Guest Post by Michelle Garrett
Moving overseas was one of the best things I could have done.
I am frequently asked by the British ‘why do you stay in Britain?’ as if I’m half crazy. They say it like that because of the weather.
My short answer is that I live in Britain for love: my husband is British. They always reply ‘awwww,’ because it sounds so romantic.
But the full answer is of course much longer than that, and predates my husband’s entry into my life.
I grew up in a small university town in Northern Minnesota. By the time I was 18 I was fed up with the small town. When my drama club decided to take a trip to England I signed up immediately. England!
Many car washes and garage sales later, our small group were boarding a 747 in July 1988, on our way to London. When we began our descent to Heathrow and the clouds gradually parted, I saw the little squiggly, crazy quilt pattern of fields below—so unlike the giant grids of Mid-West America. This was my first real view of the world outside the States. At 18 I was hungry for all new experiences and I was thrilled (almost overwhelmed with excitement) to see this green and pleasant land waiting for me to explore.
We did a whirlwind tour of sites in and around London. I was agitated because I was the oldest in the group. I had graduated a month previous and I wanted to be independent, free to explore the world. I was standing by myself at Windsor Castle (possibly in a sulk), near a wall overlooking the valley across to Eton School. The wind gusted and I could smell things that I had never smelled in Minnesota—a combination of the fresh, woody willows along the river, the old lichen covered stone of the castle walls, even the short cut green grass held a different scent in the misty air.
My drama teacher walked up beside me and looked at the view. She could sense my restlessness. ‘You’ll be back,’ she said, as if reassuring me. ‘You’ll come back one day.’ She was certain.
When I went to university that autumn, I learned that the university had a Study Abroad programme in England. I signed up. I spent seven months of my junior year in a castle owned by the Duke of Northumberland. He rents out the servants quarters to the students of my university. It was an amazing experience, cold, but amazing.
While there I fell in love with a local who was about to go to medical school. I went home to finish my degree, he moved to London to start his training and when I finished university I moved to London to be with him. We got married perhaps a bit too early, but my work permit ran out and I assumed I would be with him forever.
I’m no longer with him, but I am still in England. When my marriage was breaking down my dad expected me to move home. I didn’t. How could I? I didn’t even know how to pay a bill in the States. The culture shock of repatriation on top of a divorce would have been more than I could have coped with at that time.
I had been in England for 10 years, I had a circle of friends and good support. I still had friends in Minnesota but they had got on with their lives—it would be a lot to expect them to suddenly fit me and my emotional baggage in again. So I stayed in England.
Eventually I remarried—another Englishman. And I’m still here.
Do I miss the States? Of course. Would I move back? Well… We talk about a retirement home in the States one day, but I don’t see a move back to the States before then. If I had known back in ’88 on the walls of Windsor Castle that not only would I return, as my teacher said, but that my future would be dominated by a life in England, would I have done anything differently?
The answer is yes, probably…possibly. I never planned on making a life here. It has been full of emotional hardship and heartache. And yet, I don’t regret moving overseas. Of course I could have made a life anywhere, but moving overseas helped me grow into the person I was meant to be by pushing my boundaries, testing me and helping me develop in ways that I would not have been able to while surrounded by people and influences back home.
That growth and development are the reasons why a move overseas was the best thing for me.
The author is an American freelance writer who has lived in the UK for 20 years. She blogs about life as an expat at Mid-Atlantic English.
Balanced Melting Pot says
Great story! I hate to think about what I would’ve done differently had I known the future. It sounds intimidating, but deep down I know whatever happened I would’ve adapted. Considering England’s health care options, you could have done a lot worse in picking a country 🙂
Nice post. The “would I have done things differently” question can be daunting. I find that the best is to accept that we are where we are thanks to our choices. Were I to start over, I’d make the same choices and mistakes 🙂
Enjoy Britain !
Diana Strinati Baur says
Well said. After a time, it’s hard to think about going back. Some sort of separation really takes place. After 9 years in Germany and 7 in Italy, I don’t know how adapting to American life would be–and in any event, living this life keeps me open and accepting of change.
Balanced Melting Pot–I agree, Im very happy (overall!) with the NHS.
Diana Strinati Baur–that’s well said also ‘living this life keeps me open and accepting of change’ and I couldn’t agree more.
I moved the UK and never planned on making a life there either – I was only supposed to be there on a one-year assignment. I ended up staying nearly seven years. Looking back, would I have done things differently? My answer is “possibly” as well. For one, I wouldn’t have kept a storage unit in the U.S. for so long! But overall, I know it was the right path for me.
I may be the only person who feels this way, but yes, I do regret living overseas. I’m an American who lived in Germany with my wife for 4 years. It was just too fast-paced and stressful. I never did feel at home there, even though my wife knew the language very well. Looking back, I realize that my lack of adaptability and my high general anxiety level should have been red flags. My advice: if you’re not a calm, easygoing person and if you have trouble going with the flow, don’t move abroad.
Good points, Gordon. Additionally, not every country or city is appropriate for everyone. You might have done very well going to a slower-paced town in a different country. And I know I would be miserable in a really dense, high-energy place like Hong Kong although I would love to spend time in Asia. . .
Recently I bought an expat book Being Stripped Naked. This book is really very interesting. Last night I read one blog from this book “Initial weeks as an expat living in Hong Kong”. I simply couldn’t stop reading it, eagerly waiting for a different outcome.