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Gilly: Brainstorm

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in the USA makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

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 Gilly Cannon. I grew up in London UK. I am an educator by training. I have been a volunteer and employed by a hospice and I am a writer. I have relocated with my husband and children three times for my husband’s job. He is The Head of School for a large K-12 community Day School in the Greater Washington Area in the USA. Our first move was out of London to a boarding school in Oxfordshire. Our second move was to Hong Kong for 5 years and our final (if I have anything to do with it) move was to Maryland 11 years ago. We have 3 sons aged 19, 17 and 11. Our 11 year old was born in Hong Kong and only 8 months when we came to live in the USA.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started writing my blog in February 2012. My husband had been diagnosed with a very painful facial nerve condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia. Back in November 2011 I had started writing about his downward spiral and brain surgery on a caring community site to keep our family and friends around the world updated. When I thought Jonny had made enough progress to shut the site down, I was met with huge encouragement to keep writing and so my blog Brainstorm was born.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Even though the blog was originally set up to keep everyone informed about Jonny’s illness and recovery, I found that being an Expat colored everything I wrote, from my take on the medical system to celebrating Thanksgiving. From raising ”American” children to battling with the bank.

Three of my favorite “Expat” posts (see I even spell in American now) are Anything But Routine and The Queen’s English and Four Girls and a Bar of Chocolate.

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?

Even though this was our third move, it was still a culture shock. In some ways you are lulled into a false sense of security because you think they speak the same language (ha-ha) and so you are over a big hurdle, but those first few months were dizzying between trying to get the hang of the money, driving on the wrong side of the road, the overwhelming choice of cereal and this baffling  ”Little League” cult!

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?

One thing I learned about moving a number of times across countries and continents , is that managing your expectations about feeling ”at home” is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your kids. By the move to the USA I knew that different pieces of our lives would take different amounts of time to settle and that was ok. I also knew that as a stay at home Mom without the structure of work or school I would have the hardest time acclimating.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

I think the story I tell in The Queen’s English is pretty funny although I didn’t think so at the time.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the USA?

  • Manage your expectations.
  • Don’t give up your British accent-it holds a lot of cache and means you can speak absolute rubbish (garbage) and the locals think you are very smart.
  • When you are overwhelmed in the grocery store, buy whatever is on sale. That way you can try a number of cleaning/hair/ cake mix products on a tight budget!!
  • The word Quite in American means VERY as in Quite good =very good, Quite funny =very funny, whereas we Brits would think that meant only vaguely ok or a little bit amusing. You can get yourself in quite a mess with that word alone.

How is the expat community in the USA? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

It really takes time to find “real” friends but don’t give up. Some of my closest, supportive, caring friends are American through and through. Americans are very friendly they will tell you their very personal life stories/health conditions on the bus, at the pool or in a grocery line and then may never talk to you again. Do not take this as a sign of friendship if you are a private, slow to warm Brit!! I was in an unusual position of being The Head of School’s wife (a very public role that is a whole blog on its own) so it took me a while to know who I could really trust to keep my personal life confidential. When we came to Maryland there were very few Brits. In the last few years I have found more and more have come to my neighborhood and although they were complete strangers they felt like old friends very quickly. I think it was our views on crap American tea, lack of interest in baseball and missing Cadbury’s that clinched the friendships. Oh and they are great women!

How would you summarize your expat life in the USA in a single, catchy sentence?

My Expat life is like village life on steroids. It is crazy, dramatic, fast paced, hilarious and thought provoking. Stepping out into the big wide world is the BEST thing our family ever did (and I don’t like change!) See my post 12 Ways to Help Children Face their Fears!

Brian Norris

"When first moving to Washington, D.C., I didn't know many people outside of the office. InterNations has changed that with some exciting events."

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