photo credit: Arlene Amitirigala

Lower Your Expectations!

Moving to a new country is exciting. At the beginning there is so much to discover and, if you move to a city like London, every day is a beginning. Even after three plus years I had barely scratched the surface. But what was it like settling in?  

Firstly, and I write this with a lot of love for Old Blighty, it wasn’t particularly smooth settling into #Londonlife. There were a few key factors. Distances seemed short on the map, but I soon learned that a 5km journey can take you the better part of an hour. As a family we ended up commuting in different directions to work and school which was added stress.  

Secondly, coming from the US, there was more bureaucracy than I had anticipated in getting services going. The two-week wait for a telephone call and then further wait for an in-branch appointment to open a bank account was incomprehensible. There were lengthy telephone interviews with service providers to sign up for gas/electricity. Getting internet service was challenging. I paid for service with one provider who later admitted that they didn’t have capacity (which they failed to tell me at the outset) and offered me a negligible discount while they took six weeks to iron out the kinks! We ended up switching providers. 

Thirdly, my experience with landlords hit an all-time low. Cleaning standards, ethical standards and adherence to safety were disappointing. We ended up moving after the first year and then had our lives upended again the following year when the second landlord decided to sell the house. We lived in three different places. When we were packing up to leave the last place, my son confessed, “Mom, moving is stressful. When we move, I don’t know where anything is!” I agreed. It was a lot of adjusting.  

When I consider what would have made things smoother, the key thing that comes to mind is … lowering my expectations.

The customer service-oriented nature of the US, the immediacy and accessibility of certain services there, the ease of operating with landlords and the option for my children to attend ‘A’-rated schools meant that I was accustomed to a different standard in various areas. This is not to suggest that in some areas the UK didn’t have comparable or better services, but the truth is that at the outset, I found things to be bureaucratic and time-consuming.  

I will say however, that there were many things that made a positive difference at the outset and helped us feel settled and happy, despite the challenges. In fact, we had an outstanding first summer! Some of these were: 

  • We chose a great primary school in Richmond that had an extremely caring environment. They allowed the kids to join in June even though there was only a month left in the school year so they both participated in the end of year show. 
  • My husband took two weeks off from work when we arrived so that he could support the kids in settling into the new environment  
  • We connected with folks we knew who had grown up in London or lived in the UK for a while. They were kind and generous in hosting us, giving advice and sharing valuable perspectives.  
  • My friend Jennifer visited London that summer with her family. It was the best feeling ever to see familiar faces from home and to introduce them to our new lives.  
  • As a family we were very open with each other. We checked in on how we were feeling, what was challenging and how we could support each other.  
  • We created an itinerary and explored each weekend, seizing the opportunity to do things only available in this magnificent city. Highly recommend this useful book of walking tours around London – Walk London from Pitkin publishing: https://www.mapsworldwide.com/maps-charts-atlases-c1811/walking-hiking-maps-c1814/walk-london-p31043  Another great book is Watching the English by Kate Fox.    

I’ll wrap up with my best advice – if you are moving countries, go ahead and do all the research and all the preparation that you possibly can. Absolutely aim to get the schooling and the housing right. But after that, take a deep breath and simply lower your expectations. It will save you a lot of stress.  

Tell me what resonated with you. In an upcoming blog in the series Navigating Change, I’ll share my experience and views on schooling.  

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2020. All Rights Reserved.

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