My Expat Experience, Two

Posted in SummerMy Expat Experience
My Expat Experience, Two

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After all the kind words, comments and encouragement from the first {and excruciatingly painful} installment of my expat series, it gave me the courage to keep writing and being as transparent as possible. This post, however, I am especially nervous about. I thought the first one would receive backlash, but this one really opens up about things that not only affects me, but also shares details about friendships I have fostered ever so delicately. Let me just preface that this is more of just a generalized view of what I’ve experienced. Obviously, people make places and there are some wonderful friendships I’ve made since being out here and I am even comfortable with considering them as family. Another thing to note is that this is by no means an essay about how Americans are smarter, better, et cetera in any way. If you take the time to actually read this post, you will notice that it’s all a learning experience—so please read before passing judgement, leaving a rude comment or getting angry.

I’m splitting this post into two separate posts because I think they go hand-in-hand. First, the British vs. American differences {what you will read today} and then my experience with the Indian community in the UK. I thought it was important to speak of the two mostly because growing up I resonated with being Indian {I had a strong cultural upbringing}. Later, as I developed my career goals {that were very government focused} I strongly associated myself as being American yet still not losing sight of my culture and still practicing it daily. I was traveling more, developing opinions, formulating my career path {that didn’t include the UK at all}—I saw myself as first American and then Indian. Does that make sense?

My Expat Experience, Two
My Expat Experience, Two

British vs. American

You see, when I first arrived to the UK and even before that when I flirted with the idea of moving, I didn’t think much of the cultural exchanges. We speak the same language, right? Considering US history, I just assumed the British were more polite and eloquent and honestly… usually they are. Since moving I found myself mostly surrounded by expats and just assumed London, being that it’s cosmopolitan, barely consisted of British people. We often bonded over little Britishisms that would pester or weird us out. Let me explain that when I talk about cultural differences, I don’t mean the Brits grew up with a TV show that I don’t know. I mean that there are disparate nuances to everyday life that has really made my time settling in almost impossible. As I mentioned in my first post, I didn’t move here with a significant other or with family already here, I moved completely on my own—so my senses picked up even on the little things. These experiences are purely work-related, though some of it could be applied to my daily life. So here it goes…

Work-Life Balance and Career Goals

I moved for work, have always been very ambitious, and most definitely was always surrounded by incredible people. I have friends in America who are running for office, graduated from Harvard Law School, are inventing and curing things, many named Forbes’ 30 under 30 and the list goes on. If there is one thing I am boasting about, it is that my American friends are actually the most impressive people I have ever met. When I walked into a UK-based corporate office the first day in August 2014 and through even today, the most differences I have ever seen was in the work place. I guess I was always fueled with the notion of the American dream; if you work hard, you will definitely succeed—Americans tend to thrive off of that and continue to push always thinking that what they are doing is not enough.

I’ve met British people who still currently work in an office, are freelance, made the transition from office to freelance and even transitioned from a corporate to a creative job. I’m impressed by all the different types of people I’ve met, but I found that most of the people I met—both in office and elsewhere—were mostly either apathetic towards or expressed defeat by their work. I went through a phase when I started my consultancy where I sought ambitious, powerful people who I would see as role models. I met one person after the next and it just felt as if most of the people I was meeting were struggling more than thriving—the office folks were driven by being able to finance their next holiday and the freelancers were completely distraught over building their business and associated success with luck and privilege. I came from a strong government background with two incredible degrees under my belt and I questioned myself for being naive because in my mid-20s {my age at that time}, I always assumed you should work towards bigger things and that success came from a diligent plan and hard work. I never had even considered things like race, gender, social status as a barrier, but it was very interesting, albeit disheartening, to hear about these things being key issues at the forefront of why people didn’t feel like they were succeeding. For that point, I do commend my fellow British bloggers for persevering through barriers and educating their readers and each other about the status quo. Today, I’ve had active conversations with British colleagues and friends who are speaking about barriers and success. With my American solution-based approach, I do feel as if I have a strong foundation for devising creative avenues in my own business and just hope that I can help inspire movements.

