Tag Archives: repatriation

May 2016

By May we knew that we were going home to the UK, and soon. We had been discussing possible reasons for returning for a while: I really needed to get on with my career, but I couldn’t find work in the US that would give me a visa, and wasn’t allowed to work on my current spousal visa; my sister had just had a baby; R’s sister was pregnant; we missed our friends and family in the UK; and we missed London.

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A conference trip to Chawton in Hampshire coinciding with the birth of my nephew rather decided me on the matter…

 

There were reasons to stay too: we hadn’t made it to the Grand Canyon yet; we loved our lifestyle in DC; and we had great friends. We had really fallen in love with the America we had found in DC and on our travels and had (mostly) felt accepted and welcome.

 

My work restriction sucked, and the process of getting a new visa had been horribly stressful, and doing tax in two countries is the absolute worst – but apart from all that it had been a really positive ‘immigrant’ experience which had us at times considering how we could find a route to live there forever and bring up kids there. It’s funny to remember that now, given the current action being taken by Trump.

In May changes at R’s work and an offer of a new job based back in the UK decided us – we were going home. It was sad and exciting in equal measure, but there wasn’t much time to think through it all. Things had to happen quickly; there’s no grace-period with an H1-B visa, so as soon as R’s notice period expired we were technically illegal – which didn’t give us much time to pack up our lives! In the meantime all our friends wanted to say goodbye, so there were lunches and drinks, but we also had R’s mother coming to stay, and wanted to take that opportunity for one last road trip…

Related post: going home

Homecoming

I’m back at the table I wrote my PhD on. The tree outside the window has grown in the two years we’ve been away, but otherwise things are pretty much the same with our little flat. The story is a bit different outside – an Italian restaurant and deli have closed, and a new deli has opened. Also, a tiny new café has appeared in an old potting shed. It has proven to be yet another good source of artisan bread. Further afield, we have a new Mayor of London. Unfortunately we missed the good mood my friends have reported settled on London after the election of Saddiq Khan, instead returning to London in the anxious week of the EU referendum.

But I’m not sure I can write about that debacle yet.

In many ways we returned to life as normal: the same flat, neighbourhood, gym, markets, restaurants. And I was waiting for the repatriation malaise to set in. But then there was the excitement of the referendum and its fallout – the resignations especially – and it feels like a completely different world. It certainly distracts from any feelings of homesickness for America. In fact, America hardly features in our conversations with our long-lost friends, as that topic is completely overtaken by current events.

So here I’ve tried to capture my various repatriation thoughts and emotions, in the spirit of this blog, but in the knowledge that this is hardly a representative experience…

 

Trains of thought on returning to the UK in June/July 2016

Oooh, I’d forgotten how pretty the UK countryside is…

Yum. Farmers’ markets and proper, unpasteurised cheese!

Hmmm, at least one of these farmers wants to leave the EU according to the signs on his van…

Ah, British pubs and pub gardens…

How British – a slightly awkward tea party half inside and half outside, with bunting and sparkling wine, and a toast to the queen on her birthday.

bunting

Surely we won’t leave the EU…?

Do I miss American craft beer more than I’m loving British bitter and cider, or vice versa? This will take some research…

Why can’t you get a good burger in a British pub? I miss American bars.

But at least we can hear ourselves talk… and it is nice not to have to tip at the bar.

What a crazy debate! Surely no-one could vote for Boris as Prime Minister? Hagis?!

Thank God to be back in the land of M&S – have they ever been properly recognised for how they enable modern couples to fully commit to their jobs without compromising on nutrition? Dinner is so much easier now!

But breakfast is so much harder! Was American brunch so cheap because of terrible wages and conditions? Now I feel bad for missing it.

Seven hours of campaigning in the rain – surely we’ll stay in the EU?

campaigning

What just happened?!

Going home

I write this as I wait for the movers. We’ve separated out what’s being shipped and what’s coming with us in our huge suitcases. I’ve washed up for the last time; we’re now reduced to drinking water (or gin) out of red solo cups. We don’t fly until Tuesday. Luckily we don’t need to ship the furniture – we have an almost identical set of IKEA things waiting for us back in London – so we’ll have a bed to sleep in and a couch to sit on until the junk removers come on Tuesday morning. I’ve declared a moratorium on washing – whatever’s not washed by now will have to come with us dirty.

Quite a lot has happened in the last couple of months. The big news is that R got a new job, still with the opportunity of travel, but based in the UK. This was great news, especially as R’s work had some issues when their biggest client decided to bring much of the  work in house…  There was the possibility of job hunting in the US, and transferring the visa, but given our experience of how slowly these things move, finding a new, UK-based job was a better option for our sanity.

