Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Missed Opportunities

Dear readers, I am the worst expat - or the best expat, depending on how you look at these things.

I missed my first anniversary as a Londoner the other week.  I didn't even notice.  To be honest, I was only made aware of the momentous date a week later, when the HR person at work asked to see my passport for a routine visa check.

Realizing that my anniversary had bypassed me made me sad, actually, but not for the reason you'd think.  Yes, I skipped a chance to celebrate - and you know how I love any excuse to throw a party - but, overwhelmingly, I was upset that I've so immersed myself in my life here that I'm somewhat divorced from what I left behind in the States.

Don't get me wrong, I love that I've assimilated.  I'm thrilled that I have so much going on here that it feels like I've always been part of this world.  In fact, when Jon and I broke up (remember that?) and people asked if I'd be moving back to DC, I told them that there were so many wonderful pieces in the puzzle that is my life in London that missing one piece wasn't the end of things.

But at the same time I am suddenly very conscious of the fact that this past year and everything that's happened during my time here hasn't sprung from some black hole fully formed; I came from somewhere.  I had a job and friends and family and a life there, too, and it's almost sacrilegious, I think, that I missed my anniversary because by not commemorating the date that I left all these things behind betrays them, in a way.

I tried to explain the onslaught of homesickness that all this has brought on, and was told by my friend that I wasn't missing anything momentous by not being in DC.  I'm not afraid of missing milestones, I told her.  I'm upset about missing the routine that we all had; I'm upset about not experiencing the day-to-day joys of being with my friends and family.

This was all brought into even sharper relief when I realized - at 10pm on Sunday 3 July - that I didn't have any Fourth of July plans.  I've made a conscious effort not to be part of an expat crowd.  (Of course, I do have dear expat friends, but as a fellow DC transplant commented recently, I don't see the point in becoming chums with a group of people who are only here temporarily and/or who are here because their husbands' jobs brought them to London and who don't themselves have any desire to carve out a life here.)  Obviously, this generally isn't a problem, but Independence Day rolled around and I was shocked to note that I had no one with whom to make merry.  In the end, after being serenaded with the first few lines of the American national anthem by my colleagues (who don't know any of the words after "dawn's early light") I ended up just heading home to do laundry and tidy my flat from the excesses of the weekend.  I woke up on the fifth and thought, "Well, that was Monday."

So, yes, I've been a bit homesick and down for the past week or so.  I'm sorry to lay this all on you, dear readers, but you know how it is: sometimes you need to enunciate a feeling to make it dissipate.  I'm sure I'll start to feel better once I hit "post" but - in case I don't - do any of you expats out there have any coping advice?  Help, please, dear readers; after all, who needs to pay for therapy when blogging is free?


  1. Well said!
    I too saw this 4th come and go without any fanfare. After being sick all weekend, the best I could do was drink an orange juice in a pub with the three other Americans in my office (180 people representing 38 nationalities. Us Americans are pretty sparse!) We were at a British pub, no less.

    Anyway, I totally understand the conflicting emotions here, and I can only assume it comes with the territory of having two lives - you don't want to disassociate with life here in favor of life there (and vice-versa). It's a tough balancing act.

  2. I was homesick this year, too! I was thinking about that entry you made last month with the graph of expat emotions? It just goes up and down all the time. One day, we're comfortable and happy and the next day a U.S. National holiday comes by and it's back to homesickness. It's a bit of a roller coaster but it helps to remember that there will be good "ups" again very soon! Hang in there!

  3. Yeah, just to second (third?) the two comments above: Being an expat is all about loving where you are while simultaneously loving where you are not. And while some days we focus on the later (I was also sad & lonely this July 4th -- which tells me the three of us should figure something out for next year!), there are also those days where we focus on the former; those great days where we just couldn't imagine not living in London. And hopefully as the summer continues/starts to shine on London, you'll have days ahead that make you forget the sad ones, like July 4th. I love and miss DC too. But I know that if I were there for July 4th, I would miss London on Remembrance Day, on Guy Fawkes Day, and on those random cool, sunny September days. And I bet you'd feel the same way. Hang in there - you'll feel better again soon!

  4. Hey ladies, thanks so much for all of this - it's good to know that there are others in the boat with me. (And who knows, maybe we can make it a party boat bobbing in international waters! Sorry, couldn't help myself. Lame.)

  5. I struggled with this before I left -- knowing that everyone's life and routines would go on without me and it made me lonely and sad.

    Even though I've only been here a month, I have made a very conscious effort to set up skype dates with everyone that's important to me back home. I wrote them all an email and told them that their friendship and their lives were important and I wanted to continue, in person, to be a part of it. So, we make dates on our calendars just like if I were meeting you for coffee...and let me tell you -- it has saved me. I've had about 6 or 7 really wonderful skype dates.

