We are struggling to find a way towards building a more perfect – and equal – union and we need the great leaders of our past to guide us.
As a new expat, however, I wasn’t prepared for the empty feeling this left behind. It’s a stark reminder of how I’m not in my own country anymore. Most Brits seem to be well versed in American history and current events. I have no doubt the vast majority know who Martin Luther King is and his role in the American civil rights movement. But the reality is, this is not their fight and there is no need here for a holiday to commemorate Dr. King.
It’s also a reminder to choose how you honor your own country and its holidays and traditions when you don’t live there any more. Today, I’m going to take Chelle’s advice and listen to the stories Black Americans want to share about Martin Luther King. I’m also going to learn more about race relations here in the U.K. I want to understand how similar and different we are as two countries that have much in common.
In true British style, I think I’ll get started by making myself a cup of tea and settling in on this rainy afternoon.
It’s Tuesday night and as I channel surf, I come across U2 on the BBC. Being the fan I am, of course I have to watch. As I do, I marvel at the power of music to transport you to another moment in time. Hearing “With or Without You” I’m instantly taken back to a beautiful summer evening a mere five months ago in Dublin listening to this song live in front of U2’s hometown crowd. All the emotions I felt in that moment came rushing back to me.
Now maybe it’s because of my love for the band, but I think it’s something more. After all, I’ve seen them in concert many times before. What was different this time around? This concert in Ireland was a Bucket List event. A “pinch me” moment. An “I can’t believe I get to do this” kind of night.
One of the things I’ve learned in my first six months of living abroad is life as an expat is filled with a lot of these kinds of moments. Not just for the big trips or weekends away – because they are certainly fertile ground – but also the daily experiences as you wander the streets discovering something new at every turn. The high I used to get from trips abroad once a year happens all the time right now. It is absolutely addictive.
This brings me to “Adventure”. The last few years I’ve adopted a word for the year. Brave two years ago. Fearless this past year. Ironically, they seem to lead into one another and Adventure seems to fit the same pattern. Sometimes the words require thought, but other times it’s totally obvious. This is one of the obvious times.
Why Adventure? Well, this expat experience is certainly an adventure in and of itself. One of the pieces of advice I heard early on was to say yes to everything. Knowing what I know about how these manifest themselves over the course of a year, I knew “yes” would probably be too big of a word, but I also knew I wanted to say yes to the adventures.
Through this experience, I’ve also had people tell me I’m adventurous, which kinda stopped me in my tracks. It’s not how I’ve traditionally thought of myself, but in my heart I know my true self is an explorer. I want to embrace that even more, so Adventure it is.
As part of this journey, I’ve also made a promise with myself to blog more. I love telling my travel stories, so for 2018 I’m going to write and share more. #52WeeksOfAdventure begins now!
How are we at this point already? Two months from today the Wady family (including Henry) boards a flight from DC to London to begin our new adventure in the UK. I’m kind of shell shocked. The move seemed so far away when we first made the decision back in February. Now it feels like time is racing by. I’m scared to blink because I don’t want the last two months here to disappear.
This is a very surreal stage in the international moving process. When you first make the decision, there is a massive wave of emotions. Apprehension and excitement hit you as you begin to realize the magnitude of the decision you just made. That is quickly counterbalanced by the anticipation and possibilities awaiting you in your new country. Sadness definitely creeps in next as you start telling friends and family about your move. There were many tears shed in those early conversations and it was overwhelming at times. Luckily, though, the people closest to you seem to come to terms with it pretty quickly. While they may be sad for themselves, your true friends are excited for you and the next chapter in your life.
Now, we are at the point where the move is both mundane and overstimulating. There is so. much. paperwork! Immigration forms, legal documents, transportation papers, rental agreements (both here and there), bank account details – you name it we are currently filling it out. It’s a lot to keep track of and there is the constant worry that something is slipping through the cracks. The most frustrating part comes when one document (i.e. my immigration visa) is beginning to hold up two or three other critical steps – and there is NOTHING you can do about it. It’s testing every fiber of my control freak being.
