Friday, December 6, 2013

6 Months as Expats

We recently passed our six-month milestone since moving to England. Quite frankly, it went by somewhat unnoticed to me, mostly because I was busy celebrating Little Arrow's 2nd birthday that same day.

But then it occurred to me that I no longer really calculate how long we've been here. It's not something I think all that much about these days, other than when people ask me. This shows how far we've come since my last update about our feelings post-move (I wrote this post 2 weeks after we moved here.)

Don't be fooled by my smile. I totally cried my way through the 4th of July.



So how are we?

I'll be up front. I still occasionally have bad days. I call them "helicopter days." When, if a helicopter showed up in my backyard, I'd hop on without even packing a suitcase. These days are rare. But every once in awhile, homesickness catches up with me. Or the kids are really sick and I can't make sense of the NHS to get them the care they need. Or I'm frustrated that it took 3 weeks for a simple flat tire to be repaired.

But as I said, those days are not the norm.

In fact, I celebrate that normal even exists for us now. Those first few weeks are such a blur. Each day navigating something new, finding our way around, fumbling with the currency, unpacking, learning to drive. Life has become much more routine, which is very nice and far less exhausting. We were relatively happy through the process, but it definitely kicked us in the rear at times.

I've heard from several people who have found my blog because their family is planning a similar move. I thought I'd share a few things that worked for me to keep my head above water during a somewhat stressful time. Everyone is different, but these things helped me.
  • Get plenty of rest. I know... we could all use more sleep. But when even the most basic of tasks requires much more mental energy than you'd use back home, you'll find yourself more tired than ever before. I also learned that whenever I was tired, I was much more likely to become really emotional, frustrated, and on edge. Even though my to-do list was longer than ever these past few months, I've embraced the occasional nap.
  • Give yourself a break. But then get over it. Our first few weeks here, I ate terribly and didn't exercise. I blamed it on confusion over food options, not knowing how to operate my oven, lack of free time, etc. All that was true, of course. And so I don't feel too guilty that I gained a few pounds during the process. But at some point, it was time to break those yucky habits and get back to a healthy routine. I'm far happier now that I'm eating better and working out more regularly. Perfection won't exist at the beginning (or ever), so let some things go. But once the dust has settled a bit, find some balance in your life again.
  • Indulge in a few comforting things from home and don't feel guilty about it. I'll totally own up to grabbing lunch at Subway almost weekly. Every once in a while, I watch the Today show by steaming it online. We purchased the NFL television package so that we could watch Colts games. Is it lame to indulge in American conveniences and television shows when part of this experience is to embrace a new lifestyle? Probably. But frankly, I'm proud we uprooted our comfortable Midwestern life to live a life previously unknown to us. I think we're brave. So if a little time with Matt Lauer makes me happy, then I'm going to enjoy it and not feel bad about it.
  • Stay in touch with home. There are so many ways to stay connected with friends and family. I think being an expat is probably easier than ever before because of it. Social media, free texting services, Facetime and Skype. I've even developed some nice traditions. For example, my sister and I each keep a journal, and every month or two, we mail it to the other and then continue writing in the one we just received.
  • Embrace what you love that's new. There are bound to be things you'll fall in love with in your new country (hopefully, many things!). Celebrate that. My husband and I love the cheese here. So I splurge on a couple of nice wedges of cheese each week. Both boys are in school on Friday mornings, which is when Stamford holds its market day. I almost always go and walk around, even if I don't buy anything, because it's one of those fantastic European experiences that makes living here special.
  • Travel, travel, travel. And then take a break. I wish we could travel more than we have already. We're limited by school schedules and vacation time, but we still try to embrace every break, long weekend, or even day trips. That being said, sometimes it's also nice to stay home. This isn't a 3-year long vacation. Part of this experience is developing a life here in England. Meaning I want Big Arrow to go to birthday parties in village halls on Saturday afternoons with his classmates. We need to do housework and run errands like everyone else. We don't want to miss important local festivals. So I'd recommend turning the travel off for a bit too.
He's practically British. Seriously, you should hear him talk these days.

So what's next?

I need to work harder at establishing friendships here. I have a few expats I feel close to, and I'm really thankful for them. Nothing bonds you like finding your way through a new country together. But I'd like to develop a wider social circle, too. Those things take time, especially for me. But it's something I'm working on.

And I should explore more new places with Little Arrow during the days when it's just the two of us. There's no reason I need to wait for the weekend to have adventures. One of my goals in 2014 is to go somewhere new with him each week. Doesn't have to be far away, but just somewhere we've never been.

Finally, I want to stop blaming every bad day I have on England. I remind myself constantly that I had bad days in America, too. Days when I get a parking ticket. Or lost trying to find a new store. Or worried about something that's going on with my kids. None of those things are unique to living here, and so I shouldn't pin my bad feelings on this experience and just accept them for what they are.

But as I said, mostly I'm content that we've established ourselves here and are relatively happy. The boys are settled in at school and nursery and seem to really enjoy that. We love the village where we love and our house is perfect for us. In fact, I think if you could pack up our families and close friends and ship them over here to join us, we might never leave. (Don't worry, Mom, I promise we'll come back.)