Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Expat Life is Never Perfect

I met Melizza via her blog and we became fast friends.  We both love coffee, travel, dinner parties with friends, afternoon tea, and bopping around enjoying London's free and fun things.  Melizza and I have also found, with each other, a safe space to have expat meltdowns. There are days when you miss home and you need to vent about it. Melizza came to London via Austin (as well as Brooklyn, New York and a few other places) and she loves Austin as much as I do...the trails, the people, the weather, the food.  And we've both sat in a coffeeshop talking about Tex-Mex and Town Lake on a cold rainy day.  Does it mean we don't appreciate our incredible opportunity to live in London? No. Does it mean that sometimes being an expat means you need to have a really good friend from back home who understands that sometimes being out of your comfort zone is difficult? Yes. And I'm SO grateful for her friendship. (Also, if you have a chance, you should check out her adorable sewing blog! She's a genius!)

Today, thankful for Austin Texpats,

Expat Life is Never Perfect

By: Melizza

In 2010, eight years after living in London as a graduate student, I found myself living the dream, returning to live there as an adult. My husband was offered the chance to transfer within his company to the London office, so we took it. We were very happy in Austin but we couldn’t say no at the chance of traveling and living in such a beautiful, historic city.

As a student I didn’t get to experience as much of the city as I would have liked. I was really looking forward to this new opportunity. To me, London was going to provide me with the chance to change careers, a great home base to travel from, and charming English friends who we would have over for dinner monthly. Sadly life here has been a lot less amazing than I imagine, and a lot more frustrating.

The cost of living in London is outrageous and the pay, as it’s been in our case, low when compared to our earnings at home. And when I say “our earnings” I really mean my husband’s. I haven’t had the best of luck finding full-time employment. Navigating through the job market has been quite a heart-wrenching and depressing experience. I had a certain expectation of what my career would be like in my 30s and temporary part-time jobs weren’t part of it. As a student it was okay to pick up a retail job with a constant changing schedule. But now, with quite a job history behind me, I’d prefer a role that was challenging and consistent.

Finding that has been my biggest struggle while living here. Living on a single income has affected our travel plans a bit. We can’t zoom off over the weekends as much as we’d like (I know, I know, first world problems) but we’ve made it work by seeing and doing more in the city and the rest of England. The museums are free so we constantly go and wander about. We take day trips to the countryside and see shows here and there. We have done and seen a lot of London. And there’s still so much to see.

When I was a student I was constantly working or going to school so I couldn’t afford the time to explore.  But I was okay with not doing as much because my entertainment came from friends. Friends were a lot easier to make at university because everyone is there for the same purpose. A woman who lived in my hall invited me to the campus pub to meet her friends and enjoy a drink. We’re still very good friends today. In fact, she was in my wedding party. I am very grateful for her friendship because she has been so welcoming since we have arrived. Unfortunately I don’t see her often enough because she doesn’t live in London.

To say making new friends in London is hard is an understatement. It is especially hard when I don’t have a job, go to school or belong to a church. My husband’s colleagues are mostly unmarried and younger. We tried reaching out to them when we first arrived but nothing came of it. I've often gone out to meet people through a friend or from online, and like a first date, I really hope they like me. And when a friendship doesn’t pan out I wonder what the hell is wrong with me. It has taken quite a few months, but I have finally met a few good friends through one of my part-time jobs and my blogs. They keep me sane when I gripe about finding a job or the lack of feeling at home.

What I miss the most about living in Austin is that sense of community: people taking time to ask you how you’re doing, businesses providing great customer service, and neighbors looking out for you. Londoners walk around with blinders on and I understand that’s a city mentality but it doesn’t mean I’m fond of it. Living in London hasn’t been as glamorous as I would have liked. Nor is it as carefree as when I was younger.

The expenses wear you down, the shit job market keeps you frustrated, and the lack of belonging to a community saddens you. But we’re going to make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt. We’re going to continue to do and see as much as we can before returning; because there isn’t a doubt about that. Before moving here we considered starting a family and making a home here. But the decision to move back comes down to quality of life, and ours was way higher in Austin. So by the end of the year, hopefully, that is where we will return and the life we have on hold can continue.


  1. What a stunning post Mela! There is so much I relate to here. London can be incredibly challenging and unforgiving and still, after almost five years, I struggle with basic aspects of life here!

    1. Thank you. It was quite therapeutic to write. Thanks for making life easier here :)