Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with for a life abroad but we aren't the only ones who have chosen this lifestyle. In fact, there are a lot of us and many of us blog about it. Expatriated is a series to introduce you to other expat bloggers.
With the London 2012 Olympics underway, it seemed like the perfect time to have Melissa from Wanderlust as our expat featured in this edition of Expatriated. A fellow Canadian and a lover of travel, Melissa calls the UK home and will have firsthand experience of the Olympic games.
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I'm from Mississauga, (Ontario) Canada and I currently live in London, England.
How did you end up in London and what inspired you to make the move?
During university, I had a lot of friends taking semesters abroad to amazing locations like India, Mexico and France. I hadn't travelled properly at that point but it seemed so exciting. I wanted to go but I was a broke student. So I promised myself that after I graduated I would find a way to live abroad even if it was only for a couple of months. During some extended travel in the early part of 2008 I decided that when I returned home I would stop thinking about it and make the move. So I applied to university, was accepted and made the move to London later that year.
What is the best part of living overseas?
I suppose that would be different depending on where you choose to live. For London, the best part of living here has to be individual freedom, which is most easily displayed through clothing. You can wear the craziest outfit here and no one will bat an eyelash. Also, the ease and (cheaper) cost of travel, the diversity in the English landscape, and finding out how well-liked Canada and Canadians are abroad.
What do you miss most about home (besides friends & family?)
I miss the general respect for the environment and the people around you. For a city that has so many people in it, Londoners really don't attention to those around them at all. I understand it though. When you are commuting in the city you have to sort of gear yourself up for it. I also miss that feeling of 'home' and being settled. London is cool but I don't feel like it is truly home.
What was the most difficult thing to adjust to in the UK?
Hands down, the weather. While it's nice to live through a more temperate winter, the dreary skies and the rain can be difficult to handle. Even though Canada is cold and snowy there are tons of winter activities and also blue skies and sun. Here it is easy to become a bit of a shut in over the winter months. It really only hit me the second winter I was here as the first I went home at Christmas for a month. Now that I know I have the tendency to shut myself away during the winter I've countered that with connecting with friends more to do things in the city.
Any funny 'whoopsies' while adjusting to your new life?
I was having dinner with two new friends I had just met earlier that day. One asked me what Canadians do in the summer for fun. I went on to gush that we love the outdoors and a lot of people especially love to go cottaging. There was an awkward pause and a look of surprise on their faces. I said, "Cottaging means something different here doesn't it?" The laughed and the guy said, "Yes, here it refers to anonymous sex between men in a public loo." Lesson learned.
Social media. We all love it and hate it at the same time but, it has made life abroad a lot easier. I have told all of my friends to get Skype with varying degrees of success. I use a multitude of platforms because for some Facebook or MSN or email works better for them. Besides that, blogging has also enriched my expat experience immensely. Only another expatriate can understand the roller coaster of emotions you go through sometimes.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time in England?
This is really tough. I have to say that I have proved to myself that I can be completely self-sufficient. That isn't to say I wasn't helped all along the way but I made the decision on my own, got my visa and settled in to London knowing virtually no one here except for the family I had just found out a few months before existed and met for the first time in the airport. I was always independent at home but this took it to another level. I didn't have a friend, spouse or a family member from home to guide me through it all.
If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I've considered somewhere in South or Central America, West Africa or Vancouver. I know, I know, that is more than one place. I first thought of going to Japan to teach English but after visiting for 2 weeks I know that the curious eyes following me is not something I could endure for long periods of time. South or Central America would be completely new territory for me but I think it would be really great. Costa Rica is supposed to have some of the happiest people in the world. Senegal has a special place in my heart. After spending nearly 2 months there in 2008, I know I could live there. I know what the frustrations would be and I could handle it for a time. I could also improve my French. Finally, I see myself in Canada longer term. BC is beautiful and it would be nice to live somewhere else in Canada.
Any advice for the newly expatriated?
Be open to your new home, I mean truly open. Make friends with locals, do not gravitate towards your countrymen and women. Put down roots right away and get into a routine. Know that you will naturally compare your new home to your old. That is ok but do not get wrapped up in that narrative. Know that you can always go home but home will forever changed as you will be too.
Thank you Melissa!
I feel like I should keep that advice nearby as we settle in to our new home - such great words of wisdom!
If you want to read more about Melissa, her experiences in the UK and her travels, check out her blog. If you happen to be considering a move to England, she has a ton of information to help you out!