Wow. Four years. I can’t believe that it was over four years ago that I packed my things and shipped off to London. It really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.
Last year, for my three year anniversary, I wrote about some of the more frustrating aspects about living in London. This year I struggled to come up with something fresh to talk about (hence why I’m writing this in Jan/Feb rather than Dec), but I think that in and of itself is worth delving into.
After much contemplation and soul searching (OK, not really), I think the reason I can’t think of something clever the write about for my four year anniversary is because London feels like home now.
When you’re a newly minted expat there’s a strong temptation to compare your new country or city of residence to ‘back home’. It’s unavoidable really, as it’s not like you have any other frame of reference. I definitely did this when I first moved to London, but I think in year 3-4 I experienced a notable shift in how I perceive London.
I’ve Never Been Back ‘Home’
December 14th, 2010. That’s the last time I set foot on American soil. It is admittedly a little unusual for an expat to not so much and visit his or her home country for so long, but I just haven’t found the time to go back. As a result, my memories of America are fading – and they’re fading quickly.
These days I struggle to remember the order of the streets in Las Vegas, the last city I lived in before moving to London.
“Does it go Tropicana, then Flamingo, or is Flamingo before Tropicana. Wait, what about Russell?”
That’s not all. It’s worth noting that the fading version of America that’s in my head is now four years old. A lot has changed in four years.
“What’s this whole Obamacare thing about? What’s going on at Disneyland? Measles? Why does Vegas suddenly have a giant Ferris wheel? What happened to the Sahara Casino? Did it close?”
Sometimes it’s the silly things that remind you the most of how much has changed since you left ‘home’. When I last lived in America, Taco Bell didn’t sell tacos made out of Doritos. No one had a clue what the heck Tough Mudder was, the cronut was not yet a reality, and no one could have possibly predicted the fairytale that is the Kim Kardashian-Kanye West union (hah!).
My only real connection to America, other than friends, is American television. I’m able to watch most major network shows online, and sometimes I find myself more interested in the local commercials than in the shows themselves. They offer up a little slice of the regular ol’ American life that I don’t get across the pond.
“Ooh! There’s a sale at JC Penney this weekend. That new Infiniti Q60 looks cool. Since when did Jennifer Garner start hawking credit cards?”
London is Home…
There is, however, a limit to what you can glean from a country by watching commercials. And that’s why London now feels more like home than ever before. Not having been back to America in so long means that I’ve lost much of my expat ‘frame of reference’. These days I see the world through London-tinted lenses rather than American-tinted lenses.
…and Living Here is Getting Easier
Last year I chronicled a few of my struggles with living in London, and I always tell future expats that the first 6 months is the hardest. Now that I’m into my fourth year, I’m happy to report that living here gets easier and easier each year.
A part of this also has to do with growing up. I was barely 23 when I moved here and working in a job that I really didn’t enjoy. Since switching careers things have gone a lot better. Every year that goes by my boyfriend and I find ourselves on more stable footing. With London salaries, student loans and credit card debt are things of the past and we’ve been lucky enough to stay in the same flat (which we love) for over two years now. We’ve mastered The Tube, getting to the airport, when and when not to use Uber, and have a firm grip of handling daily life. We know our neighbourhood inside and out, and have managed to carve out a very comfortable existence in our little patch of London.
This year will be a significant one in my expat life. About nine months from now I’ll be applying to settle in the UK permanently (aka indefinite leave to remain), after which I’ll have earned the right to live in the UK for the remainder of my life if I so choose. A year after receiving indefinite leave to remain, I’ll be eligible for citizenship. These are both huge milestones for an expat, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings.