Essays · Expat Life

How I Moved to London

This stained glass window of a B-17, is located in a Norman church in Grafton Underwood.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a few people ask me how it was that I managed to move to London. The very short answer is: the company I work for opened an office here, and asked me if I would be willing to move. And I said yes! Of course, every story has nuances and background–and things that happen after the climax, denouement, and finale, which might prove of interest to the reader after the main tale is finished. So, for the curious, or those interested in making such a move, here is the detailed version what happened.

Background:

Once upon a time, a war swept across the world. My grandfather volunteered to join the brand new Army Air Corps, and ended up stationed at Grafton Underwood, in the United Kingdom. He and his crew were shot down over Germany during one of their bombing runs, and they all ended up in prison camp for many months. After the war, they were repatriated, and returned home to the USA, where they started families.

Grandpa also went to University, and studied the environment. He eventually got a PhD, and did a post-doctorate study in the United Kingdom. As he was going to be away for a year, he took his family with him. He spent the time studying ducks in the Marshes of Kent, and enlisted his oldest son–my dad–to be his research assistant.

In later years, my Nonna–his wife–came back to England to do an exchange teaching program. She quite enjoyed the time, although her memoirs suggest that the person she swapped with made it a rather frustrating experience.

Stories from all of these episodes peppered my youth. Moreover, most history classes in the US are Eurocentric, with a strong focus on Britain’s ascent to primacy on the world stage. As a result, I was extremely curious about this tiny island. What would it actually be like here?

In 2005, I had the chance to find out for myself. I was accepted into a summer study abroad program at St. Peter’s College in Oxford, and spent two months learning about the history of the British landscape. It was a fascinating subject, and gave me the opportunity to see this country for myself.

Aww, sending hugs back to you, awkward baby me. One day, you’ll trade your weird aughties fashion for weird 2020s fashion. (Tinturn Abbey)

I found it magical. The summer days felt infinitely long, and I was was steeped in history, seeing buildings of a kind I’d only dreamed of everywhere. That summer was heady for other reasons, too. I bought a bike, and on weekends I would ride out into the countryside, losing myself on paths that beside rivers filled with longboats, and through forests and fields.

After the program ended, I spent ten days making a loop around the UK, having my first taste of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and being fully in charge of my own health, safety, and destiny in a way I hadn’t been before. If I wanted to spend 3 days in Belfast, I could–and did. If I wanted to return to Cwm Idwal in Wales, I could–and did. It was a heady experience.

I climbed up a mountainside in a skirt to go explore some caves, and got this shot. The landscape behind me is Belfast.

Although my accent marked me a foreigner, I felt very at home, as though the landscape was speaking to my bones. When I got on the plane to go home at the end of the summer, I mentally vowed that I would come back someday. I didn’t realize quite how long it would take, though.

Trying to make a business case

Time passed. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, and after about 6 months, gave up and got an office job. I eventually started working at a company where I got a customer support role. We had operations in the US, UK, Germany, France and Spain. I was in charge of providing email-based support to our English speaking clients.

I kept trying to persuade my boss that sending me to the UK for work–to streamline support for all regions–was totally a good idea. But no one bought my arguments. They said I could work from the UK office if I bought my own ticket. But at the time, international plane trips were still pretty expensive, and so I didn’t go. Though I did manage to visit Japan twice while I worked at that company, so I’m not really sure what my excuse was.

A new opportunity

Fast forward several years, and I was working at my current employer. There was an announcement that we were going to be opening an office in the U.K. Our business operations abroad were going to be focusing in the area that I worked in, and it sounded like we didn’t happen to have anyone doing technical work out here yet. I happened to mention to one of our VPs that I would be happy to come over and train people for a while, if the company thought that would be helpful.

About six months later, I had my semi-annual review, and my boss asked me if I wanted to move to London. I was so excited, that I almost didn’t let him finish the question before I said “YES!”

There was a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to get through, but after about 8 months of waiting and praying, I got a visa. And on April Fool’s Day, I moved to London.

If I look at it from a broad perspective, I’d say that my opportunity to move here came because of interest, audacity, and luck. And I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be here.

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