As for where I live now? I just repatriated to Katy, Texas after living in St Albans, England for the last 3 years. We moved to England during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and happened to move back to Texas (via quarantine in Maine) during COVID...oh, and another hurricane this summer 2020.
We tend to move during the most inopportune times, so I consider our family of four pros at it.
Why did you move abroad?
My husband's company presented the opportunity to move abroad and although overwhelmingly daunting when you think about all the details required to move from the US to the UK, it was 100% worth it.
Given we'd been in Texas for 5 years, we were ready for the big change, the career opportunity for my husband, and the flexibility for me to personally try something different after having a full-time career for many years.
With 2 small children still under the age of 10 (and even with our 10-year-old lab), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to move overseas, explore Europe, and instill a passion of adventure and open-mindedness in our children while at a young age.
It also helps that both my husband and I went to school abroad: Sweden and Australia. We simply love experiencing new places, new cultures and all that travel has to offer.
How have you been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis?
Covid-19 has impacted everyone in overlapping ways.
Selfishly, as an expat, the pandemic requires thinking out of the box to truly maximize expat life during a "lockdown" year (hopefully not years). Dreamy European holidays were canceled and instead of working on my blog, I was homeschooling until our British school was able to sort out a more appropriate long-term plan (which they did brilliantly by the way!).
Our mainland Europe adventures rerouted closer to home in England and were amazing. We saw more of the English countryside in a few months than we did in a few years. I will never ever forget our glorious walks, boot picnics, and UK roadtrips once we were allowed to safely travel within the country again.
On the downside, our life abroad ended at the 3-year mark vs the anticipated 5. Our contract was for 3-5 years, and with everything going on in the world, the negative impact on the economy and global jobs worldwide, it made sense for our company sponsor to not extend. We are simply so thankful and grateful for the 3 years they gave us!
As for the actual move during the pandemic, a few interesting differences surfaced for those finding themselves in a similar situation:
What sort of measures are in place in the country where you live? Is it a total lockdown? Partial? How is the population reacting?
Before we left England, life was starting to feel a bit normal again. People were getting outside, the pubs were offering outside dining, and some shops were starting to open. And it was nice to see shelves stocked again! I was nearly in a panic without my Tunnocks!
England was far more open than Wales (both of which we visited before leaving England in August), but rules and safety measures were politely being followed from where we were living, visiting, or simply passing by.
Fast-forward to Maine in August and shelves were empty. Certain cleaning supplies were hard to find and many places were closed, with limited hours, or simply had to shut down. It actually felt like it did in England during the earlier phase of Covid.
Fast-forward from Maine to Texas in September and life in Katy seems relatively normal. Aside from mandatory mask-wearing which seemingly seems to be more of an accessory than a life-saving protocol, kids have the choice to be back in school, sports are on (yes, even tackle football!), and all seems well...sorta normal.
Drive 30 minutes into Houston and the vibe is quite different. Popular restaurants and shops are closed in major shopping areas. Streets aren't as busy during a lunchtime hour. Overall, Houston feels quite contrary to the vibe in the burbs, but most people are respectfully following the rules.
Regardless of Maine or Texas, buying household goods after moving has been a challenge. Out-of-stock seems to be a theme and ordering anything new, like a couch, has lead times of 4+ months. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you are considering selling your furniture and other households before moving!
Experiencing the pandemic in both the US and the UK, I anticipate we'll ride the Covid wave based upon the ups and downs of locally reported numbers and guidelines. So although it feels sort of normal in Katy right now, ask me next month and I'm sure I'll have something new to share, which isn't all that different from the cyclical pattern surfacing in England.
How have you managed home-schooling?
Homeschooling the initial weeks of the UK lockdown were tough. I think that's all I need to say about that! Totally necessary to flatten the curve, but hard on mom (or mum as my daughter prefers to say) trying to sort out assignments and tech on one laptop for 2 kids 3 years apart: 7 and 10! And I like to consider myself pretty proficient in tech. On the other hand, I'm now a pretty good paper-macher! Lol
My husband transformed our garden into a mini PE bootcamp, and even used twigs, construction paper and our rabbit holes for a par 3 golf course. Thankfully we had a large garden to entertain us during lockdown months. Very grateful!
How do you manage the relationship with your family in your home-country?
