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From NYC to London: Drive on the Left

06 April, 2015 09:43  Erin Erin

Drive on the left My name is Drew Seaman and my wife is Julie Smith. I am originally from Maine and Julie is from Indiana, but we most recently lived in NYC prior to relocating abroad. We moved to London in September of 2013.

1. Why did you move abroad?
Julie was offered an opportunity, on relatively short notice, to move to the UK. We had always spoken to each other about a desire at some point to live in another country and Julie made it known to her company that she was quite keen for a foreign assignment. Julie wants to eventually take over the world, so it seemed like a natural next step.

2. How do you make a living?
Julie works for a large marketing research company, assisting a large multi-national client with product development and marketing. I worked for a decade in restaurant management and was running a beverage program at a steakhouse in NYC before our move. I took our move as an opportunity to experience something different, and have spent time getting my advanced certificate in wine and spirits and worked as a wholesale cheesemonger, selecting and cutting cheese for restaurants, hotels and food halls like arrods. I am currently a free agent, which is a different, slightly less harsh way of saying unemployed. I spend most of my time though working on our blog and researching our next trip.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?

Of course, this was the biggest concern from our family besides the sheer distance. However, there are so many apps available that it has not been an issue. We use What’s App and Viber for texting and calling friends back home and Skype for group family chats. We talk to our parents about once a week on average, though my parents are particularly active on Facebook, so no post of mine goes without a comment from my folks. We also started our blog as a way for friends and family to keep tabs on our adventures.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in London?

That's simple. Travel. London is such a major hub of transport that it is remarkably easy to get to most places easily and directly. We have utilized all five major London airports, flown numerous low budget airlines and visited twelve new countries in Europe in our first year here. No flight connections (non-stops are the best) and we can even walk from our flat to a train station and be in France in two hours. It’s crazy.

We also brought our dog Basil over, which was quite a feat in and of itself, but he seems much happier than in NYC. We have numerous fenced in parks within a few blocks where he can go off leash and eat things off the ground. There's a lot more tail wagging.

5. What's the worst thing about being an expat in London?
It is challenging navigating our return trips to the US. Our parents do not live anywhere near each other, with brothers and sisters spread out as well. We head back once or twice a year, so it is hard to see everyone, not to mention of friends in NYC, Maine and California, places where we have no family. For our upcoming US visit in June, we simply could not edit our itinerary, so we are now heading from Los Angeles all the way to Maine over three weeks. I believe the kids call that FOMO.

6. What do you miss most?
Nothing major, just a bunch of the little things. We miss inexpensive meals and clothing (the pound sterling is just evil), being in the same time zone as our parents and I miss watching NFL on Sundays. I guess it would be mean if we didn’t say our families, so, our families.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
We meet quite a few people through friends back in the States. You know, the friends of friends situation. Of course, you end up meeting other new people through those new friends and your network grows. It has been easy as an American expats, because there are so many of us here in London and its easy to interact when there is some common ground. I also joined a tennis league and met someone from Finland and I am now going to his stag party (British for bachelor party) in northern Finland next month, where I will be the only American among almost forty Finish guys. Its experiences like that can make being an expat so special.

In terms of integrating, the process has been simple since we speak the same language and did not have communication issues, which is such a challenging adjustment to most other foreign work assignments. And since we moved from one large city to another, we were already used to an urban environment, though London is a little less dense and more spread out than NYC.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
There are a few things. The UK has a much different take on customer service, which made setting up our services and utilities a little tricky. The best example is that the UK version of 1-800 is not toll-free, but a charged call, even from a mobile phone. You pay to call customer service.

Coming from a hospitality background, the tipping culture was a minor adjustment too. I kept on leaving my change as a tip at pubs, only to watch it go uncollected for the whole time we were there. Now I know, no need to tip for a pint at the pub.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?

That British food is bad. Newsflash people, London has a fantastic food culture and higher food standards than the US. Even basic supermarket meat is of a higher quality. There are lots of fantastic restaurants, a growing craft beer scene and some of the best sparkling wine is produced in the south of England. No joke. Of course, the traditional stuff is pretty solid as well. Love me some fish and chips.

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Definitely higher, and that is coming from two people who moved from NYC. The strength of the pound and things like the 20% VAT on goods just inflates the cost of most items. The housing market is similar to the NYC, but everything else is noticeably more expensive. We have stopped doing the conversion back to the US Dollar when buying things, because frankly it is just depressing.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
You have to change your mindset a little. It is hard to get past thinking "Well, back in the States" because its a losing attitude. Even though the UK speaks the same language, the culture is not the same. It could be easy to get stuck in that mentality. Embrace the new culture, ride the initial wave of frustrations and eventually things will work out just fine.

Remember, do not expect your newly adopted home country to be like where you came from. You have to make the adjustment to the culture, not vice versa.

12. When and why did you start your blog?
We started the blog shortly after we moved to London. We wanted to share our travels and adventures adjusting to our new life in the UK with our friends and family. In the past five or six months though, we have decided to really build on it and dedicate more time to growing our readership. We have a lot of things we want to write about and share.

Blog LinkDrew & Julie's blog, Drive on the Left


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