A Year On

Sanders in London!

This post comes a couple weeks late, but better late than never!  I have really enjoyed looking back at the posts I wrote about adjusting to expat life when we first moved, so for the sake of being able to remember how I felt about spending a full year abroad, here are some thoughts about the past year.

It is hard to believe we’ve been here for a whole year! In some ways, this year has flown by; in others, so much has happened that it has felt much longer than that. It is safe to say that it has been the wildest, best year of my life.

We are truly so lucky to have this opportunity.

Looking back on the past year, the growth that moving abroad has inspired in Andrew and me is pretty remarkable. Personally, professionally, intellectually, as a couple – we have really pushed ourselves to make the most of this experience and that has brought out many of the best things in both of us.

Nothing happens overnight, but as the days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and now, at one year, looking back, we have accomplished so many goals. While I never doubted that we would achieve many of the things we set out to do, it was hard to imagine that things could come together so well. I’m not sure I let myself hope that the life we would build here would become so full in such a short amount of time.

Since I’ve mostly shared only travel destinations here, I figured some yearly updates would be fun.

One Year in London

Culture Shock

After a year, I think culture shock is something that can come and go. It took a good three to six months for us to acclimate to living here. We no longer feel that simmering frustration or otherness quite as acutely as those first few months.

Becoming more familiar with British English, figuring out how we can pay via Contactless on our various cards, exploring more of the city and becoming more involved in our workplaces and within our friend group have gone a long way in making London feel like home. For newer expats, those are all things that come with time! Be patient and kind with yourself as you adjust.

At some point along the way, we’ve stopped noticing the differences that were so obvious when we first arrived. This manifests itself in things like knowing my way around a British grocery store or knowing where to pick up something we need on an errand. The piercing ambulance sirens are starting to just sound like sirens. The clouds look like clouds. It’s amazing what a year can do!

Home

We love our little flat. It truly does feel like home and it has been so special to welcome visitors there and show them around our new neighbourhood and city. We have renewed our lease and are looking forward to another year in our little grey home.

Andrew in our flat!

I’ve recently discovered the magic that is Marks & Spencer groceries AND free grocery delivery. We are eating well. A Marks & Spencer is basically at the foot of our street, yet we overlooked it for almost a full year for groceries! Now, it is our go-to and they have a fabulous range of Free From products. A few of my girlfriends turned me on to grocery delivery and it has been life-changing now that I am working more.

Andrew to continues to perfect his full English breakfast and his Sunday roasts. Visitors, come on down for some of Andrew’s English home cooking!

Andrew's famous English Breakfast

Our gym is a big part of our life here and we are still loving it and exploring more classes. We’ve both lost 10 pounds each within a month or so of moving here and, despite our many Italian adventures, we’ve managed to keep them off. We ran a 5k along the river this week and have taken up Body Pump and spinning together. Andrew did a triathlon in Wales over the summer and we have started hiking to prepare for an upcoming trip.

Oh yeah, we got married! We had an amazing week back home in the US with both of our families and all of our friends. It is nice to no longer have to worry about wedding planning and be fully present in our lives here, but having that trip planned back home was really, really special. To spend a day surrounded by our family and friends was truly the best.

Wedding
Photo by the incredibly talented Melissa Stimpson!

 

Settling In

We are so lucky to have met so many wonderful people since moving here. I’ve been planning events for an expat social club for almost a year now, and my co-planner has become one of my closest friends here. Between those events, travel, visitors and the odd get-together with our close friends here, we are as busy as we were back home.

We recently went on a trip with our best London buds and it was a blast. I am looking forward to another holiday season in London. Though we will not be celebrating with our family and friends at home, we have new traditions that we will share once again with the friends we have made here. That feels pretty special.

We love the city of London and have made lots of progress in seeing all of the big tourist sights. There are some days when it feels like we will never see or experience enough of this incredible city, and it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do here.

We’ve found some favourite spots and have started exploring more of the UK outside of London, which is something I am very excited about.

Work

Work is going well for both of us. It has truly been a great opportunity for Andrew and he is making the most of it. We recently ran a 5k with some of his coworkers and they were just as nice as Andrew has described them. I am very proud of him!

I am still freelancing and have learned so much over the past year. Balancing two clients has helped me become a lot more organized and focused in the work I am doing. The people I work with are great, and I am looking forward to numerous big projects ahead.

As for the blog, Andrew has been hugely supportive and helps me get these posts out. As I finish up this post, I am working on scheduling out more for the coming weeks. We have been so blessed to be able to travel often and discover new countries and meet new people, it would be a waste not to share the things we’ve seen and learned. It can be challenging to juggle it all, but now that there is daily traffic here, it is motivating. Thank you for reading!

Travel

We loved to travel before we moved. We really love to travel now. I’d say we’re pretty much expert-level at this point, ha! We can pack up our backpacks in less than an hour and we (okay, really just Andrew) are becoming ever more skilled at planning trips.

Sanders on the move
Off to the airport in Palermo, Sicily.

In the past year, we visited 3 continents and 12 countries. We’ve been to Spain twice and Italy three times. Crazy!

Travelling on RyanAir
Thank you, Ryan, for making our frequent air travel affordable.

We have many, many trips planned for the next year. Our biggest trip will take place this June when we will travel to Switzerland to hike in the Alps. We’ve just started our training for this trip and will embark on our second backpacking weekend in two weeks. Expect a lot more hiking posts and lots of beautiful views to come!

Hiking in Swanage

Homesickness

Oddly enough, I have been most homesick these past couple weeks, as I have reflected on the year we’ve spent in London. Preparing to write this post and a loss in the family have reminded me of how far away we live from our loved ones. If being away during good times is hard, being away during the bad times is really, really hard.

It is sad to feel so far away and to catch up with friends and family and know that so many wonderful things are happening in their lives that we just are not there to share. My nephews are an incredible barometer for how much can happen in a year, as they started walking and now talking in the past month. When we left they weighed just six pounds! It feels really sad to miss all of that.

Our sweet godson holding the Paddington we got him during our flat-hunting trip in a snap sent to us from my sister. We miss you!!

My reflections have also stirred a strange sense of loneliness that stems from the fact that our friends and family can’t share in the ups and downs of this experience with us. Sure, they see the glamorous pictures on Instagram and hear the highlights from me when we catch up, they can look on a map and say “Jenn and Andrew live there.” The picture those things paint don’t really capture any of the nuances of expat life, the things we have both accomplished that make me feel most proud.

I plan to share more tips and advice for new expats in London in the coming months to touch on some of these things, but the most important parts of this experience for me are hidden among the day-to-day, routine details of our lives.

Thank you

Thank you so much to all of our visitors for coming to see us and for bringing a little bit of home to this strange, new place. It means so much to us and some of our favourite London memories have been the times we have shared with you here!
Sky Garden with Sarah!
And to our new (and old!) London friends, we are so lucky to have found such wonderful people here. Here’s to another year of fun and adventures!!

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2 Replies to “A Year On”

  1. What a wonderful recap from your first year in London! I can relate to your experiences – it sounds a lot like my first year here. I’m so happy that we met through the expat group and hope to catch up soon!!

    1. Thanks so much, Jess! Me too! We’ll have to grab a drink soon – I want to hear about your new job!

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