Nathalie: Snowflakes In California
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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.
Hi there! I’m Nathalie, born and raised in rainy old Belgium in a small city somewhere between Ghent and Antwerp. In July 2013 I moved to the US on a K-1 visa and so far I’ve been enjoying San Diego in sunny southern California.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started Snowflakes in California the day after I arrived in the US. It was a way to keep in touch with my family and friends back home and allowed me to process the big changes in my life. And then I discovered so many great expat and travel blogs so I started to take it more seriously. I didn’t know there was a whole community out there… that really helped.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Would it be corny if I say I like my blog post about our wedding? We waited so long for that day and the preparations were so stressful and hectic but we pulled it off and I’m pretty proud of that. Other than that I liked thinking up the ‘Things I learned from Moving Abroad’ and I’ve definitely enjoyed writing about the road trip we took when I first visited the US.
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?
I wouldn’t say I experienced a real culture shock, but I did have to get used to a lot of small things. It sounds cliché but everything really is bigger in the US: the cereal boxes, parking spots, (travel) mugs and even the hamburgers,… The state of California is huge compared to Belgium, where I could just ride my bike to the bakery down the street. I drive a lot more here, get up a lot earlier (those active Americans!) and eat out more often than I would back home. On the other hand people are generally friendlier and more outspoken – which can be intimidating in the beginning – and I can literally walk to the beach. So yes, life is very different 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?
I was definitely not prepared for this, but sometimes you have to follow your heart. And in a way I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared. Even if you do all the research and prepare everything there is to prepare, you can’t anticipate feelings of homesickness or loneliness until you are actually there. Silly things can trigger it and it usually pops up when you least expect it. I moved here almost immediately after graduating university and I had never even rented an apartment by myself. So a lot of my insecurities were also part of me growing up I guess.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
It’s always hard to come up with those spontaneously, but I do remember I tried to bag my own groceries the first time I visited the US. I clearly broke protocol because the cashier was so surprised. Also, never ask for just one layer of cheese when ordering a sandwich. One employee got strange looks from her boss when he saw my order with the miserable amount of cheese. She kept on double checking if this was really what I wanted. As I said: everything is bigger in the US!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the USA?
- Embrace the differences: comparing everything to how it is back home doesn’t do anyone any good.
- Be prepared to be overwhelmed with everyday things, it’s as if you’re learning and seeing everything for the first time again. I was even afraid to go to the grocery store at first, make a phone call or drive somewhere new.
- Don’t give up: remember why you made this decision when life gets hard or you feel incredibly lonely.
How is the expat community in the USA? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Believe it or not, there is a community of Belgian expats here! I was very happy when I discovered that and almost immediately went to a meetup. We also live close to the university so there are a lot of international people in the area and California in general is a very multicultural state. It has been more of a challenge to make real friends but I’m working on it!
How would you summarize your expat life in the USA in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s like watching an awkward Belgian eating chocolate on the beach.