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 got that financial aid money, honey). 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. 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 cuisine, 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 out how brave and outgoing I could be when I was put into situations where I needed to use those personality traits. I found out how to travel and be adventurous. I figured out that the UK is the country I should’ve been born in in another universe, 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), whinging about how I couldn't find a good cup of drip coffee (my snobbiness in that regard has lessened a lot 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 back home 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 could go see an amazing show on the West End for £10, which is only a quarter of what the cheapest Broadway show costs. 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.
Since leaving London in 2015, I have always felt like I had unfinished business. Something has been gnawing at me over not giving it a proper go. I left prematurely to find work in New York City and to be with my boyfriend. I left my grad program early because I had gotten too busy with my new job and life, and received a postgraduate diploma rather than a full Masters of Arts. And even on my many journeys back to the UK in the past 4 years since I left, each time I leave, I feel empty and sad at the short amount of time I got to be there. There’s only so much to see and experience on a 5-day trip, so there’s still so much of the country I have not gotten a chance to explore, friends I have yet to make connections with, and beautiful places just waiting for me to photograph. All of this is why I am not done pursuing a life of an expat.
A couple of years ago, I entertained the thought of going back for school and even applied and got accepted to a digital media program. But things got complicated and I decided against going. But I think it was the right choice. To have run back so soon after leaving would’ve been too hasty. I needed to give NYC a good try and see if I still was feeling this way after a time. Well, guess what? Of course I’m still thinking about it! Why do ghosts stick around? Because they’ve got unfinished business to attend to. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I believe in that concept. If there’s something gnawing at you for years and years, the only way to get it out of your head is to just do it. I’m a very goal-oriented person, and this is the main goal I’ve had for a long time, so I feel it’s something I must to for the sake of my happiness and well-being.
After I got sick in 2018, I realized that life is too short to not make yourself happy. And while it’s been difficult to make myself happy in the midst of anxiety, depression, and weird things happening to my body, something that has kept me motivated is trying to think of a big goal I can work towards to make sure I stay positive and motivated. For me, I need something with a concrete outcome and dates it’s happening on. It can’t be a vague idea, because then I’ll never make moves towards it. Something I felt would be a good plan would be to find a way to combine my dream of living abroad in the UK again and taking an acting course. Doing theatre was something that made me happy and feel like a part of a community, especially over the summer when I was going through the worst moments of my life. So after doing some research on schools and trying to find a program that wouldn’t be crazy expensive, crazy difficult to get into, and crazy busy to the point it wouldn’t allow for working or traveling, I found one!
I’ve been accepted to the University of East London’s Acting MA. It’s nothing fancy like LAMDA or RADA and it won’t magically turn me into a BAFTA winning actress, HOWEVER, I truly believe that being in acting and collaborative performance classes will be incredibly enriching to me. The program is made for people who still want to work and have a life, which is important to me, because the whole point of moving back for a year is to learn new things, but also experience new things. And the best part of all of this is that my partner will be coming with me! It will be a bit more difficult to bring a dependent with me on my visa, but I am totally prepared for the complicated process and am excited to write about it more here.
So what does this mean? I guess this blog will become a expat/grad school abroad blog once again as it was in my early days of starting this journey, and I am happy to find and explore even more of London than before and actually have time to do it. I’ll also have a better proximity to Europe for short jaunts to the continent, and more writing, photography, videography, and life experience to help me this time around. The last year of my life lead to a lot of disappointments and moments I was excited to do that never happened, and I really want this to be successful and work out, so I’ll push through the hurtles and work on my health a lot over the next six months so I’ll be ready to go when the time comes.