“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
Sunday July 23rd marked exactly 1 year since I arrived in London, very tired, arriving ‘home’ to a place I’d never been, happy to see T after 2 1/2 months apart, already a bit homesick and a bit in love with my new city! Above: saying goodbye to one of my best friends at the airport as I prepared to leave Canada, and then sitting out front at the pub where I had my very first meal the day I moved to London! Below, two photos from Paris: Sacré-Cœur behind me; and reflected in my glasses thanks to T’s creative photography. It was my first trip to Europe, and my first trip since moving to London. Wow. What a year it’s been!
Here’s my year by numbers:
1 Pantomime (featuring 2 of my cousins- even cooler!)
1 completely solo trip to the Netherlands
1 birthday celebrated
2 day trips to Brighton
2 trips to Lincolnshire
3 visits to the Tower of London (and yes, I’ll probably go again!)
3 West End musicals
4 trips to Cambridgeshire
9 countries visited
50+ relatives met
£3000 spent on groceries
+ countless day trips in London
+ a handful of new friends
+ a year of teaching abroad
= an incredible experience that I could never properly sum up here!
Ha- sum! Forgive the pun. Totally unintentional but I love it. 🙂
As I reflect on my first year living abroad, I am amazed at the fluidity of time. Sometimes, like when I miss a family event, it feels like it’s been much longer. At other times, when I think about the next trip and all the things we haven’t done yet, it’s absolutely flown by!
I thought I’d celebrate by reflecting back on what I’ve learned, and what I might say to someone who is planning to move abroad! Some of my tips are specific to my and T’s UK experience, so I encourage you to check online forums specific to the country you are moving to! If you’re a Canadian, you might want to start with the government’s Living Abroad guide.
1. Prepare for some stress. Yes, it’s exciting to move abroad, but it’s also HARD WORK! Organizing visas, sorting out work or study arrangements, getting all of your paperwork and finances in order, tying up loose ends at home, it’s all really tough. Stay organized. I was lucky to qualify for a UK Ancestry Visa, but it meant having to gather family records including birth and marriage certificates for myself, my parents and my grandparents. I found it really helpful to create a secure digital file of all of my pertinent documents and records so that I could easily access them and email them as requested (which still happens now that I live here). Oh! And Canadians- if you’ve arranged health coverage in your new country (the NHS in the UK) make sure to pause or cancel your MSP or they will still charge you premiums while you’re away, even if you can prove you are living outside of Canada.
2. Plan ahead for a phone! Whether it’s a temporary international plan with your home country mobile (which I had) or getting a pay as you go straight away, you’ll want to be able to contact family, as well as potential landlords, employers and such.
3. Prioritize your time left at home. I say this with caution- but when you’re leaving the country, people you haven’t seen in years suddenly come out of the woodwork and want a “quick visit” before you go. Personally this was tough for me as I have a massive social circle and they are all awesome people (that’s why they’re my friends!). I had to make a priority list of my family and closest friends and make sure that I was the one setting my schedule so I didn’t get caught up in what everyone else wanted from me.
4. Do some financial planning. Do you have enough of a buffer to pay your bills if you don’t have work yet or won’t get paid straight away? Will you bring cash with you, convert it all, close accounts at home or leave them open? It really depends on your situation. I chose to write a bank draft to myself from my Canadian account to Pounds Stirling so that I could deposit once I had a bank appointment and not have to carry cash while travelling alone. I also planned to have enough for an emergency flight home should something come up. Speaking of banking: in the UK you typically have to prove residence to open an account, and you need an appointment; you can’t just walk in and open an account. In the UK, Lloyds Bank is known for being quite immigrant-friendly (I am not endorsed and have no affiliations, this is simply my personal opinion). And taxes! Make sure you find out whether or not you will have to file in your home country, your new country, or both. If you live abroad as a Canadian, you can’t use the free online netfile services so be aware. Here is some info from the Canadian government. If I could do it over, I would have consulted with a tax accountant before I left the country.
Edit: each country also has a form regarding double taxation to ensure that you only pay tax in one country. It takes some time to get this done.
5. Be open-minded! It’s so easy to do the “at home it’s like this…” thing and it’s natural to compare what’s new with what you know! Just be mindful of it and don’t let it prevent you from experiencing the foods, people, culture, energy, and opportunities of your new country! Our best experiences have often been when we didn’t have set plans and were open to whatever came up. This was a hard lesson for me as I’m a type A planner (uh, hello, I’m a teacher- I think it’s a given! lol). We still plan some trips, but Greece is a perfect example- we literally googled “great beaches in Europe” and decided on a whim to visit Greece. It wasn’t on our ‘list’ and was one of the most beautiful places either of us had ever been.
Remember: your country’s way isn’t the only or “right” way! Every country has its own quirks… for example: public servants here using foul language. It’s not a big deal here but in Canada you can bet people would be complaining to a supervisor if the guy at the post office counter said “Ask me in an hour when I’m at the f***in pub” in response to “How’s your day going?” Or silly things such as shoe sizes (I’m an 8 in Canada, 5.5 in the UK, and a 39 in Europe!) Like I said, you need to keep an open mind. 😉
6. Take risks (in a healthy way)! Travel alone, talk to strangers, check out local meet up groups, go out alone- engage in your new environment. Here is how I have met my small and treasured group of friends in England, respectively: I introduced myself to my neighbour and invited her in for tea; at an outdoor food market, T and I asked a couple of ladies if we could join their table and exchanged numbers before we left; I talked to the person beside me on the bus; and as you recently read, I asked a random couple on the train platform if their red&white shirts meant they had also been at the Canada Day celebrations!
7. Find balance! Balance looks different to everyone, so I’m certainly not prescribing a set kind of schedule. Vacations can sometimes be very go-go-go! You’re here for a good time, not a long time, so pack it all in and sleep when you’re dead! But… this isn’t a vacation. This is your life. So make the most of it, but in a way that keeps you sane. It’s okay to stay home in your pjs all weekend and watch movies. It’s also okay to travel every single weekend and barely see the inside of your flat! Just make sure it’s the lifestyle you want, and try to resist outside pressures to live any other way than that.
8. Go on, laugh at yourself! As a foreigner, you are inevitably going to embarrass yourself when you use a phrase that means something VERY different back home, or you misunderstand someone else for the same reason… these things happen. It’s smart to do a quick etiquette check on the country you’re moving to, but expect to slip up! Remember the time I asked a shop assistant where I could find linen pants? In the UK, ‘pants’ typically refers to underpants though some people will get the North American reference. Here, you say ‘trousers’ or ‘bottoms’ as in yoga bottoms or track bottoms. The poor shop girl really did look confused at my wanting linen underpants! Ha!
It has been a remarkable year and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I’ll leave you with a few UK vs Canadian terms– some are good for a giggle 😉 Note the “potentially embarrassing words” as I have used almost all of them incorrectly in social situations. We’ll save the British meaning of ‘fanny’ for a private conversation!