General Life

What I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Abroad

Photograph of the view from the Virgin Atlantic Terminal in LAX airport. I took this picture on the day I left L.A.
LAX on the day that I left for London.

On April 1st, 2017, I hopped on an airplane in Los Angeles to move to London. It was a long-time dream of mine to live here, and I’m glad that I made the choice to do it. However, there are a few things I wish I’d known in advance. They wouldn’t have changed my decision, but it would have been nice to be more mentally prepared for what was to come. If current me could sit down with the past me, these are the things I’d say:

1) There are times when you will be incredibly lonely
London is a huge city. Although it’s for different reasons than it was in L.A., you won’t quite fit in here. Making new friends as an adult is kind of tricky, and that goes double if you’re not much of a drinker. Meetup.com is your friend for finding likeminded folks to hang out with. Don’t worry: you will find people. But in the mean time, flex that timezone difference to your advantage. Call your parents; reach out to your friends back home; and most of all, have patience when you can’t get through immediately. People still care. It’s just that you’re all living busy lives right now.

2) You will miss some weird things
The first time you go back to the U.S., you will cry with relief upon entering a grocery store. Many of the foods that you’ve gotten into the habit of eating will not be available in the U.K. In some ways, that’s a blessing. You’ll be forced to branch out and cook more. You’ll also learn new names for things you already know and like. In the end, you’ll come to enjoy some U.K. things so much that you’ll miss them when you’re back in the U.S.

You’re also going to miss putting things in a tumble dryer. Although every flat you’ll rent will have a washer/dryer unit in it, it won’t be the same as the kind you’re used to in the states. It’s a single machine that washes things, and then heats/condenses water out of your clothes as it “dries” them. It works okay for a very small amount of wash. But for more than a few shirts, it leaves everything a bit damp and funny-smelling. When you make visits back to the U.S., take the time to do your laundry before you go back to the U.K. And be prepared to get very used to your drying rack.

3) You will never feel fully “at home” ever again
The culture shock you experienced moving from Michigan to L.A. is going to be exponentially magnified by moving to a different country. Lots of things will seem odd to you when you first get here–the grocery stores and laundry are the least of it. But after a surprisingly short time, you’ll settle in and start to feel like this is normal. And then, no matter what state you go to, you’ll feel disoriented. The portion sizes in the U.S. will seem massive, the loos take an insane amount of water, and people’s definitions of “far to walk” seem pretty funny.

When you return to the U.K., you will be out of sorts again. Why is there no kale in anything? Why are people incapable of saying “excuse me” before they bash into you on their way off the tube? Why is it that no restaurant provides serving utensils?! And, seriously, what the heck is with this washerdryer situation?

Because you are “used to” so many different places, there will never be one single place that feels canonically right. But that’s a good thing because:

4) You will learn to find home wherever you go
After going from one place to another, you will find there’s always something familiar around you. In London, you’ll look forward to getting back on the Tube instead of braving L.A. Traffic. In Michigan, you’ll look forward to blasting off on I-94 to go to Meijer’s, and in L.A. you’ll have fun running down to the beach to say hello to the ocean. And anywhere you go, anywhere you stay, you’ll find comfort in a cozy bed, a cup of coffee, and the fact that there are happy people going about their lives around you. The things that are different will seem like interesting curiosities to explore. The things that you’re familiar with will welcome you home.

5) Everything you’re going to go through will be worth it
The loneliness, the disorientation, the stress from the craziness of work–it will all be worth it. You are going to have so many adventures. You’ll attend a ball in Vienna, make lovely friends with whom you can travel, and go to Berlin for work twice. You’ll get to show your friends and family around London, and visit Glastonbury with your folks. You’ll take trains all over the place, go to the Edinburgh Fringe festival multiple times, and get familiar enough with London that you can give lost tourists directions.

You are going to be tested, tried, and stretched. You’re going to grow. You’re going to come into yourself more fully, and learn a lot more about who you are, and what’s important to you. And that alone would have made this move worth it.

Oh: and some day, you’re going to be quarantined in the countryside during a pandemic. And you’ll get to take pictures like this all the time:

This is a photo of a path leading through the woods. To either side of the path are magnificent quantities of bluebells.

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