My Expat Experience, Two
My Expat Experience, Two

Feeling Displaced

You walk into a cafe and you’re sitting alone at a table. You look over and notice there is someone right across from you doing the same. Do you eventually speak to them, or no? I bet most of the Americans here would say that they would make eye contact and say hello at the least. British people will most definitely not answer this question in the comments {don’t mean that in a rude way at all} and in the situation would maybe stir in their seat and not make eye contact at any point in time. Neither approach is a bad thing, just culturally different approaches to an everyday situation. {Let me plug in again, this is a fairly generalized view.}

One thing that I do believe I’ve wasted most of my time on since operating a business with colleagues and clients is trying to navigate the passive aggressiveness. When first getting here and trying to navigate the corporate sector and the blog industry, it felt very much like “you can’t sit with us.” When it came to networking, people stood me up. When I ask for advice, they squirm. When I offer to do something for them, they don’t seem the slightest interested or grateful—yet want it anyway. It’s all very difficult to read, really.

Right before I get let down, I do get really excited and am extremely grateful, but the second I get let down—the self consciousness sets in. I am placed on this platform that makes me feel as if I’m ‘too keen’ or ‘overwhelming,’ and thus, I feel displaced and as if I don’t belong. That lack of communication used to cost me a lot of time, energy and client deals—and so I started training and operating my business as any American would {just because it was the only thing I knew} and found my career moving positively in directions that seems unexplainable.

Yes, I do personally think the lack of communication, passive aggressiveness, and resulting displacement is an issue that affected my mental health the most with the transition and the move. For my own sanity, however, I was forced to navigate that and actually learnt a thing or two from the British. About 8 months after moving to London, my blog content was becoming more and more exotic for my American friends and family back home and thus they thought it was a “successful blog.” I had an acquaintance-like friend from my undergrad university days reach out to me asking if she could “pick my brain” about blogging. So I scheduled a Skype call that was about an hour or so long. In the end, she was excited for and motivated to pursue the idea she had conceptualized and quasi-pitched to me. When I checked in online after about a month, I noticed that not much progress had been made and even several weeks and months thereafter the concept was at a stalemate position. Take this single situation and multiply it by about 8. I had spent 8 hours of my own time writing and speaking to people who I think pretty much wasted my time.

The British have taught me to think about my wellbeing as well as helping people. So today, when I get such messages, I usually have a canned response until their question or situation is at a unique situation where I am able to properly determine if it’s worth both of our time.

My Expat Experience, Two
My Expat Experience, Two
My Expat Experience, Two

Everything Feels Bureaucratic

Everything is such a process here with rules and regulations, which is fine, but when it comes to times of critical thinking—no one gets it. I was returning an item at the store yesterday and didn’t have a gift receipt. When I told the woman it was something I don’t need or want and didn’t have a gift receipt for it, she felt overwhelmed and told me that returns could only be made with a receipt. So I told her that I was fine with a store credit and she had this lengthy one-way conversation with me about how it had to be a faulty item and she’s concerned that she wouldn’t be able to give a full refund and even if I got a gift card, I would only get a “lowest possible rate.” This monologue of hers went on for no less than 5 minutes. At the end I simply said, “I don’t need it and I don’t care about how much I get back in store credit. If I don’t get store credit, then you can still have the item. I really just don’t care and don’t want the product.” She still brought the manager over who reiterated the sales woman’s monologues and ultimately gave me a store credit for the full price of the item. I can cross apply these exact situations when it comes to ordering food, sending a parcel, receiving a parcel, registering for bills. It’s all such a process that I don’t mind following, but the second you hit a curveball, people just freeze.

The one thing I really got out of the bureaucracy was patience. Lots of patience. It really tests your nerves, but I also realized how greatly I have learnt to critically analyze and adapt so swiftly and with ease.

Though the differences have made adapting to life out here very difficult, it has been a process and it taught me to grow. That American expat life in London sounds glamorous, but the intricacies and nuances that are thrown at you on a daily basis almost doesn’t make it completely worth it, but when people ask me “would you ever move back to America?” I always say no and when they give me a quizzical look, “why be a fish in a sea when you can be a shark in the pond?” What have we learnt from this? Adapt, but never change. Be yourself and you will always succeed.

My Expat Experience, Two