There And Back Again: An Expat's Tale
The first time I stepped off a plane in another country was at the old age of 20. After years of dreaming of a life in England, I had finally made it happen by the cheapest means possible. Normal study abroad programs cost too much ($20,000 for a semester in London? How about NO), so I found one through my university that let me go to a school in the UK for the same amount my parents would be paying if I had stayed (which wasn't much because I was rolling in financial aid). As I nervously got off the plane at Heathrow to try and find my connecting flight to Manchester, I ran up to the border control, face red from nervousness about missing my next flight, not knowing that I shouldn't have put my important papers in my checked bag, and very jet-lagged because I can't sleep on planes. Thankfully the border agent was kind enough to let me through, though with a stern warning not to do that next time. I caught my connecting flight with mere minutes to go and arrived in Manchester less than an hour later, and ready to start my three months in the country of my dreams.
Going back over my diaries from my first time abroad makes me chuckle. I was so naive and confused and trying to understand life in England, but certain things definitely caught up with me. I definitely had a break down a couple weeks into my time there about postcodes because THEY ARE SO COMPLICATED IN THE UK. I was just trying to order pizza, but my dorm's address wasn't correct, so I kept trying to put the postcode in, but my flat wasn't showing up and I tried to call and fix the problem, but the guy on the phone was impossible to understand, so I just gave up and cried like an idiot and starved until the next morning when I went and got food. It was a low point of my first expat experience, but I'm glad I had some culture shock in my life, because living in a different country isn't supposed to be smooth sailing.
Other things that made life complicated were the long phone numbers that were hard to remember, clubbing culture I felt inclined to take a part of (which robbed me of $1000 my first two weeks there), the lack of certain foods like Mexican, pickles, or Lucky Charms (which are now more plentiful there, but not so much in 2011), learning the local vernacular, and of course being extremely homesick. I had never been away from home like that before, and it was eye-opening to me how much I missed my family and friends. But being away also made me realize things about myself as a person. I found how out brave and outgoing I could be when I was put into situations where I needed to use those personality traits. I found how to travel and be adventurous. I figured out that the UK is where I should really be, even if it wasn't this utopia I dreamed of.
Three years later, in 2014, I finally moved back and started another portion of my expat life there. I thought I was well prepared this time, especially since I had already lived in England before. I mean, what could go wrong? My cockiness got the best of me though, because returning still had it's frustrations. I forgot certain things, like the interesting choices of sandwiches at Tesco (who in their right mind would eat some of those combinations? Prawn Mayonnaise? NOPE, not eating that), moaning about how I couldn't find a good cup of drip coffee (my snobbiness in that regard has lessened a bit since then), realizing that London is an entirely different animal then where I lived the last time I was a resident of the UK (Chester is a small town and London is obviously the very populous capital), and unfortunately I also had a relationship that held me back from ever feeling 100% comfortable living abroad.
But for all the things that made living in another country hard, there were also a million things that I absolutely loved about not having to be stuck in America. I still loved hearing the lovely accents everywhere. The UK and Europe in general are so much better with transportation than the US, which meant I never felt bad for not having a car, because I could easily hop on a train or bus. I loved the feeling of being unique. When you're an expat, you're fairly rare and people are so intrigued by you and your reasonings for living in a different country. I was basically a "unicorn," and that felt good. And just being in the land of all my favorite things (Benedict Cumberbatch, Monty Python, Jane Austen, the list could go on forever) gave me such life.
While it has its trials and tribulations, expat life is also so rewarding. Because of how difficult it is to live in a different country, it usually means you worked really hard to get there. It also means you sacrificed a lot. You've usually left a lot of people behind who you care about, sold all your things and moved towards starting over. You've given up your culture and the things you're comfortable with to go to a place that has a different way of life. It's really only a thing for the brave. In the past, I thought I was brave enough to do it, and perhaps I was too young to fully understand the sacrifices I was making, and that's why I gave up expat life too easily. I didn't allow myself to give into the changes, and it's something I definitely regret.
This is why I am not done pursuing a life of an expat. There's something so fascinating to me about those who choose to make their way to a place not of their birth, and I want to be one of those people. I crave the hardships that being an expat affords me. While it can get frustrating at times, at the end of the day, the fact that I moved back to my home country hasn't let me feel those same feelings again that I really enjoyed dealing with before. My life abroad is not one I'm ready to give up yet, and I know this will be a complicated thing to make happen and it will change my life completely, but I want to give it another try. I know I was meant to live a life not made in America, and it took me there to the UK and back again, and now back again once more.
So I guess is a good time to announce that I've been accepted to London South Bank University's Creative Media Industries: Cultural Management MA for the 2017-2018 school year, and they already gave me a £1000 scholarship to apply to my tuition! There's still a few things that could stop me from going (financial aid not being approved due to not having the best credit score, student visa being declined because I left my previous program early, changing my mind because it would mean the end of my relationship with the most incredible man in the world), however I'm going to push through to see if I can achieve this life abroad once more and hope that I can either switch to a work visa after my studies or at least find some sort of way to become a digital nomad so I can stick around Europe without breaking any immigration laws. I've done this once, and I'm excited to attempt it again