An Expat Chat

on March 8, 2017

I’ve been reflecting on expat life quite a bit lately. Fellow blogger Rachel from A Nesting Nomad is about to start her expat journey (from the UK to Australia!) and I recently answered some questions for her about expat life that got me into this little reflective mode. So when I stumbled across a list of Expat questions from Sandra, a Swissย expat in Boston, I thought I would give it a go! I realized that I don’t actually write about “expat life” in particular very much on here, even though it’s really underlying every experience I have in this country. So… maybe you will learn something new about me, and what it’s like to be an expat!

And I would love it if any fellow expat readers, or readers living away from their home state, would give it a go as well! Change the questions as much as you like but consider yourself tagged ๐Ÿ™‚

1.Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born near San Fransisco, California. At 6 months old my parents took me on a road trip across the continental United States to what I nowย refer to as my home state of Michigan! ย I also lived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts as a child, I went to collegeย in Ohio, I studied abroad in Exeter, England for a year, and I’m currently based in Plymouth, England, where I’ve been for the last two years.

2. What made you leave your home country?

Primarily, a desire to live abroad, travel, see the world and meet new people! But if you’re looking for a more practical answer… I’m currently doing my MSc and not to mention it’s convenient to live in the same country as my boyfriend.

3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you areย from?

Lately people have been surprised, as for some bizarre reason people have been thinking I’m Irish. (How?! We may never know). Other than that,ย people ask me about Trump. Or about USย healthcare. Or USย serving sizes. One person asked “if it was true that all Americans are fat,” to which I was like, hello, it’s me, the American you are asking this question to……

4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?

I love the transport in the UK – it’s so easy to get anywhere without a car, and to travel within Europe as well. I like the mild weather (coming from a lake effect state) as well. And I love how much more accessible gluten free food is.

I found it difficult when I first moved here because the people are much more reserved, but I’ve since gotten used to that! I actually enjoy being seen as the outgoing American because back home I am usually not the loudest one in the group. Another hard thing lately is thatย I’m sick of people asking me about Trump and the USA election and just generally being more aware of some pretty bad American stereotypes. But I do enjoy being an ambassador for more than half of the USA ๐Ÿ˜‰

5. Images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience youโ€™ve had so far.

“You alright?”

UGH. British people always say this, which for a long, long, long time I literally took as “You alright?” (as you would?!?) and would carry on and tell them exactly how I was doing and feeling. Well, it turns out that in the UK, “You alright?” is basically the same thing as a casual American “‘Sup,” to which you’re supposed to respond either with a cool-girl nod, or answer back “You alright”… which doesn’t make any sense??? I’ve been here for 3 years and I still can’t get it.

Other than that, I’d say the sound of sea gulls cawing, the patter of rain, the smell of sea air, the yellow grass of moors, the red city bricks, the bright orange train tickets… I could go on ๐Ÿ™‚

6. Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?

It turns out I’m a marmite lover. Also scones, clotted cream, cider, lemon drizzle cake, cheesy chips… I’ve gradually adjusted to the whole baked beans and mushrooms with breakfast thing as well.

7. Whatโ€™s the one thing you said โ€œyesโ€ to in your new city that you wouldnโ€™t say โ€œyesโ€ to, back home?

Probably… everything. I’ve done a lot of random things to meet people like playing squash, dog-walking for strangers, meeting up with friends of friends of friends, things like that which I would have said “no” to at home because I already had friends.

8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you cannot stand?

I cannot bear the Plymouth accent. I really cannot. Growing up in the USA we all fell in love with the poshest of British accents (think Colin Firth) and were led to believe all Brits sound the same… this is NOT the case and my ears are now attuned enough that I can spot a Plymouthianย accent from a mile away.

9. What do you enjoy doing most in your new country?

I love the nature… walking on the moors or the southwest coastal path, or just going down to the beach or oceanfront. There are dogs everywhere, it’s great. I also love going for afternoon tea/coffee or going for a cheeky pint of cider. In my experience there’s much less of a casual drink/pub culture back in the USA than there is here.

10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?