Also, in happier news, I’m now an aunt for the first time, and R’s sister is also expecting a baby this year – so it’s really exciting to be moving closer to family.

Still, we’re sad to leave DC, and all our friends out here. Goodbyes have had to happen quickly if at all – there’s no grace period with an H visa in which to pack up your things and leave the country. It’s so hard to say goodbye to people we feel we were just getting close to – especially with such short notice. ‘But we’ll see you again before you leave?’ people exclaim, and it’s really hard to answer ‘maybe not…’

Because as anyone who has moved countries knows, there’s lots to do! Apart from the packing, there’s all the financial things to sort out – we want to leave in good standing after all! One thing we had to do – which we only knew because of Tomaz’s blog – was to make an appointment at the tax office to apply for a ‘sailing permit’. This consisted of a tax office employee checking our latest tax returns and checking that we had no tax outstanding. If we had, we would have had to pay there and then; however, in the case of them owing us – which is the case – they get to pay us in their own sweet time…

At any rate, we’re coming to the end of our to-do list. And the movers are here now, speedily wrapping our plates in paper while we stand around awkwardly. By the end of the month we will be back in our old flat in London – waiting for our things to cross the Atlantic on a container ship. (By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what life is like on one of these ships, you should check out the Nicholls retirement project blog – written by someone who decided to return home on one!)

I’m sure there will be plenty to blog about as we settle back into the UK, and I also have a few saved blog posts on road trips in the US, life in DC, and on the intricacies of the visa system still to share. So although it’s goodbye to ’18+ months in DC’, it’s hello to ’26 months in DC (and after!)’.

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Taking stock

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will have noticed that my original 18 months in DC are nearly up. However, we’ve enjoyed our time in the States so much that we’re trying to get a new visa so we can stay a bit longer. I’ll attempt to write about our visa saga soon, when I might know more. Whatever happens, we’ll have a four week grace period, after the 18-month work placement, in which we can travel and say our goodbyes. But, as I was flying back to DC from a trip to California (also to be written about soon!) I started taking stock of a few things.

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Taking stock up in the clouds. I think this was the edge of the Rockies.

Back when I was in the midst of ex-pat culture shock I wrote lists of everything I hated about living in DC and about living in America (I later wrote one about the things that I liked). So, as I’m staring down the barrel of possible repatriation culture shock, I thought I’d write a few more lists: about what I would miss about America if we really have to leave soon, what I am looking forward to about possibly returning to London and the UK, and things that I’ve learnt about myself since moving to America.

Things I’d miss about America

  1. Diners. This one is linked to my second:
  2. Brunch. I’ve written before about my love of American brunch. Since our first experiences we’ve also sampled boozy brunches with friends, amazing home-made pop tarts at the DC institution that is Ted’s Bulletin, and a lot more Mexican themed brunch dishes. My waist-line will probably not miss this.
  3. Climate. I know I have complained about this on numerous occasions (for example, here), but I really like how in DC I don’t have to worry about a coat or even really a cardigan for about 7 months of the year. I’ve also just visited California, and their climate makes me wonder why we don’t all just move there.
  4. Variety of states to visit. There’s so much to see! I’ve visited I think 10 states in my 18 months here, which means there are 40 I haven’t had a chance to see yet. I can make a decent stab at improving this situation during our grace period, but I have enough places on my to-visit list to fill at least five different holidays.
  5. Attitude. I didn’t realize how British negativity can get you down, until I was freed of it. There’s just an assumption over here that people will be friendly, open and confident. And because this was expected of me, I found that after a few months I was friendly, open and confident – or at least a lot more than I used to be.
  6. Wine. Ok, I know we have this in Europe. Pretty good wine too. But I’d just been wine tasting in Sonoma, so it was on my mind.
  7. Fitness culture. People who knew me a long time ago will be surprised at this one. But I have found that it’s a lot easier to start running outside when everyone else is doing it.
  8. The ease of everything. This is always what R and I say about America: stuff is just easy. Apart from the bureaucracy of tax, health insurance etc., things like going out and enjoying yourself, in terms of booking, or putting your name on a list, or there just being room, just seem a lot easier over here.

Things I’m looking forward to about London/UK

  1. Knowing my way around. I love traversing London using the network of buses and tubes.
  2. M&S and Waitrose. I do miss their ready-meals and snacks.
  3. Cantonese food. I wrote recently about how hard it’s been finding the kind of Chinese food that I’m used to. I have cravings for prawn crackers and chicken chow mein in gravy.
  4. UK Holidays… in Yorkshire or Devon or the Lakes, or Wales. While it’s a small country the UK certainly has its own wealth of landscapes. I’ve been vicariously enjoying other ex-pats’ adventures in my home country (such as Amanda Afield’s adventures in Wales which made me very homesick!).
  5. Being close to Europe. I really didn’t take advantage of this enough while I was in the UK.
  6. Culture. DC does have theater and I do like the Kennedy Center, but I haven’t been able to work out how to get cheap tickets to reliably good things yet. I miss the English National Opera and National Theatre’s deals.
  7. Friends and family. Obviously.
  8. Humour. And British spelling.

