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Getting used to the idea of being permanently abroad?

(20 Posts)
BabCNesbitt Thu 05-Dec-13 17:02:25

DH (who's American) and I have been living with DD in a small town in the US since August (we'd previously lived for a year in a bigger city here), and I've been horribly homesick. We've spoken about moving back to the UK, and DH has agreed to look for jobs there, but he has a permanent job here (hard to find in his field in the UK). It's just that every time I think about staying in the US for the long term, I really resist the idea. I've just been refusing to even contemplate it.

I know that I could make more effort to try and like the town I'm in (I've always been a big city person and this place feels really claustrophobic and suburban - need a car to get most places, etc), but I'm horrified about staying in the US itself - gun laws, health care, lack of adequate social security, poor food and environmental regulation, that kind of thing. I feel more insecure overall than I ever did in the UK, and it makes it really hard for me to become reconciled to the idea of living here permanently. So I'm wondering if any other MNers were in the same position, of hating major things about the country they moved to but eventually getting used to them and being happy about staying put?

FlipFantasia Thu 05-Dec-13 20:49:01

I feel for you Bab!

I'm also married to a yank and moved from London to suburban northern NJ last year. Lots of conflicted feelings about the US (I pretty much agree with your post! Especially that my kids will grow up in a country where things like Newtown happen hmm). I also decided to be a Sahm (was on maternity leave when we moved) and struggle with that too (a whole other thread!).

Anyway, I do try to look at the positives (i bloody have to - we just bought a house and no plans to upsticks!).

We picked a place where we could be a one car family and I make sure the kids walk to places like preschool, to mail a letter. Plus it's diverse (racially, economically, lots of non-Americans) which helps. Still super American though!

Family - this was one of our push factors from London. We get to see grandparents etc regularly here and we love it. I miss my family in Ireland, and do daydream about living where I'm not foreign but haven't lived there since I was 16 (studied in US & Scotland, then lived in London for 12 years).

Nature - even in suburbia our life has much more nature in it (helps we have a big yard!). This will only get better as the kids grow and we can hike/ski/canoe so much more easily. There's a wildness here I love (I lived in New Mexico as a teen and can't wait to take the kids to the South West!).

The other thing is that moving is hard and things take time. Building new memories helps to make a place feel like home. We're our Xmas tree this weekend from the same place we did last year and I like that it's our 'tradition' now. A small thing, but important to me (but not to DH who couldn't care less!).

So a bit of a ramble from me. No solid advice other than giving it more time (maybe even set a time limit, eg 3 years?) and focusing on the good stuff.

EspressoMonkey Thu 05-Dec-13 21:29:31

I wouldn't think about the rest of your life right now, you have no idea what is around the corner. When we first moved to where we are now i hated it. DH told me we could go home in a few years if i really hated it. Now i love it. Nowhere in the world is perfect. After a while in the States there will be things you prefer about the US and things you prefer about UK.

The world is changing, people are much more transitional. It helped me to forget about the idea of putting down permanant roots and just enjoy myself and the experience of living in another country.

dickiedoodah Fri 06-Dec-13 02:12:30

I'm also married to an American and living in a small town. I'm struggling with the prospect of being here permanently. I don't want my DD to go to school here, for the reasons you mentioned above. I miss my family and the life we had in the UK. I so desperately want my DD to experience the sort of childhood I had but I have to face facts. I would need my DH to get a job back h

dickiedoodah Fri 06-Dec-13 02:15:11

Damn iPhone, posted too soon! As I'm not working I would need him to get a job back home. I feel pretty sure I will never be truly happy living here.

TheZeeTeam Fri 06-Dec-13 02:21:06

I love living in the US. I love the fact I can leave my car and front door open and not worry about being burgled. I love that people complain if class sizes go over 21. I love that my teenagers aren't spending their weekends off their heads, as a normal activity.

I've lived in several areas now and my only advice is the cliché Fake it till you make it. Charm everybody and big up the Britishness. We're all here to chat with you in the meantime.

BabCNesbitt Sun 08-Dec-13 18:51:26

Sorry for not coming back to reply sooner - my brother and his DP were visiting from the UK! And thanks for all the replies. Dickie, have you spoken to your DH about looking for work in the UK, or is that not possible?

Flip, Zee, I do have moments where I know that whether we're going to be here two years or twenty, the best way to make it bearable is to "fake it till you make it" and try and focus on the good things; it's just that every time I have to register one of us with a new doctor and they ask for our insurance details, or I see an advert selling extra coverage so that people might be able to afford basic medications, I feel like growling and retreating into an angry cave!

Also, we don't have any family nearby, and where we live is just too far away to walk to the (very small) downtown. To get to any proper shops (as opposed to ones that just sell tourist tat and overpriced spices - it's that kind of downtown) you need to have a car to drive to the malls (which would be called retail parks in the UK - you pretty much have to drive from one store to the next). We don't have a car and I don't yet drive. I know the answer is to learn to drive, but I just don't want to raise DD in a place where we have to drive everywhere and where there's nowhere to go but Macy's.

Sorry, this has turned into a bit of a rant again! blush

FlipFantasia Mon 09-Dec-13 01:44:30

Rant away! It's what MN is for!

If you can't drive and you can't walk anywhere then how do you get places? I'm curious, as we picked a v walkable town but still drive to the supermarket and doctor and things. We're just happy to be a one-car family!

I'd really advise learning to drive. It opens the world up and gives you choices (like driving to nature reserves/state parks/bigger towns. Weekends away. Trips to cool museums). Cabin fever can be a real stress and on course you'll dislike things if your only choices are big box stores. I personally do a lot of online shopping for boring stuff and then actively support local small businesses/crafts people/coffee shops & restaurants. So I pretty much avoid those dreadful highways with big box stores on either side.

I don't know where you are but i lived in rural NM for a while and even our nearest town had a coffee place and a diner where waitresses chatted while refilling rubbish coffee and the like!

I learned to drive in London and passed my test when 8 months pregnant with my first. I way prefer public transport & walking (I'm very much a pedestrian at heart!) but driving is a life skill that's essential in the US unless you're in some of the few urban areas dense enough to make a car redundant (but even friends in DC/NYC/Boston use zip car, just like we used to in London).

Hope you had fun with your brother!

NatashaBee Mon 09-Dec-13 04:16:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BabCNesbitt Mon 09-Dec-13 17:28:12

Flip, we've been able to cycle to the supermarket most of the time and use Zipcar/hire cars when we have to, although we're just east of the Rockies in Colorado and the recent snow has meant that I'm basically housebound until it starts to melt (hopefully in a day or so!) When we first arrived we rented a house nearer to downtown so I could take DD out in her stroller when she was napping and have a coffee, but now we live too far to walk anywhere like that. At least my brother was able to drive us around over the last week when it was at its worst. smile We've been trying to avoid getting a car partly for the reasons I mentioned before, but also because I'm a SAHM (job market pretty depressed here, wages are low etc) and it would be an extra bit of pressure on the budget.

(What was NM like, btw? We're close enough that we're hoping to take a trip down there in the spring - where is worth visiting?)

FlipFantasia Tue 10-Dec-13 04:18:04

CO - I'm jealous! Went to Denver & Aspen for a wedding last year and thought it was all gorgeous!

I'm on my phone, so can't see your posts when I reply (this is my excuse for my rambly replies!).

I think not having a car is a bit of a false economy, as you're not really giving life a chance without it. I would certainly go bananas without a car and I can walk to supermarkets & a cinema & parks & restaurants & preschool!

As an example, a friend in London suffered from anxiety for years. By her early 30s, she had claustrophobia and couldn't use the tube. Too anxious to cycle, she could only use the bus (and walk obviously!). London became super hard for her to navigate - getting from her flat (zone 5 north west London) to her job (by London bridge) by bus took her hours each day. Her social life became curtailed (bussing around again). She eventually moved to the south coast.

Trying to be a pedestrian/cyclist only in a western state (am assuming your town was not built/designed before the car!) is like living in London without using the tube, possible but super hard. No wonder you hate the place!

What happens when you want to travel to a friend's house? Or to a class/activity with your DD? Or preschool when she's old enough? I've found Americans to be quite welcoming (but I'm Irish and not shy about chatting to randoms! Something I found the English to be less into when I was in London) but not having a car would make following up on friendship leads harder (especially when extreme weather comes into play, eg this morning I drove my ds to preschool, as we had a load of black ice and the prospect of him slipping and sliding down the road while I pushed dd in her buggy was too much so into the car we hopped...after I had worked up a sweat deicing it!).

You can use your car-less-ness as an excuse to not like the place snd that's totally your own business. But make sure your DH doesn't hold it against you if you do move back having not really given life there a chance.

As an aside, I've found being a Sahm my 'cross to bear' as my irish mammy would say. As my thing is that if I was working full time I'd get 5 mins of holidays a year and that wouldn't be possible with trips to ireland/time off for sick kids etc so i don't want to work outside the home while the kids are young (DH works comedy long hours so having one of us here makes family life a lot happier). I'm getting used to it but I'm having to really work at it. I always worked at quite cool companies (I was a badly paid meedja type in London) and it's only now that I realise so much of my adult identity was wrapped up in that. I've made some good friends but I miss interacting with people with no kids around! So I'm thinking of developing a hobby (being addicted to yard & estate sales and loving vintage stuff) into a small etsy store and blog so that I can develop something outside of my family.

Anyway, rambles from me! I just feel for you in your situation. Being a foreigner is hard (and I've lived as a foreigner all of my adult life!) but does get easier. This is what I'm telling myself...