I get this question a lot! I don’t like to say anything “for good”… I recently listened to a Hidden Brain podcastย about how we should treat our life plans like design problems… where there are many, many solutions to one “problem,” so then no matter how our life ends up we are happy! I also think the concept of “home” becomes complicated as you get older, especially after being an expat. Is home where you were born? Where you grew up? Where your family is? Where your most formative experiences have been? Where your friends are? They are often not one and the same. For me the concept is more muddled than it used to be, but I still definitely consider Michigan home as most of my family is still there. My UK visa does expire this year, though, so we will just have to wait and see what happens!

 

Thanks to Sandra from Going Americanย for this great list of questions ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d love to hear from my fellow expat bloggy friends what your experiences have been. Please leave me a comment or do your own post and let me know about it!

Sarah xx

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EXPAT TAG QUESTIONS:

  1. Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
  2. What made you leave your home country?
  3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you areย from?
  4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?
  5. Images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience youโ€™ve had so far.
  6. Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?
  7. Whatโ€™s the one thing you said โ€œyesโ€ to in your new city that you wouldnโ€™t say โ€œyesโ€ to, back home?
  8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you cannot stand?
  9. What do you enjoy most doing in your new country?
  10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?

I’m linking up withย Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of Thisย and Marcella of What a Wonderful Worldย for Wanderlust Wednesday!




I sit on the back porch with my Grandfather, drinking lemonade. It's the same porch from my childhood, but I'm different. And I have reverse culture shock.
  • interesting:)

  • Jen Isaac

    Oh man, the whole “you okay/alright” phenomenon will forever be a mystery to me as well! I always thought it was the Canadian equivalent to: “how are you this fine day” to which I’d respond “I’m great, how’re you?” It took me awhile to figure out why I was always getting weird looks :’)

    • Hahahah exactly. it took me a few times of spewing all my deep dark emotions to people, like “NO, how did you guess?? I’m NOT alright!!” and getting the subsequent baffled response to finally realize what it meant!

  • Yes to SO many of these things! Especially the “you alright?” part! I actually said that to a US publisher I was working with the other day and he was SO confused … he was like, “Yes, I’m fine … are YOU okay?” Haha!

  • This was interesting to me. My husband, kids and I are just starting the process of researching becoming expats. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do but we finally have the opportunity because his job has the potential of sending us overseas. We’re still 18 months-two years away from seriously starting the process of making it happen but I trying to glean every bit of advice I can get from those who are expats now. #wanderfulwednesday

    • What an adventure you have ahead of you! Have you narrowed down places where you might go? The visa process is a universal nightmare, but once you settle in, expat life is great! The best part is probably the wonderful international community you become a part of ๐Ÿ™‚

      • We’d love to end up somewhere in Europe but it depends on where my husband’s job sends us. We can list our top choices and then it’s up to them to decide. I’m definitely not looking forward to the visa process but that’s why we’re getting started now in researching what we need to do so we’re ready to get started when the time comes.

  • I adore these posts – they are a fascinating insight to an expat authoress!

    • Thanks for reading, Emma! I love it when people do this kind of post too… only because I am nosy haha

  • wherejogoes

    Glad you are a convert to the Devon scones! Thanks for sharing your expat experiences with #WanderfulWednesdays and your lovely photos, love the phonebox pic.

  • I’m an expat living in Scotland! I’m from Canada though but people always assume I’m American ๐Ÿ™‚ I love the concept of the questions… I think I might have to borrow them for a future post. Glad I found your blog #wanderfulwednesday

    • Hahah that’s how it always goes isn’t it! Often people mistake me for being Canadian… which I chalk up to the fact I grew up closer to Canada than much of the US so I have a weird mixed accent. But in all honesty, the Brits probably aren’t that attuned to our accents haha. Please do borrow, and let me know when you post, I’d love to read!