That second list was hard, as I was trying to write it while flying over the Grand Canyon… It’s a bit difficult for the UK to compete with that.

Things I’ve learnt about myself  since moving to America

  1. I actually quite like patriotism and earnestness. In moderation.
  2. I can get along with most people – and I’ve met a lot of very different people.
  3. I love road trips. Though, as we’ve only really done one proper road trip, this might just have been the novelty. We’re planning to take a couple of weeks of our grace period and drive out West, that should be the real test.
  4. I really like motels/American hotels. This is partly because of the ease and friendliness of all my experiences so far.
  5. Traveling doesn’t have to be a big deal/stressful for me. I used to be a terrible traveler, stressing about a few hours’ train journey. Now that I’ve driven with R for days in the South and traveled on my own to conferences in cities I’d never heard of – and enjoyed these experiences – I’m a far more confident traveler. And finally…
  6. I can run! The fitness culture of DC, the easily available sports gear, and the variety of trails/courses to run have turned me into a runner (at least when it’s not too humid).

Relocating with my best friend

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Born to Be With You.”

I don’t really believe in soul mates or destiny. I don’t believe I was born to be with my husband. But I do believe in meeting someone at the right time, falling in love, working at a relationship, fighting, dancing, singing, loving, and waking up one day to realize that your husband is your best friend.

My husband and I have just been celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary. Since we met we’ve been through some pretty stressful things. We moved in together, planned a wedding, I did a PhD, he got promoted, we bought a flat – and then we moved to the States.

When we bought our first place and moved in I thought things probably couldn’t get much more stressful. Then we went through about a year trying to get a visa to the States and relocating – and that proved to be a whole other level of stress!

In her book The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide (which I promise to write a proper review of once I’ve read more than just the one chapter) Clara Wiggins writes about the strain moving overseas can place on a relationship.

Pretty much everything you go through has the potential to cause a rift in your relationship. The stresses of the move itself, your isolation and loneliness at the start, all the confusion of trying to find your way around your new home…

The list is almost endless!

Certainly I think our overly-positive expectations of how easy it would be for me to get work out here, coupled with my husband’s job requiring frequent travel did lead to some tensions. For the first few months I committed myself to providing support and sorting out our living situation. I spent the days house hunting and food shopping, and the evenings hearing about his day at work. When he no longer needed so much support, and when we were settled, I suddenly had less of a purpose, and it took me a while to set up my social life and get bits of work so that I felt independent again.

Clara and her correspondents all agree that communication becomes even more important in these situations.

The one piece of advice that rang out loud and clear was that good old chestnut – talk.

We’ve certainly had some honest conversations now about what we need to be happy and what we might want going forward. And I would agree with many of her correspondents that the relocation experience has actually made us stronger as a couple.

It’s also meant we have become more reliant on each other for company. I think we already knew that we were best friends – there’s no-one we’d rather go on holiday with for example – and actually I think we relished the expanse of free weekends that we were suddenly presented with. Every weekend was an excuse to go exploring, and we walked miles just enjoying our new surroundings and talking. It felt incredibly selfish, but also pretty amazing.

These days we have more commitments – Skype chats with friends and family at home, parties and happy hours with our DC friends and colleagues, and helping people move house to name just a few. I have a number of social groups now that I commit time to, and a regular tennis partner.

But this anniversary weekend has reminded me how much I enjoy spending time with my husband and how lucky I am. He can always be depended on to celebrate things – whether it’s with a surprise bottle of wine on a weeknight, my favorite pink lilies for our anniversary or a truly great meal out. He’s always interested in what I’ve been working on and is great at summarizing and otherwise helping to develop things. And as my Dad said in his father-of-the-bride speech – to guffaws of laughter – he talks. Even when it’s late at night, he’s always up for a good conversation.

Living in DC has been great for us. There’s been plenty of places to explore together and plenty of new things to talk about. We’ve been able to transplant our favorite routines from home and establish new ones – though our new habit of two pots of coffee on a weekend morning might not be the healthiest… Luckily there’s also been canoeing, hiking and playing tennis to offset our new love of brunch!

I’m hopeful that repatriation – whether we succeed in putting it off or not – could be just as positive overall for us, despite its inevitable stresses. Certainly there’s plenty from our life over here that we need to incorporate into life in the UK. And at least I’ll be going through it all with my best friend.