Lifestyle London

The Expat Experience: Meet Nicole

July 6, 2018
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience

One of the things I get asked about all the time is how I came to be in the UK. The second people realize you’re an expat, they want to know the whole story! It occurred to me that while I do sometimes mention my experiences, I’ve never written a post about it. I thought I’d be a little extra and have a fellow expat join in the conversation too! We’ve each got a different story, despite ending up in the same place. The world is so fascinating like that, isn’t it? So here we are… my expat experience!

Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience

My Expat Story

What brought me to the UK? Plain and simple, I got married! Mr. Actually and I met through mutual friends about 7 years ago, and we hit it off straight away. We stayed in touch and when I came to London to visit a friend a few months later, I ended up staying with him. By the end of that trip, we were in a relationship. We’d talked over the course of our relationship about the potential for one of us to move, and it just made more sense for me to be the one. I moved to the UK and became an expat in December of 2014 and I haven’t looked back since!

I’d be lying to you if I said the transition was a breeze… it was honestly, anything but. It was really difficult at first; I struggled the first few months to cope with a huge upheaval. In all honesty, I underestimated the effect it would have on me. Four years later, I definitely feel like I found my feet! One great thing that blogging has brought me is a great community of pals to share my experiences with. Nicole has become a good friend, and one of the first things we bonded over was that we’re both expats!

Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience

A Fellow Expat: Meet Nicole

I met Nicole through social media, one of those classic ‘Insta-pals-turned-real-life-friends’ love stories. One of the things we bonded over almost immediately, was that we were both expats. Nicole has been living in the UK for about seven years, first as a student, then as a worker, and now as a happily married lady! We talk a lot about our shared experiences, and even how each of our expat experiences vary. So, to honor that camaraderie, we thought it would be fun to interview each other about our experiences!

The Interview

Ghenet: Right, Okay, so… our expat experience.
Nicole: This feels, like, so daunting all of a sudden.
[laughter]
N: I feel like I need to come out with some profound things.
G: I know. It feels- it feels kind of nerdy as well, because we’ve talked about our experiences together so much.
N: Yeah.
G: To sit down and actually, like, answer questions is quite funny.
N: Yeah, exactly!
G: But we have questions!

What’s one thing you wish you’d known about beforehand? Before you moved to another country?

N: Such a boring answer, but definitely the costs involved with wanting to stay.
G: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
N: Like, the initial cost you’re kind of like prepared for. You plan it out… if you’re lucky, like me, your parents are there to help you-
G: But it’s a ten year plan.
N: Yeah, exactly! I think that’d probably be my major advice if you wanted to move is plan it out longer than you’re willing to like- longer than you plan to stay. Because it will shock you! The money aspect will shock you!
G: Well, ’cause it’s not just one and done, is it? You have to keep applying, and keep applying for visas, and keep paying for things… and they’re expensive! My marriage visa is a five year track, so by the time I’m, like, done, I will have had to pay for it about–
N: Three times over.
G: And that’s alot of money!
N: That’s ALOT of money! And I think a lot of people think, especially US to UK expats, oh we’ve got this special relationship! So you can just go, and just be there, but that definitely isn’t the case. You definitely need to have a visa to be able to move here. So yeah, that’s my main thing. What about you? What’s your one thing?
G: I think, umm… I wish that I’d known beforehand how difficult of a transition it was gonna be? Just because, I think, you sort of think, oh yeah no it’s fine… because I was moving here to be with someone, who I spent a lot of time with, but those other things didn’t come into play- like I just didn’t really think about it. I think people were like, oh that’s gonna be really tough, and I was like, ‘yeah, no it is,’ but- I didn’t really- like the fact that I couldn’t work and the fact that my social circle was like, so far away…
N: Totally.
G: It just didn’t- It wasn’t something that I processed until I was like, in-
N: In it. In the moment.
G: In the pit, of being like OH MY GOD!
N: It’s like, ‘Oh, this is happening now’…
G: Yeah. And I think, I mean, it was a bit of a struggle to get out of it as well. Like it wasn’t until I started working, and I’d already been here about five months, that I was like, oh my god I can speak to people, I have things to talk about, I have a reason to get out of bed. Which is something that I really didn’t anticipate, and I think as well, because I was someone who… I worked like five part-time jobs and I went from having five jobs to being COMPLETELY unemployed. I couldn’t cope with it.
N: That’s such a strong contrast. It’s a strong contrast as well, to, like, my experience, which is, I was coming here to study, so I was forced to have something to do, I was forced to like, make friends with people…
G: All of that is inherently already there.
N: Yeah exactly. I was forced to, like, have a place to live, with people that I then became friends with, or, whatever. Yeah, I can imagine that would be so hard.
G: It was really hard.Even now, I still feel like I have residual moments where I’m like, oh my gosh! I mean, do I regret it?Not at all!
N: Of course.
G: I just kind of wish I’d been a little bit more prepared for that… how much of a change it was gonna be, and like, how much of an effect that change was gonna have on me. It had a huge effect!
N: Definitely. It would.

