Hannah Drake

The Expat Diaries, Vol. 10

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It was the last month of my first year abroad and it was a good one!

Of course much of my time and energy in the last month was occupied by our wedding. We had such a lovely day and the week leading up to it was fantastic as well. We had friends and family travel near and far to see us, which meant so much to us. I got to spend the weekend in London with my family before the wedding and we travelled to Oxford after the wedding with some of our out-of-country guests. It was really a special week. But of course there will be more wedding recap posts to come, so I'll skip over that for now.

The weekend after the wedding, we watched the Royal Wedding with the rest of the world. I remember waking up early to watch William & Kate's wedding in 2011 when I was living in Florida. This time, it was noon my time, and Luke and I watched while snacking on our own wedding cake. It may have been because the wedding was outside of London, or because Harry is sixth in line to the throne, but it didn't seem too crazy in London when I was there the weekend before. It was kind of cool seeing the country celebrate (albeit mostly through special edition products) and regardless of what you think of the Royal Family or the whole do in general, it was a significant moment in English history. Later, we celebrated our friends' birthdays at a Royal Wedding themed party.

On Monday, just five days after our wedding, we were back to work. Bleh. I joked that we went on our honeymoon to the office, but really, we booked tickets to Italy this month for September. Also, I can't complain because with taking time off for the wedding and a couple of bank holidays, I only worked 7 days all month. It's always nice to have free time with no obligations and not a care in the world, but there is something to be said about having a routine. Sadly, that routine started a bit earlier this time since Luke has to be at work at 7:00 now. (I just spend 30 minutes listening to podcasts in the parking lot in the morning now.)

We had a bank holiday the last weekend in May. It's not Memorial Day, but it seems to coincide with the holiday in the States, which is kind of interesting. We were going to go on a picnic somewhere, but the weather wasn't looking great. That Sunday, we had torrential downpours in Birmingham. We had been out grocery shopping that afternoon. As we were leaving, I noticed it was raining but it essentially stopped as we walked outside. A few steps into the parking lot and all of a sudden it was absolutely pouring. It only got worse through the afternoon and parts of Birmingham, including streets near us flooded. We live on a hill, though, so we watched as water rushed down our street. Two of our friends, Pete and Taylor, braved the rain to come over for BBQ nachos that night. Yup, the wedding diet is officially over! The Monday we had off was just a lot of stuff around the house and resting.

Last week, Luke got really sick on Wednesday night after our date night. (We went to the cinema to see I Feel Pretty.) He stayed home from work the next day, still feeling ill, but no longer throwing up. I felt like crap that day as well, but never got sick. Luckily Arrested Development and Kimmy Schmidt had both come out on Netflix earlier that week so we had plenty of entertainment between naps and snacking on crackers. Luke got sick again that night so had to stay home on Friday, but woke up feeling fine. Later that evening, we made homemade pizza and poured a glass of wine to watch the premiere of The Bachelorette. Luke had never seen any of the franchise and I hadn't watched since Nick was The Bachelor over a year ago, but I'm curious to see how things play out for Becca. I promised Luke it would be fun to laugh at.

We had about 20 minutes left in the episode when Luke asked if we could go to A&E (the emergency room, it stands for accidents and emergencies) because he didn't feel right. He was having trouble with his vision and speech and his fingertips were numb. It was incredibly scary that my very practical husband who I've never known to go to the doctor, even for regular check ups, asked to go to the emergency room. It sent me into a panic because I was worried about him and scared about what could be going on, but also because I know trips to the ER are quite costly in the States. We took an Uber there around 10:00. Luke was triaged fairly quickly and we saw a neurological specialist. He ordered a CT scan and an ECG, but sent us home at 2:00 saying he couldn't find anything wrong with him. It was absolutely terrifying, but Luke has been okay ever since.

