Hannah Drake

The Expat Diaries, Vol. 01

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I've officially lived in England for two months now, which is a sentence I never thought I'd say! I can't believe it has gone by so quickly and it's been full of so many wonderful things, so many new experiences, but also a handful of frustrating moments.

It's a journey, moving to another country. And that's to say the least! Every day I learn something new about myself, my relationship, or my new country. It's a process, moving to a new country. There is painstaking paperwork. There are minor setbacks. And most things are out of my control.

This month I decided to start a new monthly post, chronicling my life in England: The Expat Diaries. So enjoy my first edition and pardon my stream of consciousness writing.

I think most Americans would be surprised at the culture shock England can bring. I know I was. Before I first visited England in the spring of 2016, I naively thought it would be like a second America. We speak the same language, they're our closest political allies, our pop culture overlaps. Boy, was I wrong! They write their dates backwards, use more U's and fewer Z's, drive on the other side of the road, and put their washing machines in the kitchen. While so many things are similar, there are also an incredible amount of differences--both wonderful and frustrating. It's just different and I love that about my new home because every day feels like an adventure.

Simple things like going to the grocery store for root beer to celebrate National Root Beer Float Day (6 August), if want to mark your calendar for next year) become an adventure in themselves. Luke had never had root beer before because it's not easy to come by over here. It's one of the many times we've had to google where to find certain foods (buttermilk was another instance). And it's not so easy finding an obscure item after 16:00 on a Sunday when the larger shops have to close for the day. In the end we found sarsaparilla at the Asian market near campus and Luke wasn't impressed. (He's wrong.)

I'm really missing is the accessibility of things in the States. Part of that was due thanks to owning a car and being able to drive a few short minutes to a one-stop shop, a fast food restaurant, or simply just knowing where things are and how to get there. The latter of course comes with time in a new place and I've been breaking in my shoes exploring my new city. Things here take me longer to do. Like how I walk to the grocery store (if Luke isn't home). But that isn't necessarily a bad thing since I have so much time on my hands. And I have the classic conundrum of moving to a new city where I don't have a regular doctor or dentist, a salon I can count on, and all those other regular places you don't really notice you have until they're gone.

I also don't have a bank and that's been the source of most of my new country frustrations. We originally set up a simple checking account through TSB. It was a lengthy appointment, but maybe they all are. I haven't set up a bank account in at least a decade. We had to use my passport for my ID and provide a proof of address, which we did in the form of a printed statement from the pre-paid card we set up when I first got here. In the following days, I got my new debit card in the mail, my PIN, and eventually my first statement. However, Luke could never transfer money to my account so he decided to go down to the bank to do it in person on day. There, they told him there was a problem with my account that they couldn't talk to him about and if I gave him my PIN, I'd be in violation of their terms and conditions. (Eye roll emoji.) I went back with him and they told me they had closed my account four days earlier after trying to contact me numerous times. (They hadn't.) Apparently the problem was with my proof of address since the statement had to be posted, not printed. We decided it would be easiest to wait until we moved, which was coming up quickly. Once we moved, I made an appointment to try again where they questioned me half a dozen times about what form of ID and what proof of address I'd be bringing to the appointment. I walked down to the bank that day, met with a banker, got questioned about my form of ID and proof of address again, and we started. Then the banker saw the visa in my passport that explicitly states I can't work while on that visa. She said she would have go to talk to her coworker about it. From inside the office, I could hear the two of them shouting at each other--for whatever reason--at the teller desk, which is behind another layer of glass. I knew it wasn't going to be good. When she came back in, she said they couldn't open an account for me since I can't work and "no bank would". Maybe if I hadn't been so frustrated with the whole situation, I would have pointed out that children have bank accounts or ask why they even care where my money is coming from. It's not a paycheck from a business, but it will help me establish my life here and avoid high currency exchange fees. It was quite ridiculous. In the end, I stormed out and I certainly won't be banking with TSB in the future.

On a lovelier note, here's on of my favorite things that has happened so far in England. After post-church drinks one Sunday evening, we were walking along the canal to head back home. (Not a bad walk home, let me tell ya!) We were waiting for a friend to catch up when we saw a long canal boat pass. There was a group of people at the back of the boat, one of whom bent down to pick up what turned out to be a small dog to put the dog on the roof of the boat. He bent down again to pick up a second dog and also placed the dog on the roof. As he bent over again, we all said "No, surely not a third dog!" Sure enough, he put a third dog on the roof. This carried on five more times until there were E I G H T little dogs on the roof of this boat that was now headed around the corner. Our friend Tom caught up and we told him he wasn't going to believe what we just saw! It was strange and charming and entertaining. It was great.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was when we went to the cricket match and the crowd sang "Sweet Caroline" in the most British inflection you've ever heard. I honestly had no idea what to expect when it came to cricket, a sport I've never seen before, but the experience ended up being a lot like going to a baseball game (as Luke had warned), except that we got to bring in our own snacks. There was loud hype music and everyone was just sitting in the stands enjoying the match, drinking beer, and singing along to "Sweet Caroline", emphasis around the I.

Luke has had a fairly flexible work schedule since I moved here, which has been such a blessing. He was able to be home for our moves (yes, two) and help me out around the house to get our home set up. It's also been really great for our relationship, even though it's still been an adjustment from "spending time together" on Skype each afternoon to seeing each other basically all the time. In addition, neither of us have ever lived with a significant other before, or even spent that much time in each other's homes before. Everyone has adjustments to make when you move in with someone new and we're learning that communicating expectations early on is a fast-track to success. We're finding our groove being a real life couple who does almost everything together and continuing to work on both our personal growth and our relational growth.

There are certainly some things I'd like to improve on in the coming months. It's not looking like I'll have a job before October at the earliest and I'd love to settle into a better routine at home and cut out some of my excuses. We definitely need to start wedding planning a little more than we have been. And hopefully I can open a bank account sooner rather than later.