The pressure is not just on me. I have a lot to do on the home front, but my husband is the feet on the ground in the UK and he is just as busy as me. He’s re-learning how to open a bank account in the UK, which is not as simple as it seems. Apparently, the old formalities and pleasantries of banking still exist in England and opening an international account requires an appointment to be made three weeks in advance. We’ll just consider that charming, right?
He’s also dealing with neither of us having a credit history in the UK. If you are lucky enough to not give your credit rating a second thought day in and day out, then having to go back and prove your credit worthiness is an eye opening experience. Add to it the complication that our bills and expenses in the US won’t necessarily be the same in the UK, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison. All of it can be pretty intimidating. Luckily we have a really good relocation agent guiding us step by step. She is worth every penny Cisco is paying her!
I know we are heading into the home stretch of the move. There will be lots of balls in the air for quite a while and we will make it through with flying colors. With so much happening, it’s easy to push aside the emotions of a move like this.
Outside of the initial sadness I described above, most days I’m too busy to really think about how I feel about this move. I know that’s not healthy. I don’t want to think too hard about saying goodbye to my friends who have become our family in North Carolina. I love our house as it’s been a beautiful home to raise our family in. I’m nervous about completely uprooting our lives, when, as a certain 15 year old likes to remind me, we have a pretty good life here.
But then, I think about how comfortable I’ve gotten and how it’s time to shake things up. I think about how it feels when I travel to another country and see and experience things for the first time and feel my soul just sing. I think about the opportunities in front of my kids and the joy I have in knowing their world view will be forever changed because they tried something different. When I think about those and so many other things, I know this will be a great move for our family.
So, we’ll make the most of these next two months . It’s time to embrace the possibility of what comes next.
Moving is overwhelming. As I’m quickly learning, making an international move puts the phrase overwhelming to shame. Even when it’s to a country you know well, there are small differences – sometimes subtle, sometimes glaringly obvious – that reinforce how much there is to learn.
Here are ten things I’ve learned this week about this crazy process:
- There are good days and bad days. When our first born came home from the hospital, my dad told us on a daily basis “there are good days and there are bad days. As long as the good days outweigh the bad, then you are doing fine.” I have the sense his words of wisdom will be playing a big role in our lives for a while. While most days were exciting and productive, the reality of why we were there set in for each of us at a different time. For all the good that will come from this move, we need to be prepared for the tough homesick days too.
- One step forward, two steps back. Even though we accomplished a lot this week, there is still so much to do. Every school visit, every conversation, every new piece of information answered some questions, but also left us with more new ones than any of us were prepared for.
- You begin to evaluate your new country the moment you walk off the plane. I’ve been to London dozens of times in the last 27 years. I know – and love – the city as well as any I’ve lived in throughout my life. This trip was different. From the moment we landed, I looked at everything around me with a different lense. How do the houses look? What do the towns feel like? Can I see myself living here? How close is the nearest grocery store? Where can I buy a hairdryer? (Literally got laughed at when I asked at a hair salon about that one.) Things I’ve never paid much attention to as a visitor, became the center of focus as we began scoping out a place to live.
- The weather! Maybe it’s because everyone expects the U.K. to rain all the time, but we had the most glorious weather this week. Beautiful spring days with sunnny skies and warm afternoons made it feel as if the English weather gods were putting on their best show to impress us. I don’t care what it was, I’ll take it. Sitting in the outdoor garden of a pub on a Friday afternoon with the warm sun easing away the stress of a busy week is pretty hard to beat.
- The Beautiful Game. When soccer plays as big of a role in a family’s life as it does ours, you think we’ve seen and heard it all. Yeah, not so much. A soccer tryout in the birth country of “football” opened our eyes to a whole new level of intensity to the game and raised a set of questions with decisions to make that we didn’t even know existed. On the flip side, it was a lot of fun to head to the local pub and watch a Premier League match where everyone in the pub actually cares about the game.