    I'm thrilled to be here and I WANTED to come and I made this choice, but it doesn't mean it isn't hard or lonely for me sometimes. Especially since I don't have a job or a built-in social network with an English significant other like some of the other expats. So I'm having to make my own friends -- right now expats because that's the community I'm in, but I hope and WANT that to expand to locals :)

    Anyway, my point is, try to identify what it is you need -- connections with folks back home? emails? skypes? phone calls? a visit? Ask your friends for what you need and I can tell you they will give it to you :) I'll forward you the letter I sent via email.

    Also, this response is ridiculously long lol!

  6. Im not living in England now, but plan on it. Vernon is worried about my homesickness and he will make sure I celebrate and remember my American heritage while I embrace becoming part of the English culture. I think about it and it seems scary but I can't wait to be there permanently.

  7. Betsy, what if it turns out that YOU ARE ONLY IN THE UK TEMPORARILY??? It's a bit callous to reject Americans who didn't or can't choose to be permanent expatriates; and how can you be so sure that the Home Office isn't going to fuck with YOU down the line? Or (as I haven't been following your blog recently) have you consulted your crystal ball and magically discovered that sponsorship or marriage to Jon is/are in your future?

  8. Rebecca, believe me - I know that that's a possibility! Of course I hope to be here in the UK long-term, but I recognize that things might not work out that way for one reason or another.

    I'm certainly not rejecting Americans (or any expats) who are here temporarily, but I do find that those who refuse to put down roots here are more difficult to befriend in a meaningful way as they have very different goals and interests; I would never turn my back on someone who wasn't planning on making an imprint on London, but I have discovered that those who are here though the choice of another often lead somewhat "zombie" lives here and only come alive in their native towns. I hope this explanation makes more sense to you now!

  9. "I would never turn my back on someone who wasn't planning on making an imprint on London, but I have discovered that those who are here though the choice of another often lead somewhat "zombie" lives here and only come alive in their native towns."

    I wanted to comment on this a little bit...

    You make an incredibly sweeping generalization about those of us who come over with our spouses as though it wasn't our choice -- we were just sort of swept around by the vagaries of their job and just blindly followed our spouses with little thought to our own lives.

    Maybe you have encountered expats who are this way and this is from where you draw your generalization?

    From my perspective it feels very different. It was absolutely a joint decision to make this move over here. Certainly in my circle of married friends, no woman would ever move her entire life across the ocean for her spouse's job unless they had weighed the pros and cons, the financial aspects, the impact on their lives etc.

    We had a home in Austin, we still have a mortgage, I was/am in the middle of a Ph.D., I had a life, a network, a teaching job, a consulting job and served on served on several boards. When my husband was offered this job he didn't blindly come home and say "We're moving to London" we talked about it for weeks before BOTH agreeing to move over here.

    I chose to write my dissertation in London without the support of my colleagues around me and with my committee still in the United States.

    I hope that I don't lead a zombie life. I've reached out to people in the nonprofit world here (ones that transition felons back into the community -- similar to the nonprofit work I did back in home). I've reached out to the academic community in my field. I had lunch today with an English 'friend of a friend' who introduced us on Twitter. I've been here three weeks.

    Do I miss home? Absolutely. Do I love London? Maybe? I know that I'm liking the experience and I'm VERY glad I came. But it was absolutely MY choice as well. My husband would NEVER have taken that job if I had said I wanted to stay back in Texas.

    Dismissing a group of people just because they are expats seems like you are missing out on an entire community -- especially because you are one of them. It's kind of like eschewing the circumstances that brought you here in first place - it is what you are.

    I've met some really incredibly neat people -- some who are here for another few months, some who are permanently here and some who don't know (like me). They all have something to offer the world and are worth knowing. Maybe you won't be friends for other reasons, but likely not because they are expats.

    Being an expat is an incredible opportunity not only to meet locals but to meet expats from all over the world (Just met some fabulous folks from South Africa the other day)

    All I'm saying (with this long post) is try and open yourself up. You wish some expats would open themselves up to the London experience so I'd say open yourself up to the possibility that some of us expats who came over with our husbands (the simplified explanation) are not necessarily the ghost zombies you perceive us to be.

  10. Sarah, I'm certainly not dismissing all expats summarily, and, as I commented to Rebecca, I'm not even dismissing those who are here temporarily. I will be up front, though, in saying that I don't really have time for people - no matter where they're from - who refuse to make a life for themselves in their new homes and who instead cling desperately to their old lives without trying to take adventures of the new opportunities afforded to them by experiencing the adventure of living in a different place. I'm sorry that I mentioned those who come over with their partners; I don't want to dismiss wives in general and absolutely not those who were instrumental in making their family's decision to make the move. It seems I wasn't clear enough - but from everything I know about you, I don't think I was hating on you or people who feel similarly to you at all! I am sorry, though, if I didn't explain myself well.

    But maybe you're right that I need to be more open-minded about this... I will do my best.


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