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From Somerset to Boston: On Love, Tea, and Alienship

25 July, 2011 11:16  Erin Erin

love tea alienship wed day My name’s Hannah, but my many nicknames include Hans, Span and (most recently, thanks to my husband), The HanMan (I’m told the The is important). I’m originally from Somerset, England, but lived for a number of years in London, and am currently living in Boston USA (read: suburb of Boston that’s nowhere near as nice as actual Boston).

1. Why did you move abroad?
I’d love to say it was for a job or an adventure or because I wanted easy access to Mozzarella Sticks…but it was for a man – Jeremy. We’d long distanced for over seven years (with some respite when I studied in Boston for a year) and then decided to get married and try living on the same continent.

2. How do you make a living?
After getting my green card a year ago, I put off job searching for a few months until after we’d had our English Wedding (we did the legal bit in the US and then the ceremony bit with the silly dress in the UK)… that was almost eight months ago and I’m still unemployed. I naively turned a job down right at the beginning ‘cause I couldn’t get my head around the idea of three weeks holiday INCLUSIVE of sick leave, and I haven’t been offered anything since!  So I don’t earn any money whatsoever, beyond the odd bit of babysitting. I volunteer though, to give me something to do and to keep my CV up to date, and I’ve used the rest of my unemployed time to write a novel - I recently managed somehow to get an agent, so I’m hoping this may come to something. Thankfully Jeremy makes enough money to support us both, but I do miss feeling entitled to the odd bit of extravagance.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
With friends it’s primarily facebook, email and g-chat. I’m not much of a phone person and the time difference makes things awkward. I use cbfsms,com to send free text messages. With my parents though it’s phone calls – we have Voice Over IP which makes calling home really cheap, and on my mobile I go online and call through Google Voice. Being unemployed helps (!) so I’m in touch with someone from home on a daily / hourly basis.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in America?
Being on the same continent as my husband. After seven years of midnight phone calls and quarterly visits, it still feels amazing to not be missing him every day. In terms of America itself, probably the weather. I moan my head off in the winter, but it’s so wonderful to know that summer will be warm. I also love the choice of food here and the cheapness of sushi. Oh and the proximity to the Caribbean!

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in America?
The chocolate and the price of Ribena (which I never drank in England, but because it costs over $7.00 here I crave it)…and the non-existence of half pints that actually cost half… Also the winter… oh and house centipedes (I call them leg monsters) and the lack of public transport.

6. What do you miss most?
My family and my friends. If I could move a handful of people over, I honestly think I could settle quite happily here, but as it is their absence means I know I’ll never feel 100% settled. I can’t overstate how much I miss casual time – where you can say goodbye and know you’ll see them again soon. I also miss Galaxy chocolate, pubs, thatchers cider and country walks that don’t involve scaling a mountain but instead end in a pub with a thatchers. Also normal sized ants – American ants are HUGE.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I volunteered and sucked down my pride and asked people to be my friends! Seriously, for the first few months I felt like I was back in the playground in primary school. But it worked – I found people that have become proper friends and I got to know more about the non-profit sector in Boston (the field that I’ll hopefully find employment in at some point in the next century). I was also lucky in that I knew most of Jeremy’s friends well after years of back and forth to the US, so I didn’t really feel lonely. I still do miss having a whole gaggle of MY friends around me, but I think part of that is just a consequence of getting married and socialising more as a couple.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The way they say ‘hi, how are you’ as a greeting without ever meaning for the person to answer the question. Jeremy says it to toll booth operators, before driving off. Also the lack of please and thankyou  - not with strangers, but amongst family and friends - ‘would you like a cup of tea’ is often answered by ‘sure’ whereas in England it’d be ‘yes, please, thank you’.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
The portion sizes being huge… it may just be that we don’t often go to big chain restaurants, but generally I find the portions fairly comparable. Plus the option to get food ‘to go’ when you’re done means I don’t push myself to eat too much. That’s a boring myth, but I can’t think of any others…

10. What advice would you give other expats?
Homesickness fades over time but there’s no real cure for it. Ice cream helps. Also, Masterpiece Theatre is great for British TV (yay Downton Abbey). Definitely volunteer if waiting for a work visa – I don’t think I’d have survived those first few months if I hadn’t been feeling useful and meeting people. And make use of expat forums for advice on visas etc – they saved me from many a sleepless night by answering those niggling worries.

11. When and why did you start your blog?
Three or four months before I moved. Mostly just as a way to vent everything that was going on with the visa / feelings about moving and also to keep a record of it all.

12.  How has the blog been beneficial?
It’s put me in touch with a wider expat community  - the support I got immediately after I’d moved and was busy blogging about the doom of homesickness was really touching. It’s also good to be reminded that I’m not alone in my british-in-america-ness. Whereas Australian friends seem to have a really extensive network of Australians, and the same for French friends, I’ve found a dearth of English people over here. Perhaps we’re just relove tea alienship engagementally bad at seeking each other out, but the expat community I’m connected to through my blog is a good reminder than people like me do exist and have survived. I also found blogging, particularly in the early stages of the visa application and the move, really cathartic – as if by writing things down I was exercising some control over the situation, defining and confining it. Finally, it made me realise how much I love writing, and gave me the confidence to start writing my novel.  

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