- Argos. Ah, what is there to say about this archaic in-store shopping nightmare. Paper catalogs, hand writing product numbers on slips of paper, computer inventory and check out systems that aren’t in sync. Nothing about this experience was customer service friendly. What should have been a five minute shopping trip took 20+ minutes. Thankfully local friends have assured me that it wasn’t just me and Amazon Prime in the U.K. is alive and well for a much more satisfying shopping experience.
- Traffic. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I learned to drive and commute in some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States. However, living in North Carolina for the last 14 years has enabled the heartache of a horrendous commute to become a distant, faded memory. Until now. Living in a metropolitan area with 8.5 million people means traffic is going to be intense. I’m going to very quickly have to readjust my drive time expectations. Thankfully there is an incredible public transport system right at our fingertips.
- Managing Expectations. We heard time and time again this week, make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself and manage your experience to them. Don’t expect to exactly replicate your life in the US to your life in the U.K. Things are different and the more you can embrace those differences the more fulfilling the experience will be. (Note to self: come back to this lesson frequently!)
- Pub life. Truly the cultural and social hub of a village or neighborhood, the pub plays a much different role than bars in the US. Seeing our 15 year old experience this for the first time was a great reminder of how tremendously unique this is in building out a sense of community.
- Having the world at your fingertips. London is one of the most global, diverse cities anywhere in the world. The people, cultures, languages and religions you see walking down the street is a great reminder of how we can all want the same things in life and be together at any moment in time. For those of us who believe in the strength of diversity, it was great to feel at “home” in such a vibrant city.
London has always held a special place in my heart. I fell in love with the city on my very first visit after high school. The history, the vibe, the hustle and bustle all exposed my 17 year old self to the fact I was meant to be a city girl.
I fell in love a second time when studying abroad in London during college and met my future husband. London was the backdrop for an English boy and a California girl to prove that long distance relationships really can work. My feelings for the city were permanently colored by those early memories of newfound love.
Our kids had their first passports at 4 months old. The very first stamps came from Heathrow airport as they made the journey to meet family members for the first time. Over the years, we’ve watched their love affair with London begin with trains, taxis and double decker buses and grow to include football/soccer, Cadbury’s chocolate and exploring the streets where their dad was born.
Now, the next chapter in this London love affair is about to be told.
After 14 years in North Carolina, a job transfer is taking us (back?) to England. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. The explorer in me is ready for the new adventure. Easy access to the city I love makes me want to squeal every time I think about it. Playing tour guide for family and friends who come to visit already has me looking forward to a house full of constant visitors. Knowing I’ll get to explore other cities and countries in Europe makes my heart burst with anticipation.
On the other hand, I can barely think about leaving the friends we have made here who have become our family. Those we’ve celebrated holidays with over the years. The girlfriends who have held my hand as I’ve shed tears through the rough patches in life. The moms who have scooped up my kids and treated them like their own. My fellow soccer parents who have cheered just as loud as I have for my kids on the field. All of these people have made North Carolina a very special place and make it very hard to say goodbye.
The good news is I know these friendships will persevere through the years. The better news is I don’t have to say goodbye quite yet. The best news of all is when this journey is over I will get to call London home for a few more years. I can’t wait to see how this very unexpected journey unfolds.
I’ll admit, I’m still getting used to this whole not working concept. My favorite way to describe it is I finally have a chance to pause between thoughts – I’m not thinking about three things at once. The pace of life has definitely slowed down, but it’s not slow by any definition.
May and June were incredibly busy. My family was in town and then I spent 8 days in Greenville, SC cheering on my son’s soccer team as they unexpectedly made a run to the finals in the Southern Regional Championships. Before I knew it, June was over and July was here.
The beginning of July means 4th of July celebrations. Like most Americans, we tend to travel over the holiday weekend. Nothing says summer like BBQ, beach and fireworks and we’ve had some really cool experiences celebrating all across the country in the past. This year, however, we made no plans as we needed a break. An unstructured weekend with lots of extra time seemed too luxurious to waste.
