This past weekend marked two years since we touched down in London to begin this great expat adventure. The time has flown by and yet it has provided us with so many opportunities that it feels almost impossible that it has been just two years.
Looking back, we are so lucky to have had many wonderful memories and many goals accomplished this year. Looking forward, this post feels so bittersweet. To think we were supposed to be packed up and back in Boston by now! Our second year living as expats in London has been great and it is sad to reflect on the fact that our time will soon be coming to an end.
While I’ve had unexpectedly mixed feelings about pushing our move date back a little bit, now that September is here I am so grateful we have extended. These last few months will be incredibly special and the past couple have been as well. I am thankful for some extra time to soak up everything possible during this expat experience and not feel rushed until the end. Though, in truth, I probably will anyway – there’s so much left to do and explore on this side of the pond! Now we have some breathing room for our last few adventures as expats.
Two Years On
Culture Shock & Settling In
After two years here, we’ve adjusted to this new normal. There are so many things I’ve come to love about living in London, in the UK and in this culture. I have enough awareness over this whole culture shock thing to know that we are in for quite a bit of reverse culture shock going back. That sense of differentness that permeated everything in the UK in the first few months of our time here has normalized. Now, I’m just as likely to see something and think “that is so American.”
It really gets easier over time, living abroad. We even get confused what side of the road to drive on, even though we don’t even drive here!
As it would happen, we started watching Stephen Fry in America the other day. It also just so happens that the series begins in New England, where we’ll find ourselves living in just a few more months.
I particularly enjoyed this bit:
Stephen: What do people think of when they think of Maine?
Stephen: Ah, moose. The animal, not the pudding.
For whatever reason that moment made my heart hurt a little bit, thinking about how much I’ll miss living here amongst the English.
Sure, some things will always baffle me about this place, like why on earth there are no screens in the windows. I was recently talking about this with my OG London bestie (my roomie from study abroad) as she was dealing with some bug situations in Sicily the other other week. Since that time, it’s gotten a lot cooler in the UK and they seem to want a warm place to hang. Too many flies in our flat.
London has become more hospitable to some of the little creature comforts I missed from home. I’m very happy to report that London has made huge strides in iced coffee offerings this summer. Cold brew is now a permanent fixture on the menu at Starbucks nowadays as well. Rejoice. Unfortunately, I started making my own (see my cold brew recipe here) and now I’m a big cold brew snob and prefer the taste of my artisanal, home-cold-brewed coffee. By artisanal, I mean I use Waitrose beans. Still, it’s great to know that I could get it if I wanted and would not be handed a frappe like the first time I tried to get an “iced coffee” at Pret…
These anecdotes may sound silly, but in an English-speaking country, it’s those little things that add up to make a place feel different or feel like home. After two years here, we’ve acquired some new little things that will always remind us of our time living here. I think that’s really nice.
I asked Andrew what the best part of living here has been for this post and his response was, “We can travel so easily and always get to come back to the best place.” Very well put.
In the past year, we visited 11 countries (if you break out the UK). We’ve been to France four times and Scotland twice. We also explored much more of the English countryside, making it out to the Cotswolds for two different weekend trips. Crazy!
This year we went on our BIG trip – our backpacking trip through the Swiss Alps. We started preparing for it one year ago and through the prep and the trip itself, I’ve grown so much. It was a huge undertaking for me in some areas I didn’t feel all that comfortable in (unknowns, fitness, nature, I’d climbed like one mountain before last year in my whole life before this year…). It pushed me. I had days where I felt true, honest dread that the trip would be a disaster.
Of course, it wasn’t. It was amazing. Switzerland is truly the most beautiful place. Getting to be out in the mountains for a week was so wonderful for our minds, bodies and souls. It was an incredibly special trip and absolutely the highlight of our second year of European travels.
It’s impossible to choose a favorite trip, as each has been so different and so much fun. We’ve traveled with Andrew’s parents, our friends and my parents this year. We’ve also been lucky to have many visitors come through this year and it really is a joy to share our new home with our loved ones.