What’s been your biggest language mix up?

N: Oh I love-This is my favorite question!
G: We both had the same answer! Which I think is hilarious!
N: Oh I know! Exactly!
[laughter]
G: Because we’ve talked about this before. I wanna know your story… Okay, so, our biggest… together, our biggest language mix up was the phrase double-fisting.
N: Don’t be alarmed!
G: Please don’t be alarmed!
[laughter]
G: It means something *very* different in the States… generally it’s like someone who has two drinks in their hand.
N: Exactly. That’s all. Very tame!
G: You’ve gone to the bar, it’s happy hour, two-for-one cocktails, you come back with two… Double-fisting. Yeah! Here, it means something veeeeery different!
N: Exactly!
G: Ummm. I wanna hear your story about like- do you remember the context of how it happened?
N: It was definitely, like, after like a class at Uni and we all went to the pub afterwards… and I’m pretty sure it was a similar situation where it was two-for-one cocktails- oh no, it wasn’t actually! I was holding someone else’s drink when they went to the bathroom or something? Umm, and I think someone came up to me and they were like, ‘Oo, you’re on one tonight’ and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m double-fisting.’ And they were like, ‘Excuse me?!’
[laughter]
N: and I was like, ‘Double-fisting? Two drinks? No?’ And they were just like, ‘You’re double parked.’ I was like, ‘Oh. Sorry.’
[laughter]
N: So that was awkward.
G: Oh God, that is really awkward.
N: But funny. And we both laughed, and we both- and I learned a thing as well, because I did not know that ‘double parking’ was, like, the phrase that British people used.
G: Oh, for two drinks?
N: Yeah!
G: I didn’t know that either! Double parking?
N: Double parked, yeah. Instead of double-fisting. I know! What was your double-fisting moment?
[laughter]
G: Umm… so I was at work, and we would have, like, breaks, and everyone was kind of in the break room, and sort of, someone would be like, ‘Oh, who wants a cup of tea?’ and people would go, ‘oh, yeah, me, me!’ and I was that person who was like, ‘I’m gonna go make a cup of tea. Does anybody want a cup of tea?’ And a bunch of people were like, ‘oh, yeah, cool, I’ll do it.’ And like, we get- there’s like people that I work with, like, you know, younger, quite laddish, a bit like, they have that kind of sense of humor and obviously I’m a bit older, so I think they just weren’t really expecting it either, which is hilarious. So I went to go make a cup of tea…
N: That’s so funny.
G: And I was- I think it was like six cups but I came- I was like taking them in two by two. And I like took them in, and I was like, ‘Oh, you know, just another day at the office, double fisting tea!’ and it got really quiet!
N: Oh my God!
G: It got really quiet, and everyone just looked at me, and I was just like-
N:’Hello?’
G: like, ‘do you want your tea?’ Umm, one person was like, ‘umm, does that- does that mean something different where you’re from?’
[laughter]
G: And I was just [thinking] like, ‘Oh God. I’ve said something wrong, what have I said?! Oh God, oh God! And then it was just- everyone was just like… and I was like, ‘Yeah, no, I just, like, cause I have one in each hand.’ and they all just went, ‘Nooooooooooooo… No, no, no. Please don’t say that again.’ And I was like, oh, right. Okay.
N: No! Sorry!
G: And once the tea was distributed, they explained to me what it was. And I was like, ‘OH. K.’ and I don’t say it anymore!
N: I still say it, just because I think it’s… jokes.
G: Oh, it’s hilarious!
N: It’s hilarious.
G: I mean, there have been so many other slip-ups, but like-
N: That’s the key one.
G: That one is the one, I think that’s caused the biggest reaction.
N: That’s definitely a key one.
G: There’s like little things, like you kind of say, you fall into old- 
N: Exactly! Even when I was, like, just starting uni, I was still saying things like, going to the- or can I go to the bathroom, or whatever, and like, my professor used to be like, ‘Are you gonna have a bath?’ like, that kind of stuff.
G: I mean, I still say bathroom… I still say restroom.
N: I mean, so do I! I still say restroom as well.
G: Toilet sounds very aggressive.
N: Toilet’s very specific, and I feel like nobody needs to know.
G: It’s very visceral.
N: Yeah.It’s veeeery specific.
G: Yeah.
N:Same with loo, and, you know, needing a wee. I was like, ‘this is a lot.’ but yeah. I’m the same.
G: I don’t need to know that much detail about people’s lives.
N: It’s like, that’s alot. That’s a lot of detail that I didn’t ask for…
[laughter]

Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience
Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience

What’s the one thing about you that’s changed since moving to another country?

N: I’m much more apologetic and like, differential, like now. Saying that, like, in certain situations, cause I can get very American about things.
G: Oh, me too.
N:And especially like, if I’ve just, you know, had enough, and I’m just- I’m not wasting anymore time here. Let’s just [*snaps twice*] sort it out. But, you know, there- I’ve been known to like bump into, like, a lamp post and be like, ‘Oh, sorry,’ you know what I mean?
[laughter]
G: I DO know what you mean!
N: Just things like that, or you know, if someone’s like, bumped me, or like, you know what I mean… Being just like- ‘Oh, sorry.’
G: Even if it’s not your fault, you still say sorry, anyway.
N: Exactly, or like starting a sentence with, like, ‘Sorry, but, do you mind if I could just have…’ and you’re like… I don’t know why I can’t just get to the point… but yeah. That’s definitely the one thing.
G: I feel like… for me, it’s very much, like, the words that I use, and the language that I use. My parents always tell me that I sound really British, and I’m like, ‘No I don’t! What are you talking about!’ But it’s because I’m saying things like, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna put the kettle on,’ and phrases and things that are very British.
N:Exactly.
G: And even, there are some phrases that I say that kind of have, like, a twang of like an accent? Because that’s the only way that I’ve ever heard them, and they just kind of like infiltrate your brain without you realizing… Umm, and especially people at work would say this to me all the time, they’d be like- cause I’d be standing on the doors, and be like, ‘oh, you know… whatever- I don’t know, whatever I was saying… and they’d be like, ‘Oh, there’s a bit of an accent there!’ I’d be like, ‘Oh! It wasn’t on purpose!’ and then I’d feel the need to throw in a ‘y’all’ just to feel myself again.
N: Exactly! Oh my gosh. I know, I’m the exact same.
G: The intonation.
N: The intonation!
G: The rhythm of your voice has changed.
N:Yeah, exactly.
G: When I speak to people back home, they always tell me they can hear it. They’re like, ‘oh, yeah, you still sound like yourself, but the way that you speak sounds different. Do you find sometimes that when you speak to other American people, it’s a bit abrasive?
N:Yeah. Especially Americans who don’t live here, or like, who haven’t lived here for a long time… are just visiting or whatever.
G: It feels a bit like a shock to the system
N: And I’m just kind of like, oh my gosh that’s a bit harsh…Not that they sound bad, but it’s just- I’m not used to hearing it.
G: It’s just, you’ve kind of been acclimatized to hearing a certain sort of speech pattern, that’s much… at least in my experience… like, my husband’s speech pattern, like he’s quite softly-spoken, you know, like he’s very… there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s what my ears become accustomed to.
N: Exactly.
G: It’s not meant in a bad way, or a malicious way, in any way, like not at all-
N: No!
G: It’s just…purely being out of that environment, suddenly you’re back in it, and it’s like-
N: Yeah, and when I go back home, as well, I’m kind of like, I’m thrust into that moment of being like, ‘Oh my god, like… woah… like, is this what everyone sounds like? What I sounded like? What’s going on?’ But then-
G: Is this what I sound like to other people?!
N: Yeah! But then, like after a day, I’m just used to it, and I’m kind of like, back into it.
G: I think as well, it’s more with people that you don’t know. When you hear your family, or your friends? That’s ‘cause you know their voices, but it’s when it’s like other people who you don’t- strangers on the street who are just passing, like they say something and you’re just like, ‘wow.’
N: ‘Wow.’ Yeah. Exactly.