  • I absolutely loved this Q&A!! Honestly don’t know how to even begin answering half of these questions but I totally want to do something similar to this too. Thanks for tagging ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I found it interesting that we have very similar “birth stories” (for lack of a better term) in that you were born in a different state and moved at 6 mos to your home state – I did the same (AK -> WA) so I still feel Alaskan in some way even though I never considered it my home. Very fun way to get to know you – I feel like I’ve got more background now (and yes I too am one of those nosy people that needs to know this stuff!)
    I’ve answered similar Q’s through expat interviews but it was awhlie ago so maybe I’ll try it again, see if anything’s changed :)) (thanks for tagging me, by the way!)

    • It’s weird, isn’t it? When I was little I’d always identify as being “Californian” to be different from my peers, but also because I couldn’t identify as a “born and bred Michigander.” I think it was only when I went to college and left Michigan that I really started feeling like a Michigander! It’s funny how the places we live, even for such a tiny amount of time, have a big impact on our lives!

  • Oh I found this one on Sandra’s blog and answered them as well. They’re great questions for making you really think about your motivations for moving and what you’ve encountered along the way! You’ve done lots of travelling it seems. #wanderfulwednesday

  • Love this and loved getting to learn more about you ๐Ÿ™‚ I totally agree with saying ‘yes’ to things that you never would have before – yes to that ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for the tag, I’m excited to answer these!

  • I loved reading this! I love reading about expat life. I think that one reason why I’ve connected with quite a few expat bloggers is because I feel like I can relate to them. Even though I am still living in the US, living in Hawaii, an island so far from home with its own unique culture, is very different from living in New York where I’m from. I also find myself more open to doing things where I will meet new people. If I was still in New York, I probably wouldn’t venture out so much because I already have my friends there.

    Also, I must have missed that you were born in San Francisco! My husband grew up not too far from there! Can’t wait to do my own post answering these questions.

    • Yes I was definitely thinking of you when I wrote this – like, this applies to more than just expats! Heading over to read your post now ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes I was ๐Ÿ™‚ We’ve been back quite a few times and I looove it there, but I think I would’ve been a different person if I’d grown up there instead of the Midwest aha

  • Love this post! Not to mention I can relate to SO much of it! (Even though we’re currently expats on different continents) … I get the same reactions when I tell people where I’m from. The typical Trump, McDonalds, Guns trio. I can also so relate to the “Are you alright?” question as I’ve worked with a lot of people from the UK. YES I’M FINE! hahaha ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Also! Thanks for tagging me! This is an interesting list of questions that I hope I can get to soon! ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Hahahah yesss. I think people in the UK ask less about McDonald’s because it is them who are obsessed with it… but defo the gun question, ALL the time. I can’t wait to read your post!!

  • Bryna | Dotted Line Travels

    Mmm marmite! I spent a couple years in the UK and love that stuff. Back home here in Canada though I get strange looks when I rave about it!

    • Yeah when I moved back to the US after my first year in the UK everyone thought I was a weirdo for loving marmite haha

  • I might try these questions out, thanks for the inspiration! I am another adopted Michigander [actually born in Texas] and though Taiwan has been home for 5 years, MI still feels like home in a lot of ways too. expat life is complicated!

    • Oooh yes Jamie please do! I’d love to read about your expat journey, esp. as a fellow Michigander!!

  • Such a great list of questions (and also another adopted Michigander here – yay for Traverse City!)

    • So many Michigander expats, who woulda guessed!! We’re all just trying to escape the snow, hahaha.

  • I really loved this post! I might have to borrow these questions someday ๐Ÿ™‚ as an expat it would be interesting to answer some of these. Although #2 is always such a hard question for me because it’s so complicated… ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Tracy McConnachie Collins

    I loved reading this! I have been an ex-pat 5 times and are about to make it a 6th! I have had a 20 year break in-between where I have been living in the land of my birth (the UK) though i still feel like an ex-pat here!!!! I wonder if I could answer each question 6 times? Its always different – I lived in the Uk then South Africa then France then Canada then Switzerland then Botswana – all so different with unique experiences …. I wonder what Australia holds!

    • WOW that is a lot of moving, but so many adventures!! It would be funny to compare all your different answers next to each other.

