Eve: Queen's English
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the USA, etc.
My name is Eve, and I'm pretty new to the States! I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina just under a year ago. The place I call home is in the south-west of England, a little Cotswold town in the middle of the Five Valleys, so it's been a big change moving to a city life, never mind the difference in weather, accents, and culture. I moved on a K-1 visa, which means I was emigrating to marry my then fiancé, who is a US citizen. A K-1 is a fun spousal visa that allows you to move first as a non-immigrant and then, after you get married (in the US and within 90 days of arrival), you can modify your application to that of an immigrant. That's the short version!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I've always written and I've blogged before, but it wasn't until January 2011, a week or so after I left Charlotte (I'd spent Christmas 2010 there, and that was when Ben and I got engaged), that I thought it might be a good idea to start documenting my emigration journey before the actual move itself.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
For some reason, being able to admit when things aren't going so well but still being able to take the mickey out of myself is my most comforting way to write. One of the most stressful things I find about living in America is that the country speaks the same language as me, but it really actually doesn't half the time. This is exemplified for me when in supermarkets, and is the reason that I wrote 'I cry in supermarkets and sing to cheese' - it was Harris Teeter (a supermarket chain) that finally broke me when I was feeling particularly alien. Self-deprecation was my only way of coping!
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?
Yes and yes. The frustrating and perturbing thing was how delayed those reactions were. I coped remarkably well for a few months, and then I suddenly crashed. I spent some weeks sleeping for 10-15 hours a day (I wasn't permitted to work at the time due to the conditions on my visa), and I'm sure it was to cope with how bewildered I felt every single day while awake. The language difference and the expectation of it not being that different - as per my post above - was certainly a big challenge (though I take my hat off to each and every expat that moves to a place where the native language is not their mother tongue - that's a whole different ball game!), and I miss my family terribly, and in such a fundamental way that sometimes I don't realise it until it overwhelms me. I got sick of people not understanding what I was saying, or exclaiming about my being British, or not caring that I was British, or being too concerned or not concerned enough about how I was adjusting - basically I became a petulant child that needed some time to adjust. I still have those days, but mostly I love it here, and I appreciate the positive differences North Carolina has, rather than the negative things or the things that I miss. People are incredibly friendly here (much more my style!), the lifestyle is easygoing and fun, the weather is amazing, and there's a greater sense of creativity and opportunity, which is intrinsic in the city of Charlotte itself, I think. I really do love it here.
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?
Absolutely not, and anyone who knows me knows I like to be fully prepared for anything I do, and well in advance too if I can. But that's been the wonderful thing I've learned: not being prepared for things you genuinely can't prepare for isn't a bad thing. I mean, obviously make sure you have a passport that's in date for a few years, enough money to see you through your first six to twelve months, and have a game plan about a job or lifestyle for your new, expat life, but don't fret too much over the finer details. You're going to be surprised by what you find challenging and what you find easy. I have often discovered the exact opposite of my expectations happening in that sense, so I've learned not to expect to know what to expect too much.
As for changes? I'd probably change a few minor things, but nothing significant. Perhaps I'd insist on a more regular schedule for Cadbury's care packages from back home?
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My favourite ever experience of being an English girl in America so far unfortunately comes at the expense of someone who was seemingly less aware of the wider world, though it appealed to my dry sense of humour and my previously held stereotypical views of Americans. One time I was at the ABC store and, after perusing a short while, I went to the counter to pay for a lovely bottle of gin. On hearing my accent, I was asked by the assistant where I was from. When I told her I was from England, she seemed quite surprised, and asked me how long I'd been in the USA. I told her about six months. She then complimented me on how well I spoke English, considering that fact. I was unable to leave the store without a quick giggle and I promptly dissolved once I got outside. Bless her heart - she meant well!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the USA?
- Do it. Don't doubt yourself, and be brave in finding new people to get to know once you're there. Make a life for yourself, regardless of why you're emigrating.
- Document your experience in some way that suits you - you'll be surprised at how far you've come when you look back.
- Speak to other expats, make some connections online or in person with them, and you'll have support and not go too crazy on the bad days!
How is the expat community in the USA? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Brits are kind of.... well, quiet and British when you first meet them (!), and so when I've been to expat meet-ups it's been pretty uneventful. There's some chit-chat but I've never experienced anything particularly significant. I've found more expat solidarity in online forums like British Expats, although I know that Charlotte has a substantial British (and other) expat community. I guess in part it's also due to really wanting to make a go of things here, and not hanker after the way things are in England too much, so I've been more active in local groups that have common interests, rather than common backgrounds (photography, for example).
How would you summarize your expat life in the USA in a single, catchy sentence?
There is no single, catchy sentence to summarise my expat life in the USA, but I reckon I could waffle about it ad nauseam if you let me. Just read my blog, ha ha! I'm very happy though, and I really think that's all you can hope for, and let yourself be, in the end.