What one thing would you bring from home?

N: Ooo this is a good one! Ooo!
G: I don’t, I mean- what’s one thing that I would bring from home…
N:I guess being in London, it’s kind of difficult, ‘cause it’s kinda like… you can get a lot of things here.
G: You can get a lot of things but at the same-
N: There’s a lot of things you CAN’T get, as well!
G: Yeah. Yeah! But it’s also, I mean… I grew up in New York City, so I guess as well, I do miss some things. I miss… like, I would wake up in the middle of the night and suddenly be like, oh I really want some-
N: You could get a dollar slice! Like, I’d bring that.
G: Yeah, I could literally just go get a slice of pizza at three in the morning kind of thing, which is like… sounds really weird, but you know, sometimes you do. Do you know what? I feel like what I would bring is more things that I miss from home, like my favorite peanut butter. Like whenever people tell me they’re going to New York, I’m always like, oh, could you bring me back a jar of that peanut butter, because I love it! Or, like… You know, the places that you used to go to all the time, like your favorite coffee shop where you’d always hang out with your friends… I feel like it’s more like, that nostalgic sort of homesick thing.
N: Oh, for sure!
G: Where you’re like, oh I really wish I could get a slice of Koronet’s pizza right now? Like, I really wish I could go to Absolute bagels, and just get, you know-
N:(whispers) Ooh, bagels.
G: Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s- the things that I wish I could bring with me are like, just the things that I sometimes have a craving for…
N: Yeah, exactly.
G: …that remind me of home.
N: Mine is definitely- my stuff is food related as well. And like, also, I think the convenience factor of a lot of things? So like, 24 hour diner. It’s like-
G: Oh, yeah!!
N: Boom.
G: Nothing in London is 24 hours.
N:Nothing here is 24 hours.
G: Except for like, the buses.
[laughter]
N:And like, knowing that you could like be out with friends and be like, ‘should we just go to the diner?’ You know, hang out. Like, it’s a place where you could just go at any time.
G: Waffle House. At 3am, like you do.
N: What else? Yeah, definitely bagels, definitely- I mean, I didn’t grow up in New York so we didn’t have dollar slices, but you could get a slice of pizza, if you wanted to. And things like that. So, other things, like, mostly like childhood stuff, like childhood candies and things like that!
G: Yeah! It’s those little nostalgic things.
N: Yeah, exactly! Exactly.
G: Do you ever, like, go to the international section in Sainsbury’s, and you see- You just have a look.
N: I just wanna look, yeah.
G: It’s stuff that I’ve never eat- or like, the American candy stores
N: -I wouldn’t even eat! Yeah!
G: Most of that stuff I didn’t even eat, but sometimes I look at it, and I’m just like-
Both: Awwwwwww
N: Exactly! Like, I don’t think I was ever allowed to have a Ho-Ho!
G: Ho-Ho’s are disgusting!
N: Yeah!
G: Twinkies are disgusting!
N: Twinkies!
G: All of it’s disgusting!
N: Exactly! Didn’t even want one! I’ll just go look and look at them, just-
G: Totally. I’m exactly the same way. Like, um- but I always find it really funny that in the Sainsbury’s, the American food section’s always like, giant marshmallows… Lucky Charms…
N: Pop Tarts
G: Pop Tarts! Sometimes… like, Nerds… it’s all candy and then Easy Mac.
N: It’s all candy! Yeah! Easy Mac, and one time I saw, like, what is it… pumpkin puree?
G: (gasps) Oh my God, that’s right! I mean, we do like our pumpkin pie…
N: And no one here has it! Like, no. No one.
G: I mean, I’m sure you could find someplace that has a pumpkin pie. There’s enough, like, expats living in this country that I’m sure you could find it if you really wanted it, but honestly, I’d probably just make one myself.
N: Yeah. True. So True. Wow, that’s just made me hungry.
[laughter]

