Friday, 7 January 2011

Liane, The Lifer

My second guest poster Liane from Movement, like me, is an American expat in the UK and we both moved 6 1/2 years ago. The American expat community can be a transient one and I know the majority of American women I've met have since moved back to America. Personally I don't want to say I'm here forever, it's too permanent for me, but Liane is a lifer.

Hi. My name is Liane and I’m an expat from the States. I’m not just an expat…I’m a lifer.

I arrived the summer of 2004. One of the hottest summers on record for London. And ya know what? They don’t have air conditioning there, nor do they even have air conditioners as we know them. You know what I mean, the ones you put in a window. Even though I didn’t have central air in Boston, I still had air conditioning in my bedroom. What the heck had I gotten myself into? But, yeah, it was 6-1/2 years ago, so clearly a few things went well.

I had moved over for a job working in an international school. I was excited to be overseas as many of my relatives, including my parents, had done a stint. Here I was, 35 years old, single (to my mom’s regret), owning no property (to my regret) and so it was perfect timing. I had a two year visa and job contract, with the ability to leave after one year if I so chose. Well, after discovering that I loved my job, loved London and came to love a guy who was from London, I decided to stay, and now I’m here for what may be life in my own home with husband and dog.

Being a long-timer is interesting. Working in an international school and living in such a transitional city such as London means that I meet a lot of people who then leave a year or a few later. The thing about being a long-timer is that the short-timers see their time here in London differently than I do. It’s almost a long visit in a way. They have to go travel everywhere and do everything RIGHT NOW. They may never actually get to know London or any true Londoners, because they spend any time here with other Americans and living in big expat areas. Not a bad thing, mind you, but a different life to that of a lifer.

As a lifer, you may chose to live a bit further out from central London because you can buy a bigger property. The potential of having children there means you want to find a place with a decent neighbourhood, parks, and more interior and exterior space.

As a short-timer, you may want to live in the thick of it or the ‘nicer’ areas where other expats live (close to that big American style store).

As a lifer, you focus on the long-term. You don’t have to get it all done immediately and so you may not travel as much as you originally had A short-timer doesn’t necessarily worry about saving their pounds because travel may more important to them. Sometimes I’m very, very jealous that they see so many places; many more than I have in my 6-1/2 years here.

A short-timer may not get to know so many locals. It’s not entirely their fault. They may only get to socialize with a lot of Americans. It is easier to do that cause we understand each other’s stories. We get that peanut butter and chocolate is really a wonderful thing. We don’t blink when they spend £5 on a bag of marshmallows from the States (they kinda suck here). They know our school system, our government, etc, etc. And it’s tough getting to know the locals. They have their own friends a lot of times or, if not, there are people around who may understand THEIR story, education, life in ways that we might not. It takes effort and time to get to know a local, something that a short-timer just may not have or want to spend.

So is it easier to be a long-timer or lifer? Not always. You may begin to lose your friends from the States, one by one. They may not come to visit and or they may move away from your hometown and so you don’t see them. It takes a lot of work to maintain your friendships and it takes two. Even worse is that you aren’t nearby when things go wrong in your family, such as a grandparent dying or a parent falling ill. You miss out on the good things too, including your nephew’s birthday party and the family gathering for the 4th of July.

Being a lifer means you get to know another culture intimately. You are no longer just an American, but something else. You may end up with two or more citizenships. And you have experiences that change you to the very core. It’s not a life for everyone. But it’s something that I treasure. I love my life here in London. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Thanks for letting me visit and write a bit of my story. If you want to learn more about me and my thoughts, feel free to visit me at my blog:

1 comment:

Lorry said...

So true, and I hadn't even realized some of this. I guess this is why my American friends are appalled at how "far away" (8 km from the city center) I live, and can't believe I haven't seen every landmark yet.