I’ve been an expat in the UK for nearly 8
years now, and my blog, Angloyankophile,
highlights some of the best and worst aspects of living abroad. One of the
questions I get asked the most by readers is on the topic of assimilation – specifically, how
easy/difficult I found the process of settling into life in the UK and adapting
to British culture.
With that said, I’d like to debunk a few
myths about expat life. I feel like there are so many websites out there that
tell you to “do this, not that” and instead, I just want to say … it’s okay. It’s okay to find adjusting
to a new culture hard, or making new friends nearly impossible. It’s okay to
think, “I’ve made a mistake”. But it’s how you navigate through that thinking
that makes all the difference.
Here are the four “it’s okays” I’ve learned
over the years:
okay to be negative. Once in a while – and the key
here is really, “once in a while”. Don’t deprive yourself of giving into
feelings of loneliness, homesickness, or frustration. The pressure to be upbeat
and happy all the time in a new environment can sometimes do more harm than
good! Once in a while, it’s okay to go straight home after work, cry, throw
(soft!) things around, and go, “This SUCKS.” But when you wake up in the
morning? It’s a new day. And a new start. Just remember that.
okay to hang out with other [insert your nationality here]. I despise people who move to new countries only to socialise
exclusively with people of their own nationality. What’s the point of that? In doing so, you’re not even
making an effort to fit in! Having said that, I also think it’s important –
crucial, even – to hang out with people of your own nationality. Just not
exclusively. I have a small handful of American friends here and whenever we
get together for a Byron burger or Thanksgiving, it’s fun to reminisce about
the good ol’ USA and to also trade stories about our experiences as American
expats in the UK. Connecting to and retaining that aspect of your identity is
vital to your happiness in your new environment.
okay to dread awkward friend dates/social gatherings. I often joke that I’m the most anti-social person I know, which is
hard when you’re a blogger! When I meet new people at blogging or publishing
events for work, I try my best to put on my “HELLO! HOW ARE YOU? I’M SO GLAD TO
BE HERE!” face even when I’m feeling more like, “OH GOD. PLEASE GET ME OUT OF
HERE. I WANT TO LEAVE NOW!” Friend dates are awkward. Sometimes they work out,
sometimes they don’t. But the important part is that you’re making an effort.
And even if you dread meeting new people, getting to know someone who’s
different than you is (almost) always interesting and fun.
okay to hate your new surroundings in the beginning. This is natural. Don’t panic. When John and I first moved in
together, we lived in a gorgeous (albeit, rented) mansion block flat in swishy
Maida Vale. Couples would walk past looking like they’d just stepped out of a
Lavazza coffee ad and the sweet little boutiques, delis, and cafes on the
corner were straight out of a glossy magazine. It was idyllic.
Before that? I was living in a small,
cramped flat in Shadwell (not cool enough to be Whitechapel, not chic enough to
be Wapping), where fights would break out in the sketchy market nearby (my
landlord was seriously attacked one evening) and I’d be spat on by passing
leery men. This was not the London I’d expected to live in. All those
rose-coloured memories I’d retained from a childhood trip to London promptly
vanished, and I was left with a scene of pigeon poop and the feeling of being
scared to walk home alone at night.
Luckily, I had bagged my dream job in
publishing and arrived at work in the West End every morning feeling enthralled
and enchanted by my new life, but going back home to that tiny flat was still
depressing. I hated it. But then … I started to make the best of it. I took day
trips to Greenwich on the weekends and met new-ish friends for brunch in
Spitalfields. I threw myself into extracurricular activities (like yoga and
joining an orchestra) so that I’d feel more fulfilled and could be distracted
by something new.
Eventually, I moved, but looking back to
that first year of living in Shadwell, I realized that I’d experienced a lot of
personal growth in a short space of time – that is, that if a situation makes
you uncomfortable (not unhappy, uncomfortable!)? It’s sometimes good for you to
sit in that situation and “breathe in that awkwardness”, as a yoga instructor
once instructed. Settle. Wiggle.
The bottom line is, it’s okay not to fall instantly in love with
your new home. Your expectations will be unfulfilled. Disasters will happen.
People will not be nice or helpful. But that’s okay. You’ll get through it. And
instead of expectations, you’ll be pleasantly surprised instead: by the kindness
of strangers, by chance encounters, and by new opportunities you wouldn’t have
had if you’d stayed home.
you so much to Polly for hosting my guest post on her lovely, positive, and
upbeat expat blog!
That is my absolute pleasure Jaime, thank you so much for being a part of my blog today, I am honoured!
Jaime is author of the blog ‘Angloyankophile‘ which is a wittily-written take on expat life. Captivating reviews, beautiful photography and ponderings on her life and loves make for a varied and fun read. Head on over for a browse!