Monday, November 12, 2012

An Expat's View - If I Can Move, So Can You! Some Tips For Success

As the world gets smaller we find ourselves with bigger opportunities in faraway places. 

Over the weekend, we met up with a British family who had just moved into the Washington DC area. They came for tea    (what else?)  and as I listened to their week of firsts in a new country: first visit to the grocery store, hunting for a rental, finding a school, buying coats for the kids etc,  it brought me back to the beginnings of each of our moves to new homes in countries around the world.....

I wrote the answers to the following questions for an expat site called Internations which features expats' blogs from around the world and thought you would find the answers interesting and helpful. 

What would you answer to these questions and what advice would you give to  newcomers to your neighborhood? 

Here are mine.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the USA, etc.
 I grew up in London UK. I am an educator by training with a special interest in mathematics. I have been a volunteer for and employed by a hospice in Greater Washington and I am a writer. I have relocated with my husband Jonny, who is also British, and our children three times for his job. He is The Head of School for a large K-12 Jewish Community Day School in the Greater Washington Area in the USA. 

Our first move was out of London to a Jewish Secondary boarding school in Oxfordshire. Our second move was to Hong Kong for 5 years and our final (if I have anything to do with it) move was to Maryland 11 years ago. 

We have 3 sons aged 19, 17 and 11. Our children were 8,6 and 8months when we moved here.Our youngest was born in Hong Kong.( Different world and a great story for another time!)
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started writing my blog in February 2012. My husband had been diagnosed with a very painful facial nerve condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia. Back in November 2011 I had started writing about his downward spiral and brain surgery on a caring community site to keep our family and friends around the world updated. When I thought Jonny had made enough progress to shut the site down, I was met with huge encouragement to keep writing and so my blog Brainstorm was born.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Even though the blog was originally set up to keep everyone informed about Jonny’s illness and recovery, I found that being an Expat colored everything I wrote, from my take on the medical system to celebrating Thanksgiving. From raising ”American” children to battling with the bank.
Three of my favorite “expat” posts (see I even spell in American now) are The Queen’s EnglishFour Girls and a Bar of Chocolate and Rabbit Wars

I also love Pondering On The Porch and Customs and Traditions
Tell us about the ways your new life in the USA differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Even though this was our third move, it was still a culture shock. In some ways you are lulled into a false sense of security because you think Americans  speak the same language (ha-ha) and so you are over a big hurdle. 

But those first few months were dizzying between trying to get the hang of the money, driving on the wrong side of the road, the overwhelming choice of cereal and this baffling  ”Little League” cult!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the USA? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
One thing I learned about moving a number of times across counties, countries and continents, is that managing your expectations about feeling ”at home” is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your kids. By the move to the USA I knew that different pieces of our lives would take different amounts of time to settle and that was ok. I also knew that as a stay at home Mom without the structure of work or school I would have the hardest time acclimating.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I think the story I tell in The Queen’s English is pretty funny although I didn’t think so at the time.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the USA?( Ok I can't count -here are 4)
•   Manage your expectations.

•   Don’t give up your British accent-It holds a lot of cache and means you can speak absolute rubbish (garbage) and the locals think you are very smart.

•   When you are overwhelmed in the grocery store, buy whatever is on sale. That way you can try a number of cleaning/hair/ cake mix products on a tight budget!!

•   The word Quite in American means VERY as in Quite good = very good, Quite funny = very funny, whereas we Brits would think that meant only vaguely ok or a little bit amusing. You can get yourself in quite a mess with that word alone.

How is the expat community in the USA? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It really takes time to find “real” friends in any new environment, so don’t give up. 

Some of my closest, supportive, caring friends are American through and through.( And some are Canadian and South African and Israeli too.) Americans are very friendly they will tell you their very personal life stories/health conditions on the bus, at the pool or in a grocery line and then may never talk to you again. Do not take this as a sign of life long friendship if you are a private, slow to warm Brit!! 

I was in an unusual position of being The Head of School’s wife (a very public role that is a whole blog on its own,) so it took me a while to know who I could really trust to keep my personal life confidential. When we came to Maryland there were very few Brits. In the last few years I have found more and more have come to our neighborhood  and school and although they were complete strangers they felt like old friends very quickly. I think it was our views on crap American tea, lack of interest in baseball and missing Cadbury’s that clinched the friendships. Oh and they are great women!
How would you summarize your expat life in the USA in a single, catchy sentence?
My expat life is like village life on steroids. It is crazy, dramatic, fast paced, hilarious and thought provoking. 

