As an expat, people on both sides of the Atlantic ask me what I love most about living abroad. How ironic that I’m finally getting around to posting this when I’m back in the States, right?
THE EASE OF TRAVEL WITHIN EUROPE
This is by far the best. Before I moved, people were always saying they were jealous that I would probably be on a plane every weekend to another beautiful European city. That’s not exactly true, but earlier this year, we did drive to Paris for a somewhat last minute weekend trip with some friends. That was pretty cool. Our flights to Italy for our honeymoon were cheaper for both of us than it would be for one ticket from Denver to New York! We’ve gotten cheap flights to Dublin and Berlin. (Before he met me, Luke even got £1 tickets to Ireland once! Plus a few fees after the fact, but still!) Next year, after having four major holidays this year, we’re probably going to be doing smaller trips throughout the country and the continent over long weekends. It just blows my mind that that’s even a possibility! The only downside is the carry on luggage requirements are a bit more restrictive. But it’s worth it!
THE FREE HEALTH CARE AT THE POINT OF DELIVERY
Wait, maybe this is the best. In the grand scheme of things, anyway. I’ve been to my doctor a couple of times since moving here, I took Luke to A&E (accidents and emergency), and had some cardiology appointments at the hospital as well. In all of that, we’ve paid exactly £0! No co-pays, no deductibles, no nothing. I did have to pay an NHS surcharge (£600) when I got my visa last year. And we both have money taken out of our pay checks for the NHS, but that’s money we don’t ever see or really think about. It’s worth it when you need an ECG and a CT scan at A&E or when you need a bunch of heart tests spread out over multiple appointments. Both of us are fine, by the way, I’m just getting my usual heart check ups. It definitely makes me wonder why healthcare is such a fight in the States and why it’s not universally accepted as a right.
THE PROXIMITY TO RICH HISTORY
I love this one, but it’s also a bit annoying. At least when we see a building and Luke points at it and says, “This building is older than your country.” He does this all the time! No matter where you go in Europe, you’re surrounded by incredibly rich history. AP European History was my absolute favourite class in high school, so it’s amazing to be able to see those places and stand where those people stood. I’ve seen so much already, but still not enough! We’ve seen Hadrian’s Wall in England, the lasagna that is the history of Rome, historical landmarks in cities like Berlin, London, Dublin, and Glasgow. We’ve been in beautiful estates across the country, wandered through museums, and explored castles. It’s unreal! Don’t get me wrong, the States has so much history of it’s own, but when you’re looking at a wall that was built in 122, it’s hard to get excited about some colonial houses in New England.
THE STANDARDS OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY
I remember when I first moved a friend told me that you can eat better in the UK than in the States almost without trying. There are products here (like Betty Crocker’s cake mixes) that are completely different here because in the States there are so many additives that are illegal here. Our grocery store used to carry Kraft macaroni & cheese in the “American section” and the front of the box would always have a big blue sticker on it. One day we decided to pull it off to see what it was covering, and it turns out there’s “nutritional information” on the front of the box saying that there’s something like 50 calories per serving, with a tiny little asterisk that it’s for uncooked pasta. That’s so ridiculous that it’s okay to mislead consumers like that! Sure, our produce and our milk doesn’t last quite as long, but it’s worth it knowing they aren’t pumped full of preservatives and other crap.
THE EXPERIENCE OF OTHER CULTURES
There’s culture everywhere, of course, but living in the second biggest city in the UK has broadened my horizons unlike any other place. Coming from a place where people mostly look like me and often have similar backgrounds as me, it’s so eye opening to see or meet or hear or talk to people from different countries, who speak different languages, who have different religious beliefs, who cook different foods at home. I’ve always believed that travelling is the best way to see that we’re all humans first and living somewhere so different from where I grew up gives me that experience all the time. I eat (and cook!) foods I never would have thought to try back in my small town in Colorado. (Anyone from my hometown is probably laughing at me calling it a small town, but it’s certainly no 1.5 million in population!) I get to hear people speak other languages—and even the same language in all kinds of accents. I’ve been able to do acts of kindness for women who look differently, dress differently, and worship differently than me. It’s been humbling and wonderful and educational. I’m so grateful for all the experiences I’ve been able to have living in Birmingham and travelling throughout the UK and Europe.