Tag Archives: visas

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.

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


Interlude – a trip ‘home’

So, as many of my family and friends know, we got our visa petition approved! I’ll write more about the saga that was our visa application soon but, suffice to say, it went right to the wire.

Originally we were only going to do our big trip out West of we knew we hadn’t got a visa to stay – we were going to use the grace period at the end of our current visa (four weeks when you can’t work but are encouraged to travel) to say a grand farewell to the States. But as we got to the end of our visa and still hadn’t heard if we could stay or not, we decided to do the trip anyway – it would certainly beat sitting at home waiting for an email.

And I’m really glad we did. I’ll write more about our adventures in the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Denver and Chicago soon, but right now I’m sitting at an airport bar trying to get my head around the fact that we were in Wyoming about two weeks ago and will be in London tomorrow morning.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip, and I’m really really looking forward to seeing people in the UK, but I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to some kind of routine and writing about the minutiae of DC life. All this waiting to hear has been very disruptive, and I really got into travelling mode on our trip – all we had to think about was where we could drive to for breakfast, and where did Expedia and Yelp advise us to stay the next night. Getting back to my writing will be difficult!

Still, for now I have a couple of weeks of visits and travels in the UK to look forward to. Hopefully there will be Yorkshire fish and chips, West Country game and cider in nice pubs, and maybe even a curry in London. Certainly there will be plenty of fun with family and friends.

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.

Culture shock

This blog was started in the excitement of experiencing another country for the first time and of exploring a new city. Because I had no permission to work here my life was being lived largely online, as I continued to collaborate with UK colleagues on a special issue of a journal, applied to and prepared for conferences back home, communicated with UK friends on Twitter and Facebook – and of course carried on this blog.

Then between July and September things changed. We had just moved into our more permanent DC apartment, spent nearly all our money on the deposit and on furnishing it as sparsely as possible (while still being able to accommodate all our stuff that had just arrived in boxes), and I had applied – and paid for – permission to work. I guess you could say that things had begun to get real.

People with experience of living abroad had warned me of the potential roller-coaster of a trajectory my moods might take following the first flush of ex-pat excitement. I think I dismissed it because I believed I would still be so connected to the UK and the virtual world of academia. But actually my conference trips back to the UK made things rather worse than better. After just under two weeks of whirlwind travel and bingeing on London, friends and family I found myself back in the US exhausted and more homesick than ever.

The fact that it was summer was both positive and negative. We had vacations to enjoy, but it was difficult to build up routines and social networks in DC. It was also the prime time to apply for adjunct teaching work – but I still hadn’t received permission to work. For those few months of Spring I had enjoyed the holiday feel of life as the spouse of a J1. Now, though I couldn’t believe it was possible, I was bored of being on vacation.

[Vacation – to vacate your previous life in favour of a life of vacancy?]

All this is really in order to introduce the following couple of blog posts that deal with the more negative side of expat life and the phases of culture shock that can be experienced. There were times when everything about setting up life here was exhausting and I was angry with everyone who seemed to be going out of their way to make things difficult. There were times when, at the slightest provocation, I loudly proclaimed my hatred of DC.

Things have improved; Pret has now opened near the Library of Congress and I know where I can buy chocolate hobnobs. After six months here I’ve got to grips with my local buses. And I’ve begun to develop something of a social network.

It’s important though, I think, not to expunge the more negative experiences of these eighteen months from the record. Some readers in similar positions may take comfort in not being alone in their reactions to life in a foreign country and others preparing to move to the US might be better prepared to face the privations and incivilities of life here. Just to be clear, settling in DC is probably a cakewalk compared with trying to make a new life in a small town in America’s interior, but no matter how often people say that cities like DC or Boston are ‘European’ it’s important not to forget that they are at heart American. And no matter how acculturated we might imagine ourselves – all those Hollywood films and episodes of Friends – America can still be very foreign.