Life in England One Year In: The State of the Union

Given that I've hardly posted at all posted so infrequently in the last year, one might think that something like the anniversary of our arrival would fall far below my radar, but, in fact, I've been thinking quite a lot about our first year in the UK and what that's encompassed.  (And yes, I'm well aware that it's more than 10 days late, but whose blog is this, anyway? Right then.)

It's been a strange ol' year, for many reasons.  Some of it is just part and parcel of any move.  Some of it has to do with the strange set of circumstances that being an expat sets you up with.  Some of it is very likely unique to living in the UK.  Either way, here we are, a year later, and, in the tradition beloved of US Presidents, I present here a brief summary of what's transpired in the past year.

We're not living in Bristol, where we originally thought we'd live.  In fact, we're living about an hour's worth of a commute away in Bath, which, as it turns out, is somewhere everyone in the world has been or wants to go.  (Note:  While MsC understood that Bath was a lovely city and a big draw to anyone with a love for Jane Austen, she completely admits not realizing just how immensely popular it was with the rest of the universe -what with the Royal Crescent and the Roman Baths and so on - until it turned out that just about everyone she knew had already been there and declared it one of their favorite cities in England. And don't get me started on the Austen fans. They were nearly foaming at the mouth especially enthusiastic. After surviving most of the spring and summer here (peak tourist months) she now Gets It.)  That we ended up here is more or less the fault of the Dog, whose presence meant that many rentals in Bristol were off-limits to us.  When we found one in Bath that fit most of our needs and also allowed pets, we never looked back, and we have the Dog to thank for it.  We ended up in a small neighborhood of Edwardian terraced houses with lovely neighbors, parks in both directions, and two pubs within a short walk.  English living at its best. (I'm sure Bristol would have been lovely, too, but we're very, very happy here.)

We're starting to belong (a little bit.) We'd moved quite a few times in the US before we headed overseas as a family, and the one thing that MsCaroline always kept in the back of her mind was this:  You have to live somewhere for about a year before you start to feel like it is home.  This has proved to be the case in the UK as well.  We returned to the UK from our Christmas holidays, and were gratefully surprised to realize that we had, in fact, put down some tiny beginnings of roots.  We picked up the dog from our lovely sitters (a young couple who, in my opinion, represent everything that is good about the often-disparaged Millennials) with a nice chat about our holidays and plans for the coming year.   A few hours later, we ran into friends in the grocery store (we know enough people to actually run into some of them at the grocery!) (and, yes, we were those people, the ones who stand there nattering and blocking access to the grapes with their trolleys,) found a number of Christmas cards popped through our letterbox in our absence, and (the ultimate) got quizzed on our visit to the States by the clerk at our corner store, who knew we were leaving and wanted a summary. It was, in short, Coming Home.

We still miss Korea:  Yes, we love England, but we miss Korea.  We miss our friends and our jobs. We miss the expat community there.  We miss the energy, the bustle, and the excitement that is living in a megalopolis like Seoul.  We miss cozy winter evenings at our local Korean BBQ, the neon lights of Hongdae, the strangely peaceful hikes through Namsan Park (despite being smack in the middle of a city of millions,) the crazy traffic, the incredible food, the privilege of living in a culture of honesty, honor, and constant striving for excellence.  We miss it all.

We're empty nesters now (at least for the moment):  #1 was duly graduated (summa cum laude, if I may brag for just a moment) from his university course in December and has begun his career as a financial analyst with a respected institution.  #2 began his university studies in August and handled his first semester with aplomb. He will be back with us in England for the summer thank God.  And I'm doing just fine, thanks.  mostly.

I'm working again.  Teaching part time (one course) at a local University  My students are lovely, my colleagues (who hail from all over the world) are equally so, and my work environment (as most universities are) is diverse and stimulating.  As an expat wife, I am fortunate to be a teacher, one of the very few really portable international professions.

I don't have an English accent - or anything even close: What I do have, however, are phrases, words, and sayings. And inflections.  Nothing major, nothing deliberate, just a slow wearing-away of previous words and habits and an introduction of new ones.  Most of the time I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb with my non-regional North American accent (note: common introductory line by English people, who are too polite to ask you outright if you're a foreigner:  You sound like you're a long way from home) so it absolutely never occurred to me that I might in any way be absorbing aspects of British English until we were checking into our hotel in the US and the desk clerk told me to "Have a good night, now" and I responded automatically, "Thanks, and you" and went on my way.  "That was a totally British 'and you'" MrL observed on our way up in the elevator.  I looked at him blankly for a minute, and then realized what he was referring to.  And, well, yes, he had a point, I realized.  In the US, we'd say, "Thanks, you too." At least, I think we would.  (When someone points these things out, you quickly discover that both start sounding odd if you try to compare them.) And I'm not alone here; I notice that MrL asks questions differently now - instead of asking questions with rising inflection, US-style, he asks them with a drop at the end, British-style. And our vocabulary is slowly, inexorably, adjusting. We put the dog's jumper(sweater), buy courgettes(zucchini) and rocket(arugula) at the grocery, ask for a half (pint of cider) at our local (neighborhood pub) and check our diaries (personal calendars) to find out whether we're free to attend a colleague's leaving do (going-away party.) I suppose it's inevitable since we're surrounded by it all day, every day. I know there are likely many more words that have weaseled their way into my vocabulary, but since they've weaseled their way into MrL's as well, we don't notice it as much - and our British friends certainly don't, since I'm sure it's our Americanisms that would get their attention, not our 'normal' usage.  The next time you run into one of us, let us know what you think.