Home… and back Home
We still love our tiny flat and our beautiful neighborhood. I’ve gotten more into running and am loving the access to the lovely parks nearby for my outdoor runs. Our flat gets great light and we’ll definitely miss that when we leave.
The sun has been setting earlier and earlier lately and it’s yet another reminder that the sun is setting on our time here! The dark days in London are some of my favorites though, as our memories of Friendsgiving and the holiday season here are some of our most cherished. I know I will be talking about Floating Friendsgiving for the rest of my life. Anyone and everyone who will spend a Thanksgiving with me in the future, you’ve been warned.
The sense that my life here and my life back home sometimes compete for my attention hasn’t faded in these final months. Any homesickness has lessened, assuaged by the fact that we’ll be back soon. We’ve had to miss a lot this past year, from weddings to engagements to babies and milestone birthdays. Whether happy or sad, it is hard to miss defining events for our friends and family. It’s a comfort to know we’ll be back soon and hopefully can make up for lost time.
This year I learned my limit for not seeing friends and family back home is seven months. I was so happy and lucky to get to go home and reset for a week in January. I spent my time partly with the norovirus (woo) but mostly with my nephews and it was glorious.
They turned two over the summer. Of course, it was a tough day to know that my whole family was celebrating them with an Elmo-themed bash, but luckily they did remember to include me! It probably looked weird to most of the attendees that my family would whip out the iPad for singing “Happy Birthday,” but that meant I got to be there for it, too. I took the call on my iPad, which even allowed me to take my own pictures! That feature in the last versions of iOS is really, really great for expat aunties who miss their nephews so much! I got a really cute snap of our godson waving to me, covered in icing, so so tired staying up for cake past nap time.
It’s weird to think about going back, but as we get closer I get more excited about it. I haven’t seen my best friend in over a year! I can’t wait to change that. It’s exciting to think about a new apartment and neighborhood and office. It’s super duper exciting to think I’ll be a short journey away from hanging with my nephew buddies. Even though it is sad to leave, it is exciting to return home. We’ve got a lot to do to make it happen, but we’ll get there, bit by bit over the next few months.
Two years here in London means this blog is just over two years old. For it’s second birthday, I got us this shiny new theme that makes me feel like this little side project better reflects all the time I spend on it. I hope you enjoy!
In the past few months, I’ve passed one year of blogging (mostly) consistently, posted over 100 times (whoa), and have stopped “Travel Guide” type posts. Hooray! The travel guide bit has stemmed from the fact that I’m not a guide and to me, travel isn’t really something where a guide necessarily applies. Travel is so subjective to begin with, then add in the unpredictable nature of it and gosh, it’s over. I’m also pretty go-with-the-flow when it comes to travel due to the FOMO buried in my soul (if you plan the whole thing out, it’s harder to jump ship for something cooler you discover when you get there!).
I also prefer to write posts that are more rambly and personal in nature, which don’t perform as well, but hopefully someday they’ll find their little audience and help someone out there have a great trip!
Andrew has encouraged and sometimes pushed me to keep this up, not letting me make excuses or let the blog slip in favor of other adventures. He has said to me many times, “You said you would do this, you should do it.” That this blog even exists at all is due in large part to his support. Now that I have this new design that better showcases my work here, I’m even more grateful for his help in this. I did say I would do this and the time to do it is now. Nearing the end of our time here, it is wonderful to have this huge library documenting our adventures to look back on. Thank you for following along with me here <3
We have always suspected that two years would not be enough time and our extension is proof of that fact. At the same time, it is the right amount of time given that we do want to return to the US. More time away from our friends, family and professional network would only serve to complicate things further. It’s going to be interesting enough acclimating back to our home culture, if our trip back in May is any indication!
We are so grateful for this incredible experience. Here’s to a great end to this chapter!