Stepping out into the big wide world is the BEST thing our family ever did (and I don’t like change!) 

See my post 12 Ways to Help Children Face their Fears! and Anything But Routine.

Anything to add? 

Let me know what moving has been like for you, if it was to a different neighborhood in the same town, or to a country half way across the world. 

What was the easiest part? 
What was the most difficult?

If you had one piece of advice for families on the move, what would it be?  Please share your wisdom in a message below!

Happy travels

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  1. You are also very humble, VERY smart and always manage to make me laugh ! I also realised early on how 'quite' was interpreted as very when my kids stopped editing their work after I said it's quite good ! So now I say ,' it's allright ' instead :)
    - they like it better when I say quite good !

    1. Hello "me"
      Thank you -you are QUITE ( American version) wonderful! That example is perfect and very funny. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Hi Gilly wow this really amused me. thanks for sharing. I myself and my husband are also couple expats in China. I read that you lived in Hong Kong so you can already 'quite' imagine how it is like to live here. he he he I've lived here from 2006 - 2010 then moved to Malaysia for 2 years then back again just in the beginning of 2012. I never thought I'd come back to China but here I am again. I was born in the Philippines and hubs from Austria. and also been an expat before we met. There are a lot of high and lows here and there as expats but then its the experience that matter! right? he he he now I still do not and can not speak mandarin fluently (only self-taught mandarin to get by) and i always get a first impression that I am Chinese because chinese locals believe I look like them ;-)

    Enjoy your expat life there! and cheers!

    1. Maria Ana -Where in China are you living? How have you coped with all the moving around and the language changes? I have to say I learned very little Cantonese or Mandarin when we lived in HK. We really spent most of our time with the Expat community which was very diverse -from all over the world. Yes you are right there are many highs and lows but I do not regret the adventures we have had along the way or the places we have been fortunate to visit.

  3. Please give my warmest regards to your husband, a gifted educator and speaker. I had no idea that HE was ill; for some reason I thought it was your son, also would have been horrific. I wish him a complete recovery and send my sincerest good wishes to all of you. As for your blog, I find your adjustment questions quite interesting as my two daughters have been describing their transitions to life in Israel, with its multiple joys and challenges.

    1. Hi Bonnie -I certainly will pass on your kind words. I'd be interested to know what your daughters have found challenging and how they have found ways to cope.
      Thank you very much for commenting.

  4. My question would be... after 11 years in the USA, if you had the option of moving back to England would you take it? Speaking for myself, after 25 years in Israel I still don't know which country I want to live in. I would the other one wherever I settled but I cannot imagine that I will never live in England again.

    1. Rachel -I have to say we have no desire to go back and live in the UK. With a kid at college and one about to go, I won't even leave Maryland! Having said that,I do not want to live far away from my grown up kids so if they were to move to another state or to Israel we might well follow them.......

  5. I missed out the word 'miss' - I meant to say that I'd miss either country if i weren't living there. Thanks for your reply. Talking to other friends here I know that I have an extreme case of the nostalgia bug. I find it very difficult being so far away from all my family especially since DD was born. The truth is that the England and life I left 25 years ago probably doesn't even exist anymore.

    1. Rachel- i also have the nostalgia bug but, yes it is rosy colored and includes all my friends still being in London and sunny English days, of which there are no guarantees. I miss my family greatly and I absolutely agree that's it's tough without that family support....but not tough enough that i would go back to live there. ..
      Thank goodness for FB, email and Skype.

  6. Yes, when you come to look at the country you are moving to,have a weekly shopping list with you so you can see what you can not get in your new country and what youse miss terribly. For me this was rennies for indigestion while pregnant, spray deodorant and muslins! Make sure your friends at home are on hand to post a bit of home when needed. And finally, when you arrive in your new home, say yes to everything, even if it makes you a bit uncomfortable. It helped me meet lots and lots of people straight away and then have the luxury of finding true friends later on.

    1. Natalie -Thank you very much for reposting these suggestions from FB. They are really excellent. I hope that would be travellers read them before they go for a looksee to a new
      I agree you have to overcome the British reserve and accept help etc from the really does make it easier to meet people.
      So glad you came to live here!

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