Being 5 or 6 hours ahead gave me the opportunity to talk to family and friends far easier than living in-country. In fact, I got into a habit of talking to my dad nearly every day, the same time every day. I felt like his morning wake up call which was a nice outcome given the fears many people have about losing touch due to distance. In my case, that didn't happen. I'd have lunch and he'd be having his tea. It was perfect!
Oddly, now that I'm back in the States with only a 1 hour time zone difference, that routine has ended and now we need to find a new time that works for us both.
Social media is key for staying in touch with friends. WhatsApp is super easy and who knew Zoom video meetings would displace Friday nights at the pub. The Houseparty App has been fun for organizing transatlantic happy hours, too!
There are lots of options for staying in touch. The battle is making sure to make the effort and to be ok with missing special events, celebrations and birthdays. Friendships do change and evolve, but the ones that ultimately matter will be the relationships that carry on.
Without thinking about the current pandemic, what's your favorite thing about being an expat in England?
Gosh, this is a tough one. I have soooo many favorite things about living in England as an American expat. If I really had to narrow it down it would be the simplicity of living: walking to the markets, quaint villages, countryside walks, historic cities and pubs, of course!
And what's the worst thing about being an expat in England?
The worse thing about being an expat in England is the winter weather. And if you move in the fall, the winter and darkness come quick. It takes some getting used to and you really have to power through it - no matter how rainy, muddy or gloomy outside it may feel.
By February, a sunny day is the best gift!! And by May, the long winter was totally worth the wait - it's simply gorgeous.
What do you miss most?
When I was in England, I missed authentic tacos, Cheez-Its and more American snacks totally unhealthy for you.
Now that I'm back in Texas, I miss Tyrell's black truffle crisps, Rhubarb G&Ts and my pub next door.
Before the social distancing measures, what did you do to meet people in get familiar with you country? How has it changed now?
As an introvert, meeting new people is hard but essential to overall well-being and happiness. The trick is saying Yes to everything. That means I did lots of things:
During Covid I created a WhatsApp group for our village. I knew that we had some elderly folks in the neighborhood and was concerned if they had the resources needed to safely get through the lockdown phases.
I created a small pamphlet introducing myself, letting them know that if they were interested in joining a neighborhood WhatsApp group to text me their information. My family walked around and popped flyers into mailbox slots. Within a day I had not only created a reliable neighborhood resource, but made several friends in the process.
Once the lockdown lifted, we met in the street on Friday nights for a socially distanced happy hour. My group actually resulted in introducing neighbors to each other that had lived side by side for years! It felt so good bringing the neighborhood together like that.
It was difficult saying goodbye to that wonderful village, but we've made lifelong friends as a result. And I occasionally send a message to the group to encourage them to continue the Friday night get togethers. I'm really hoping they don't stop!
What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
There are many quirky British habits and customs but a few that have always stuck out to me:
British quirks are so fun to me that I actually wrote about it for new expats in the UK.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
A myth about England is that the food is bad. Totally not true! In fact, some of my favorite meals of all time happened in England, and that says a lot since I never thought I'd beat an amazing italian meal in Rome.
You just need to know where to go for more than fish & chips (and for good fish & chips, too).
What advice would you give other expats?
Don't wait for tomorrow. Don't let the pandemic limit your expat experience.
Be creative and open to what "experience" can mean for you and your family. There is so much you can see and do in your adopted country even with limited travel restrictions.
When and why did you start your blog?
I started aBroadpurpose.com in February 2018 to coincide with my mother's stem cell transplant. The blog was an outlet for me to deal with all the change that hit me roughly at the same time, to include my mother's cancer diagnosis when we moved to England.
I wanted to help and share with others what was happening and how to create a life you love despite overwhelming change, and the blog evolved.
It became a creative and expressive outlet on so many levels - emotional, intellectual and ultimately a passion to help others.
How is having a blog been beneficial?
The blog has been super beneficial because it gives me purpose and so rewarding when I hear from my readers.
When you go from a full-time career to a full-stop as a SAHM in a new country, with a parent fighting for their life in another country, I needed the blog to hold me accountable, to serve and to continuously evolve versus stand still. I had no idea that when I started it that it would become what it is today. I know mom would be proud.
The blog details: aBroad purpose
Find out more about being an expat in England with our expat guide:
Expat guide for London and England
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