I started this series – Moving Stories – inspired by my own momumental move ‘for love’, so you can imagine how delighted I was that so many of the respondents are saying the same thing. It seems we’ve all moved for love – in one way or another.
Today Michelle Garrett, a US expat living in the UK tells her story about moving for love, and how relationships can be strengthened by the expat experience.
Michelle is a prolific blogger – she writes on the popular BritMums’ website, as well as her own much loved blog – The American Resident.
Why did you move to the UK originally?
For love! Well, that’s my stock answer. I actually originally moved to Northumberland for a university programme, an overseas study experience, and I met my first husband there. After I finished my degree in the States I returned to the UK to be with him. We lived in Northumberland a while, then moved to Whitechapel in London for his studies.
Can you recall the time before you left the US, and what your concerns about moving were? What did you think your biggest challenges would be?
I was 22. My concerns were ‘did I pack enough?’ (answer: more than enough, waaay more than enough) and I thought my biggest challenge was getting all my stuff from the cargo area at the airport to our flat. Ignorance is bliss! I was so excited for the move, the adventure! Of course neither ignorance or bliss prepares you for the great big tidal wave of challenges that hit you when you do arrive–especially as an inexperienced 22 year old.
What did you think you would miss most about the US, apart from family?
The food. When I moved to the UK over 20 years ago there were very limited food options when compared to today (and compared to the US at that time). I love having a variety of food, and I was especially keen on fresh food–the Giant Salad Bar was well established in the States by then, and ‘salad’ in the UK meant a few chopped up pale iceberg leaves. Maybe a cucumber. Actually, now I prefer British cucumbers to American ones.
Have you been surprised by what you really have missed about US?
I must admit that I was taken by surprise when I had my daughter. I really, really, REALLY missed my family, far more than I expected. I really needed them. I needed their guidance, support, advice and presence. I wanted my daughter to share in their lives and they in hers. I felt despair whenever they had a family get together that I couldn’t attend, even just a family BBQ on the 4th of July. And now that she is older, I am sad that my daughetr isn’t as close to my family as I am. This need for my family was the biggest surprise for me.
Do you see your old age in this country or in the US, and was moving a ‘for life’ decision or ‘for a while’ decision?
Originally (going back to the first husband, now) moving to the UK was ‘for a while’. That’s probably why I didn’t get too worried about it. Now onto my second husband I see it will be more or less ‘for life’, but he is very understanding and has suggested that after retirement we live part of the year near my family in the US and part of the year in the UK. So, I guess I see my old age in both countries.
What positives about life in the UK can you tell us about and were the challenges the same as you envisaged or not?
I absolutely love the sense of humour. I would really miss that if I ever moved back to the States. Also, in chatting with a British expat in the States we realised that dinner party conversation in the US and UK is very different (in our experience). In the States it seems much more superficial and polite, while in the UK the topics can get a lot meatier. I like that. On the other hand, a challenge I didn’t expect is tailoring my personality to the audience. I can be really enthusiatic and open about my emotions and I have a real ‘can-do’ attitude that I don’t think sits well with a lot of Brits, even though I have toned it down considerably in the 20+ years I’ve been in the UK. When I start getting pumped about an idea or a plan and I throw a handful of further ideas on the table for how we can implement it, I notice the Brits in the room usually smile politely and even turn it into a bit of a joke–anything to keep from joining me in my outward show of excitement. Conversely, if I try to remain low-key I get asked ‘what’s wrong?’ I guess it’s a good lesson to just be myself!
What surprises have you had – good and bad – setting up your new home?
I was surprised to have a tiny fridge and even more surprised to have no freezer! Where they heck would I keep my ice cream?! But I loved living in a very old building, surrounded by other very old buildings. It wasn’t full of modern conveniences, but it was interesting, which counts for a lot to a new expat eager to live an adventure.
If you experienced conflict between you and your spouse about moving, or aspects of resettling, how easy did you find it to resolve them?
Logic won all the time. I toyed with the idea of moving back to the States but when my husband and I discussed it the idea just didn’t work for several reasons. I had to simply accept it. Fortunately we have found a compromise in the future and fortunately my husband loves holidaying in the States!
When you think of home, which country comes to mind now?
If I am travelling I think of the UK as home because that’s where I’ve made my home and all the comforts of home are there. When I am in the UK and I think of home in terms of my origins then I definitely think of the US.
In what ways do you think your family life, and your relationship/marriage, has become stronger after undertaking this adventure?
That’s tough. Because I moved alone, without a partner or family I think my partner and family sometimes forget that I am alone here, that this isn’t where I grew up and that I have a whole huge span of existence on another continent. We had to go through a period of misunderstandings–me trying to express homesickness or culture shock each time I return from a visit to the States or each time there is a major family get together that I can’t attend, and my husband expressing anxiety that he is being rejected, before we finally were able to really talk about this and deal with it. That process is what has made us stronger, being forced to really examine how we needed to support each other. He needs to know I can make a home with him in the UK and I need to know he will support me by visiting the States more often than he might have otherwise. It was when he suggested we live half of the year in the States after retirement that I finally knew he had really understood what I needed. It was a truly liberating moment because I no longer felt I had to fight to be heard regarding the homesickness issues.
Thanks Michelle! What a brilliant story. I admit, I was stressed about where I’d keep my icecream too.
Would you move for love, as Michelle did?
And if you did would your partner move back with you, for love also?
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