  • Two Blue Passports

    Truly enjoyed reading your take on expat life. I’m also currently living the same, but in Ireland. I completely agree about standing out in a crowd. I think being an expat gives you a confidence boost because you have an interesting story to tell. The concept of home is also something I’ve been struggling with and I like your approach. What is that TED talk? Would love to listen. xx Morgan

  • I really enjoyed reading this, Sarah. I’m originally from the US too and have been living in Malaysia for the past year, and I can also agree to so much of this. I’ve done things I never would have done back home just so I can make some friends. Luckily for me, people seem pretty friendly here. But it is kind of nice to be the interesting American person in a group :P, when I’m just a nobody back home! And yes, why does everyone ask about Trump… ugh!

    • Thanks for reading Anna ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s so interesting how there are so many universal themes to expat life – no matter where you’re from and have moved to!

  • Just discovered your blog through this expat tag ๐Ÿ™‚ I used to live in England too, but in London – I was there for 5.5 years and I just celebrated 5 years in Singapore yesterday. Eek! Plymouth, interesting pick, what brought you to Plymouth? Or should I stalk your blog? ๐Ÿ˜‰ The one thing I love about Singers is how easy it was to make friends here, it took me ages to find friends in London..! And well, I reckon another year in Singers and then possibly NZ next! My parents won’t be too thrilled as they’re practically demanding I go home (NYC). We’ll see…!

    • You’re a serial expat then, haha! Plymouth actually can be quite lovely – it’s really grown on me, especially after experiencing summer here by the sea! My MSc is a pretty uncommon one which is only offered at a few Unis, so I decided to come to Plymouth for it, and also because I know people in Exeter which is close by ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, I’ve definitely heard that it’s hard to meet people in London! Good luck with NZ, I have a good friend there now who LOVES it. I have no idea where I’ll end up next but would love to at least visit Oz/NZ in the next couple years!!

  • Sam @The Wanderlust Brunette

    I noticed you live in MI as do I girl! I found you in our Pinterest group! Ive come to the realization that MI will most likely be my home base for life and I am totally okay with that! I live just south of Detroit!

    • Yes I used to live in MI – for a long time! And that’s where a large portion of my family is still based so it definitely feels like home… despite the snow. Eeeeek I do not miss the cold weather haha. I’m from MSU territory ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Sam @The Wanderlust Brunette

        That is awesome. Yes, the snow! My husband likes to run away most of the winters which is 100% fine with me lol!

  • Some great questions! Haha I have to say I’m a big fan of scones as well! Especially with clotted cream ๐Ÿ™‚ And I’m also not a big fan of the Scottish accent (which is where I’m based), took me forever to just understand it haha. Also, I have been asked so many times if I’m Irish, which is so strange, but I think the North American English accent is derived mostly from Irish people so maybe that’s why?

  • Oui In France

    Fun post! I just wrote about questions I get from French people all the time and some are the same (are Americans all fat, Trump, healthcare, etc.) as well as the French being more reserved. I wasn’t the loudest or smiliest person back home in the US and here I think embody that American stereotype more.
    Also, I remember reading one of Sunny in London’s posts about “you alright?” and thinking it was so weird. Then I watched the British police show “Line of Duty” on Netflix and noticed they said it all the time!

  • This is so interesting! My cousin just moved back from spending 4 or so years over in England and I love hearing about these experiences.

  • Ooohhhh how did I miss this?? Oops sorry! Swinging in super late to say thanks for sharing this – you make some interesting observations about my home country! I never adjusted to baked beans with anything, even after 30 years, and you’re right about the you alright thing! I got thrown because here it translates to ‘how are you going?’ which I, too, used to answer literally when I first got here. Nope, the correct answer is ‘good thanks, you?’ to which you usually don’t hang around long enough to hear the answer to. Weird.

    I think one great thing about the UK is pubs. Whilst I’m not a fan of boozing type culture, there’s nothing like sitting in a beer garden with all your friends and a nice pint of cold cider on a hot sunny day!

  • I’m a Brit living in Seoul and it’s so funny to hear about Britain from an expat’s perspective. I still can’t get my head around ‘you alright?’ and just answer truthfully! I might steal these questions! Great post!

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