I've met a number of my favorite bloggers:  Having been an avid reader of many UK blogs for years now, I suppose it's not such a surprise that I'd start meeting their authors once I moved to the UK, but it has been a real thrill for me to meet four of them in the past year.  I still have a few on my list that I'd love to cross paths with (Yes, I'm looking at you, Nappy Valley Girl, and you, too, Stacy,) but I'm off to an excellent start! I met up with Emma of Bavarian Sojourn when we were in Munich for Oktoberfest, and followed that up by meeting the hilarious Potty Mummy of The Potty Diaries, and the lovely Elizabeth of Welsh Hills Again.  Most recently, I met up with Trish, whose award-winning travel blog Mum's Gone To...  has provided me with tons of ideas and inspiration - even more so now that we're living right on Europe's doorstep!

Blogging has fallen by the wayside in the past year and I really miss it.  I'm not a New Year's Resolution type of person - I hate jumping on any sort of bandwagon and January 1st always feels like one to me - but I have started 2016 off by thinking about things I would like to do this year - travel more, spend more time with friends, worry less, and - most of all - get back to blogging more regularly.  Not so much because I feel I'm such a spectacular blogger, but because I have missed it.  Even more to the point,  I have missed having the sort of record that blogging provides and which I have so enjoyed looking back over as we reminisce about our years in Korea.  Somewhere along the way, I lost my blogging mojo, and I'd like to get it back.  What this will look like, I have no idea, but I am hopeful and optimistic - a good way to begin any undertaking.

Here's to 2016.


Potty Mummy said…
Shall we find our mojo together? Mine seems to have gone AWOL, too... Looking forward to seeing you soon! x
MsCaroline said…
Oh, yes please! Your posting frequency is still well above mine...maybe I'll be inspired. Looking forward to seeing you, too! x
Stacy Rushton said…
Isn't that the best feeling, when you get back and a place is finally home? I completely agree with you about it taking a year, Carolyne. I often tell newcomers to wait to go home home (or back to where they just left friends) until that year is up. Sometimes going sooner delays the settling in.

How great that you are able to teach again! That really is a blessing. And congratulations on your boys. Sounds like they are both doing very well.

Let's try to make a get-together happen in 2016! We are discussing some time in Jersey again this summer and you'd be most welcome.

Pleased to hear that the State of the Union is strong!
MsCaroline said…
Thanks, Stacy - yes, it is definitely 'home' now - I just think there's something about having experienced a year somewhere - and being able to say, "Yes, we did this last year' that makes you feel like you really belong in a place. If nothing else, at least you know (sort of) what to expect. Teaching has definitely been a blessing, although it is conflicting at the moment with my WI meetings - but only until May, thank goodness! Keep me posted as your summer plans shape up - hopefully our crazy expat travel schedules will mesh! x
Trish said…
It was so lovely to meet you and looking forward to our next meet-up. Glad to hear you may have your blogging mojo back.
I'd still love to meet you. I was talking to my friend Circles in the Sand recently and she said when she's next over in the summer, we should both go and meet you. I'm going to hold her to that. I think the boys need to see Bath too, as (unlike the rest of the world), they've never been.

I never knew that about checking my diary not being correct American English by the way - I probably confused plenty of my US friends with that one.....
Nance said…
What a happy and joyful narrative, and I'm so glad. Especially glad to hear that you'll be trying to write here more often. Like you, I appreciate the outlet as well as the record that my blog provides for me.

Was your Christmas Holiday Travelling only to Korea, or did you return at all to the US?

Enjoy your Empty Nest and flexibility. Not having to coordinate even one more person's schedule (pronounced SHedule) is much more relaxing, isn't it?
MsCaroline said…
Trish - Oh, yes, we really enjoyed it, too! So nice to have something to look forward to! Will look forward to hearing all about your travels!

NVG - Yes, you are on my list! I would have put Circles, too - she is another one on my blogroll - but completely blanked out about the fact that she is in the UK on a regular basis...all that sand and sunshine in Dubai must have made me forget. ; ) So funny about Bath - I really did just think of it as a genteel Jane Austen fan destination, never really did factor in the whole 'Roman Baths' thing, and yet that is such a HUGE draw for tourists! If your boys like Roman stuff, they'll probably enjoy it, but you'll probably want to give the Jane Austen Museum a miss... Never thought about 'diary' very much until I started teaching and all of my colleagues kept referring to their 'diaries' instead of 'calendars' or 'planners' or 'daytimers' (all pretty common US phrases.) I may be wrong or maybe I've just been out of the country too long, but I still think that most Americans use the word 'diary' in reference to a daily journal (usually private.) It was very much a teenage girl thing (when I was growing up) to keep one that had a little lock and key, and to begin each entry with 'Dear Diary.' These days, I think it's more often called a 'journal,' but I still don't think it's very common for North Americans to jot down dates in their 'diaries.' I'll do some informal polling and see what the consensus is!

Nance - Thanks for the kind words! We shall see how things go - I've been laid low for almost 2 weeks by the flu and have been about as productive as a wet rag, so we'll see if I do, indeed, get my mojo back. Holiday traveling was (sadly) not to Korea, but only to the US. #1 graduated from university in December, so as we were there to celebrate anyway, we just stayed and did Christmas as well. And yes, you are absolutely correct about the SHedule - fewer moving parts make life much easier!
Expat mum said…
What a lovely post. I love listening to Americans who have spent some time in the UK. It's almost quaint!

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