A funny thing happens when you stay home when everyone else is on vacation. You start to see your hometown in a different light. Roads that stress you out during rush hour are suddenly pretty open. You have an opportunity to look at what’s around you. Maybe it’s a restaurant you didn’t know was there or just scenery and landscaping you never pay attention to. The movie theater parking lot is a little less crowded and the line at the grocery store moves a little bit faster.
All of a sudden I found myself taking a deep breath, my shoulders started to relax and I really started to unwind. It was subtle at first, but then I noticed everyone around me was kind of operating at the same pace. No one was rushing to get from point A to point B. People seemed content to move at a leisurely pace. I started to wonder if this is how people feel who live full-time in vacation destinations.
None of this was planned. My husband and I were two ships passing in the night in June. Between his work travel and my soccer travel, we only had a couple of days together throughout the month. The idea of staying home for 4th of July happened by default. We wanted to spend time together a family and neither of us really wanted to sleep in a different bed or eat out at yet another restaurant.
It ended up being such an unexpected bonus to find life slowing down around us at home. For the first time in a long time being home really meant relaxing and enjoying a break from all the day to day chaos. I’m not sure how to exactly recreate what happened, but I do know that next time there is a holiday weekend, I may be a little more eager to stay around and see what happens.
One of my favorite things about Facebook is the Memories feature that shows up in your newsfeed everyday, and last week I got to relive the trip to Monaco I took a year ago. Looking through the photos, there was one post that really struck me. A friend had inspired me to do daily random travel thoughts and this was one of them: “4. Best part of heading off to Italy yesterday? Just winging it. Dealing with missed busses, delayed trains, no real plans for what to do/where to go while I was there.”
Those words jumped out at me and made me pause. I hadn’t been “lost” since that day. In all my travel, I had a plan and pretty much knew where I was going to go and what I was going to see. That day in Italy was such a welcome, refreshing change of pace and I instantly craved it. Knowing my travel budget is limited to soccer events and college visits this summer, I decided to get lost in my hometown today.
Ironically, I really did get lost. I had a couple of places in mind I wanted to explore, but I messed up a few key details that took me to the wrong location. I’d read about the Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh a few weeks ago and thought it might be something interesting to check out on my own. However, I googled City Cemetery and ended up in the wrong place. Instead of backtracking, I figured I’d hit the next stop on my list and head to the Farmer’s Market instead.
I thought I knew where to go, but it turns out, not so much. However, I ended up driving through some neighborhoods I’d never seen before and it was fun to see the houses and great architecture. I know Raleigh is a good residential city, but until today I had never spent time in any of those neighborhoods, so didn’t really know where they were or what they looked like.
Arriving at the Farmers Market, my eyes were treated to the bountiful colors of a summer harvest. It truly is a feast for your eyes before the feast for your tastebuds. I enjoyed having the time without the crowds to wander from stall to stall, checking out the food on display and even meandered through Market Imports, which has a great collection of home and garden items.
After loading up my car, I decided to venture back to my original quest. This time, I found the cemetery without any issue. There are a lot of famous North Carolinians buried there, but what I found was a beautiful, historical, peaceful setting in the midst of the city. The quiet that surrounded me just permeated the air. Looking at some incredibly ornate gravestones, I also realized how much history was all around me.
It was an interesting morning, for sure. Not something I’d normally do and given the rather complicated way I ended up there, provided a bit of an adventure. What I realized is that getting lost is good sometimes. Whether it is intentional or by accident, not knowing what you are going to do next can be a really good thing.
For me, this break from my job is about taking advantage of these kinds of days and finding these unexpected moments. I know this fuels my creativity and nourishes my soul in a way that travel usually fills. To find it in my own backyard is exactly what I need right now.
Oh, and before I go, I think this was my most favorite thing I saw all day:
Yep, just sitting there in someone’s front yard. Keep it weird, Raleigh!