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

N: I already know mine.
G: Go ahead!
N: New York. New York City.
G: You’d live in New York?
N:Yeah.
G: Awww!
N: It’s been like a dream of mine from when I was a kid. And I think as well, because that was the plan before moving to London, it’s kind of always one of those things in the back of my mind where I’m like, ‘Oh- like, if only I’d done that, or I hope I get to do that one day. So that’s definitely my number one. Any other city, I think, as well, like… I think I’m much more of a city girl than a country girl.
G: Me too. I feel like I- I mean, I was incredibly privileged to grow up in New York, um, but that also means that I just kind of- in these kind of… metropolis-type environments, I think I tend to flourish a bit? I like going out into the countryside, but there’s sort of a limit to how much I can- before I start being like…You know, a week, a weekend… A weekend away? Perfect! But it’s just purely because that’s what I grew up around. It’s funny because something so simple like noise outside your window, when I first moved, like, where our flat is, um, we’re on the back of the building so it’s really quiet, and I found it really unnerving how quiet it was… just because I was so used to, like, the rumble of buses going by-
N: And sirens!
G: And sirens! And like, drunk people, and all this stuff. Because, it’s- it’s just such a funny thing. So I don’t- it’s- the only other place I ever considered living, other than New York City was London.
N: Yeah.
G: I’d love to visit other places. I’d love to travel, I wanna see the world. I’d love to stay some time in other- like I’ve been to Paris, I’ve been to other incredible cities… I’d like to travel, but I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be.
N: That’s nice!
G: You know? It’s such a strange one, just because of, kind of, that specific upbringing I think I would… I mean, you know, we talk about retiring to the countryside but somewhere where we could still get into London  quite easily. Part of me still is a bit like-
N:You don’t want to let that go! Yeah!
G:  no, and I think as well, like, we go for country walks, and my husband, he makes fun of me because I’m like, ‘oh, cows!’ we walked through a field of cows and he’s like, ‘they’re just cows, what are you doing?’ and I’m like, ‘but they’re scary, they can kill me!’
[laughter]
G: -but you have to understand, like, I didn’t grow up around that! I grew up around big tall cement buildings, bright yellow taxi cabs tearing down the street, like, that’s just what I’m used to. I mean, I’m sure I could do it. I’m sure I could move somewhere, like maybe Copenhagen or something…
N: That would be cool, yeah.
G: I don’t know how well I would- I mean their winter days are so short.
N: I know
G: That is something I struggle with a little bit in London, is how short-
Both: -the days are in the winter.
G: BUT of all of the places I could see myself living, I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be.
N: Same. I think, like, if I hadn’t have gone to New York I wouldn’t have- I wouldn’t still have it, I think, in my mind. But yeah, I can’t imagine, especially in the current climate… I can’t imagine going back. I don’t know what I would do.
G: I’m good right where I am. Right now. I just don’t really, you know… it’s such a difficult one.
N: I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough of other cities as well, to be able to make that judgement? And because I’ve been to New York a few times, you know,  I have family there… I’ve had family move from there as well… it feels like I have a little bit more of a connection to that, whereas other cities, maybe not so much.
G: So interesting. It’s so interesting as well that we can be quite similar but we can have such different, like, stories, to how we ended up here. That sounded really philosophical, I don’t know why!
[laughter]
N: It is a philosophical thing, because it’s kind of like- especially now, like, as I get older, the more I think about where, I’m supposed to be…
G: Yeah!
N: Also like, how I got here, those things of like, what if I didn’t do that. And like, not to say that like I wish I didn’t, but it’s always just wondering, like, ‘oh, that’s so interesting that that ended up happening the way that that did!’
G: Yeah! It’s like- it’s such a strange thing. If I hadn’t taken that internship, and met that group of people, I wouldn’t have been at that wedding, and I wouldn’t have met my husband.
N: Exactly!
G: And so like, I wouldn’t have been here…
N: Here! Yeah!
G: So it’s- it’s so strange! It’s one of those things where you came for school, and ended up staying whereas I came for my husband, but we still have so- our reasons for being here started out very differently but we still have like, we talk so much about things we miss from home and sort of our own experiences.
N: And our British husbands.
[laughter]
G: And our British husbands with their thicc tasty American wives.
[laughter]
N: I love that.
G: That’s going in.
N: Keep that!
[laughter]

Ghenet Actually || The Expat Experience

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