It was, however, quite an interesting experience to see A&E after having a few trips to the ER in my day. When we got there, Luke told the person at the counter his name and symptoms. He confirmed via address that he had been before, but that was it for checking in. The waiting room experience was more or less the same, but we were called back to see a nurse, who took his blood pressure and temperature and then asked a bit more about his symptoms. We were then sent back to the waiting room. Later, we were called back to see the doctor who again asked questions and did some standard tests (follow my finger with your eyes, push against my hand, etc.), but then sent to a secondary waiting room. We were right there in the thick of it, but there was no TV. And all the chairs were quite uncomfortable, mind you. There were small rooms that had curtains, most of which seemed to be occupied that surrounded the nurses station and a few more off to the side. We went into two different rooms, but were always sent back to the secondary waiting room. It seems like every time I've been to the ER--no matter what is was for--if you're given a room, you now have a room and you're there until you're admitted or discharged. I told Luke later that it just seemed like there was never a paper trail of anything. The doctor didn't seem to have notes or a chart. They just had Luke's information by asking his name and birth date. After both the CT scan and the ECG showed nothing out of the ordinary, we were just sent home. We had just run into the doctor coming out of the room after the ECG in the hallway and he said everything looked fine and we could go. So we just left. And it was free! It was interesting how different it was using the NHS. The one thing I think stays the same anywhere is the waiting room for the ER/A&E is a lot more interesting the later it gets.

Last weekend, when we were both better and had slept a bit, we went up to visit Luke's parents. It was a lovely, though short visit. On the way back, we stopped at Hardwick Hall for our picnic (finally!) and to see the old manor house. We thought about joining the National Trust, but Luke looked up what's included and decided if you've seen one manor house, you've seen them all. I agree. We're going to join English Heritage instead, I think.

So there it is. I flew into the UK a year ago today, ate some fried chicken for dinner, and promptly went to bed. (I woke up around 2:00 that morning and we watched House of Cards until we had to get up to go to the airport for our trip to Berlin. It's strange that it's been a year. In some ways it feels like I've been here for ages. In others, it feels like I just got here. We still don't know where we might end up in terms of moving back to the States--or even somewhere else--but right now that's okay with both of us.

Also, as of today, I can no longer drive in the UK on my US driver's license. It's still valid in the States though. Luke really wants me to start driving soon, but I'm just not sure if I'm ready yet. Eeeek! Kind of on that same note, Luke has been working later than I do for a while now, and I've been getting a ride home with the site shuttle since it goes to the train station near our house, but now the driver can't take me home anymore so I have to walk about 15 minutes from the station every day. It's not bad, especially since it's summer and I don't get many steps in at work, but it kind of made me realise in a weird way that I don't--and can't--drive to and from work. Still not ready yet, though!

Oh, and I got my absentee ballot via post this month. (Are you registered to vote yet?)

The last year has been an adventure to say the least. It's been full of new experiences, both good and bad. A few things have been really difficult, including finding my professional identity, both in unemployment for the first six months and in a job I don't enjoy for the last six months. However, what's been the most difficult is reconciling the loss of friendships. Relationships take two people to maintain and I know I've let a number of friendships fall by the wayside. Other relationships, however, I've tried to maintain to no avail, to the point of having to, for my mental health, throw in the towel because the stress and feeling of rejection is too overwhelming. It was hard not having everyone we would have wanted at the wedding, but it was something we anticipated with our American guests. We didn't anticipate friends would lie to us about why they weren't attending, we didn't anticipate we wouldn't hear from people again after getting a "no" back. It's just been tough. I've made so many incredible friends here in the UK, but the end of relationships are always difficult, and unfortunately for me it feels a bit like a mass exodus as I'm the one who moved away and have so many friendships and relationships to maintain from thousands of miles away. 

Easily, the best part of living abroad has been being with Luke. We talked long distance for over a year, including about 10 months of being in a relationship. It just blows my mind that I get to wake up next to him every day instead of waking up and hoping he has a break at work to Skype for a few minutes before I go to work. Being long distance with Luke has made me so appreciative of our time together now, even down to the most mundane aspects of life. We never used to get ready for bed together and now we get ready for bed together every night. Lately I've been telling Luke I just can't believe this is our life. It's amazing we have a home together, we work together, we do life together, we see each other every day. Even a year ago that wasn't the case!

Overall, it's been a good year and I'm so thankful to have had Luke by my side for it all.

Header Photo by Brianne Haagenson Photography.

Check out the other volumes of The Expat Diaries from my first year living abroad. Simply click the photo below to jump to that post.