My First Year as an Expat

My First Year as an Expat 

A British expat looks back on her first year of living in Austin, Texas

By Caroline Carpenter

Published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 19 | July/August 2015

CarolineCarpenterA few years ago in England around the New Year months there were many television programs about emigrating; I would watch them intently with envy at the families starting a new life abroad and I remember thinking how fun and exciting it all seemed. One summer’s evening in 2013 my husband received a work call that would change all of our lives more than we could ever imagine.

“Fancy moving to America?” he asked. I instantly said a massive yes.

By November that same year, the location had been narrowed to Tampa, Florida or Austin, Texas. One morning my husband and I arrived child-free at London Gatwick airport for our flight to Tampa, Florida. We spent a few days with a realtor, enjoying the sights of St. Petersburg and viewing some beautiful homes and neighborhoods; then it was off to Austin and, unknown to us, we arrived on Formula One weekend and the Texas Longhorns were playing at home. Suffice it to say that downtown Austin was completely buzzing, like any major city on New Years eve at midnight.

In early 2014, we found out that our new home was to be Austin, so after months of looking at houses and schools on the Internet we flew again child-free to the Austin suburbs to choose a house and look at some schools. I remember feeling so awakened, intrigued and full of positive energy at this new life hurtling towards us. We signed a lease on a house, enrolled our eldest daughter in a nearby school and flew back home with the news we had a moving date… or was that a leaving date?

In between all this excitement were the tedious tasks which needed to be adhered to, such as applying for visas and visiting the U.S. embassy in London, searching for U.K. tenants, canceling utilities and insurances, handing in my notice at work, informing the children’s school, organizing an international removal company to ship our belongings, booking a pet relocation company to transport the cats to the airport and finally packing up and emptying our house.

The goodbyes were one enormous emotional rollercoaster which intensified the nearer we got to our leaving date; there were many dinners, hugs and tears for weeks before the move. I knew it was important to spend time ensuring friends and family we’d take advantage of technological communications to help us all keep in touch, yet still at this stage I did not anticipate the force of my homesickness, which was not too far in the distant future.

On March 13th, 2014 my husband and I, our two daughters – then 4- and 7-years old – and our two cats all arrived at London Heathrow airport. We enjoyed our last full English breakfast for a while and boarded one of the first flights direct from London to Austin. I have to say, there is nothing more surreal than flying out of your home country knowing you have no return tickets. Within that first month in the U.S. I drove on the right-hand side of the road for the first time ever, our eldest daughter started at her new school, our youngest daughter began at her new pre-school, my parents flew over for a two-week vacation, our shipment arrived from England, I learned where the local grocery store, pharmacy, dentist, doctor, gas station, and shopping malls were, all while unpacking, finalizing paperwork from the move and navigating my way around a new house, neighborhood and accents, and learning a new currency and culture.

READ MORE from this issue of Global Living Magazine

Those first six months were such a whirlwind. My major struggle was getting used to the driving, and culture shock completely caught me off guard. I had no idea every single thing about life here was in some way different to home, which became frustrating on many an occasion. We were ‘warned’ Austin had hot summers but, to be honest, after years of, in my opinion, terrible weather in England, we mostly enjoyed the Austin weather, though occasionally it became uncomfortably hot but, overall, we all embraced the heat.

After six months had passed, I had survived the 12-week school summer break knowing hardly anyone. We squeezed in a trip back to England and, now that both children were at school, I felt I had adapted so much that I felt physically settled, but not emotionally settled. I struggled with homesickness sporadically, but I just couldn’t shake off this feeling that something was missing, so I went online and found some British girls who lived in Austin. I met with them for coffee and it felt like the missing piece of the puzzle had been found; hearing the familiar accent and discussing our similar experiences were priceless to me.

It has been just over 12 months since we moved to Austin, and I have people I would call good friends; both children are settled at school, video-messaging U.K. friends and family feels more enjoyable (whereas it used to feel like a poor second best), and life now feels like ‘our new normal’. We have also introduced an English Springer puppy into the family, and I have enrolled in a professional photography course, which may one day turn into a new career opportunity for me.

Now that the first year has passed, I feel we can finally look ahead and see the future clearer. Previously I felt we were living day-to-day, enjoying ourselves but with no real thoughts as to what was next. Now that we know we are here for a few more years, we love watching the children discover this new world. Knowing that opportunities are all around for my family is an inspiring and life-changing place to be.

For more on Caroline’s expat adventures in Austin, Texas, visit her website, www.expataustinmum.com

[Images courtesy of Caroline Carpenter]

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