And NM is amazing. I was near Las Vegas (awesome small town) and went to Santa Fe and Albuquerque regularly. Taos is gorgeous. I like Los alamos as I've a very dear friend there. I've not been back for too long (8 yrs) but just driving around is beautiful and there are loads of small, out of the way places. I hope to get back there in the next couple of years. Though CO impressed me enough that I want to go there with DH and the kids too (once the kids are old enough so that we can do some hiking and the like).

HanneHolm Sun 15-Dec-13 07:56:05

You need a car. Learn to drive fgs

BabCNesbitt Mon 16-Dec-13 18:28:30

Why, HanneHolm, thank you for that helpful suggestion! Yes, I realise I need to learn to drive, although as I said, we don't have room for a car in the budget at the moment. Any suggestions for my original post (ie how to feel at home in a country where health care is privatised and people get shot in schools - Friday's shooting only 70 miles from here, btw)? Or should I just suck that up?

SoonToBeSix Mon 16-Dec-13 18:38:27

I think you just need to budget tbh cars and gas are very cheap in the States.

dickiedoodah Tue 17-Dec-13 19:40:45

Yes Bab, we have discussed him getting a job back there. He would go back tomorrow if the job was right. He's military so it could happen we just need to come up with a plan! I used to live in a tiny village in the UK where you could walk to the post office to get your pint of milk, stop at the butchers to get your Sunday roast and round it all off with a refreshing pint in the local!! I resent having to drive everywhere and putting DD in the car for the smallest of outings but I couldn't cope without my wheels! I've made a few mummy friends and manage to get out the house a few times a week for play dates. I'm in MS so I'm very jealous of your location. I was in TX for a few months before moving here, I thought that was a culture shock but nothing compared to MS!! The west coast is on my list of places I want to see. I totally agree about the insurance adverts and I find the healthcare over here such a palava! I've been here over a year now and am only just getting round to seeing a dentist.

I need to think about the bigger picture and retrain in something that allows me to work when we may have to move every four years. The degree I gained in the UK is pretty useless in my current situation. For now I'm a SAHM looking forward to next year when I get to go back to the UK and stay with my family for a while. Do you manage to get back to the UK much?

BabCNesbitt Wed 18-Dec-13 16:50:51

Last year we were able to stay in the UK for three months (DH was a visiting academic), but I suspect we'll just manage a week or so there this year, in the summer. It's actually something putting me off looking for a job here; DH gets academic vacations, but if I got a job that wasn't in the university, I'd only get about 10 days of leave a year, which would make trips back home difficult.

NatashaBee Wed 18-Dec-13 17:08:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

vulgarwretch Wed 18-Dec-13 17:28:50

Bab, I have been living in the US for 5 years now. DH and I are both British but he is very happy working here at the moment and right now I don't feel passionate about moving back. I do have a number of the same conflicts that you mention about healthcare, politics and guns. And dealing with health insurance companies can be soul destroying. But most of the Americans I meet have the same issues with these things. There are a lots of things about the UK that one could complain about too. Overall though, whilst I'm okay with being here at the moment, I am sure that I don't want to be here in my old age. Which of course means that I would be wise to move back before my children get too settled…

Anyway for you, for now, there is an element of fake it till you make it, certainly. It takes a good while to settle into a new place and you just have to accept that it's not home yet, but it will get easier. However your specific situation sounds crappy. You are living in a place where you really need to drive to do anything fun, but you can't drive and don't have a car. If you can't fix the driving at the moment, can you move back closer to downtown? You must be very miserable and lonely. I really think you need to do something practical to change your living situation otherwise you will never be able to come to terms with the more external issues which actually don't affect your life directly.

stopgap Fri 20-Dec-13 00:42:58

I've been here eleven years now, ten in NYC, and about six months in a small town in CT. It's still within reasonable-ish commuting distance of NYC, but is sleepy (no commercial centre etc.).

I actually really like most aspects of US living. Praise be Whole Foods and farmers' markets, and the awesome state parks for hours of walking. The driving everywhere is an utter bore, I agree. Not being much of a big boozer, I felt that I never fitted in with London work culture, and I, too, like that I don't have to lock my doors in this CT town, and most people are wonderfully friendly and outgoing.

The school shootings do unnerve me, however, and the subpar education system is a bother (though I'm hoping my insistent worldliness will help the DCs along grin).

poncedeleon Sat 21-Dec-13 01:44:46

Bab, a year and a half in the US is such a short time, it's no wonder you are not settled yet. I've been in the NE for 6 years now and it does get better, without you even realising it. I now honestly feel more connected with some of my US friends than the 20+ year friendship UK friends. I'm not particularly sociable but you do find people eventually.

When we first moved here, an older Italian guy said to me, embrace the bits you like and try to ignore the bits you don't. It's trite but true. I spent ages raging about the health system/property tax/gun laws, but the fact is none of those are going to change because you don't like them.

I think there was a thread ages ago about how you have to go through the stages of being an expat like a bereavement - you will eventually get to acceptance but it may take a while.

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