Life As An Expat: Working Through A Move

Life in the self employed or freelance lane can sure be difficult.

Aside from the stress that comes with running your own business (whether it's a personal business or managing work as a freelancer) there's the occasional whole outsider notion that you don't really "do" anything. As someone who has worked from home or on a flexible schedule for the last two years, I relate to this idea hugely. I work just as hard, if not sometimes harder, even if I am occassionally in my pajamas. Not only do I work with clients on writing, copywriting, and marketing work, but I also have a myriad of side projects. 

This blog is one of them. Another I'll be eager to share with you soon. Not to mention anything else that comes up that I can squeeze in on evenings and weekends. The truth is, I probably work more hours than I did at most of my full-time jobs, and sometimes with more stress.

But we already know the "woe is me" self-employment tale. Going it on your own is tough, that's no surprise.

But what about managing financials? That's challenging when you're self employed or employed by many as a contractor, but go through a big life change and it can get even more difficult.

My friend Jess brought this up on Instagram last week, and I was glad to read her post which spoke about financial worries. First of all, hurray for transparent conversations about money! It's not easy navigating the world as a contractor or a freelancer, and much less when actual life gets involved. 

See, Jess has had a difficult pregnancy that forced her to stop working with her freelance design clients earlier than expected. A problem, since she obviously won't have any sort of maternity leave once she has her baby. (This always shocked my friends in the U.K. – the fact that the U.S. lacks mandated maternity leave for women who are employed full time. Own a business? Work as a freelancer? Fuhgettaboutit. There's no safety net except for the one you've built for yourself.)

Jess's transparency inspired me to be honest about some of the stresses we've had surrounding our move, specifically surrounding work and finance. Here's a rundown:

As you likely know, my husband and I just moved from London to North Carolina after a long immigration process. (He's South African, so it's his first time living in the U.S. Cue paperwork.) During this process, he worked his full-time job in London while I worked freelance full time. I can (luckily!) do my job from anywhere, and so I've been able to continue my work with DesignGoodClementine Daily, and others in the process. This is something I'm endlessly thankful for, and it proved to be hugely helpful as we lived in limbo for over a year during the immigration process.

But the downside of flexible, remote work means that there's never any official time away from it. You can work anywhere, so why wouldn't you? What this means is that I've put in a full day's work almost every single day during our move. One day I was working per usual at our second floor flat, then I was working from a couch at an AirBnB, then a North London coffee shop, then my dad's dining room table, and now my mom's kitchen – boxes and suitcases surrounding me in each location.

This is my decision of course, as I could've taken more time off or even a small period of leave to focus on getting everything done that we needed to do. Aside from the fact that I love my work and didn't want to abandon it for a few weeks, we also – quite frankly – needed the money.

Living in London was expensive.

Living in an AirBnB for two weeks was expensive.

Our plane tickets were expensive.

The immigration process was expensive.

Our car insurance after living abroad is going to be expensive.

And now buying all of the things we need to get settled is expensive.

I want to keep working, and D is starting work as soon as possible. We want to maintain and contribute to our savings during this process, even if it means jumping in quickly and potentially losing some sanity in the meantime.

This is just a season in the life of a pricey, expat relationship. It's ours, and there are so many others out there like it. Because we met while living in two different countries and began an international long distance relationship, we've been paying for plane tickets and visa fees from the get-go.

Sometimes I find myself jealous of other expats who are moving for a job or a spouse's job, and therefore most likely have financial assistance from an employer. I know that comes with its downsides and that the grass is always greener, so I'm in no way implying that that is somehow an easier life. I'm just saying that the DIY version of working and moving abroad is expensive as heck.

So, how have we done this? Me, a freelance writer and digital marketing type, and my husband, the IT guy? We've been lucky enough to receive support from family, and otherwise are smart and tight with our money. That's meant slow shopping, cutting corners, and scrimping and saving for several months now. It's worked fine.

I see this changing as we get settled and learn to live in a more affordable place – and that's something that me and the grey hairs on my head are really looking forward to. When it comes to work, I've put passion over profit in many places – including this blog, which I receive no compensation for. I'm open to sponsored content but above all I want this blog to remain as genuine as possible which means that I can't ever see this becoming a place that pays my bills.

I'd like to show off our new home and do a big home tour, design blogger style, but unfortunately that won't happen right now. We're staying with family and are saving everything that we can until we can get a place of our own. No modern sofas or tips on shopping for a new space for this gal just yet. That'll all come in the future, but for now we just don't have the money.

Jess's confession about financial worry was refreshing, and hopefully this post about working through a move will feel the same. It's not easy, and it isn't for any of us regardless of where you live or how you're employed.

If you're a business owner, freelancer, or even work full time, I want to know about your experiences with working through a big life change and managing the financials of it all. How have you done it? Do you have as many grey hairs as I do?  Let me know either here on Instagram. I'd love to hear!


Life As An Expat: Things That Surprised Me About Living Abroad

It's been about ten days since we got back to the States. Do the math on that and you'll see that we arrived on the Fourth of July. An epic start to a new life if there ever was one, wouldn't you say?

We were in Atlanta for a few days seeing family, then made our way to North Carolina. We're now staying at my dear momma's house for a few months until we're ready (aka financially able) to buy a home. Big, awesome, really fun stuff is in the works, that's for sure. 

Not that enough time has passed since I returned to the States after living abroad to learn all I have to learn about the experience, but I've begun the process of reflecting on my life in London from the other side. Ten days in and looking back, there are several things that came as a total surprise to me about living abroad. Here are a few of them:

It Was An Instant Shot Of Perspective

Living in London for three years gave me an incredible, unexpected amount of perspective. That's something I gained a little bit when I moved from Atlanta to New York and spent many a late Sunday afternoon holding back tears at city-bound airport gates. I was in my early twenties and doing my regular return to the city and its nausea-inducing cab rides to the West Villlage or Brooklyn. The other end promised a dinner of cereal, peanut butter, and/or tortilla chips and a quick scan of The New York Times before heading to bed and getting up the next day for another big week of big city work. Do that for a few years, as many of us have, and you'll learn a thing or two about missing the ease of a life you know.

But living outside of your country for an extended period of time will show you things about yourself (and your country) that you never knew and never would've guessed you'd find out. It's almost like the three years I spent in London sped up any sort of quarter-life crisis I would've had at home. Living far away was a crash course in figuring out who I was, and I know it would've taken years for me to get to where I am now if I hadn't left home.

Yeah, perspective has been a bonus.

 

Feeling Like A Kid Again

And not in a good way. For all the perspective gained and personal growth that's done, one thing that always frustrated me in a maddening, eyes-spiked-with-tears kinda' way was the loss of the really everday knowledge that make you feel like an adult. I've mentioned before the frustration that comes with moving to a new country and not knowing any of the brands in a grocery store, not to mention which grocery store you should even go to.

It can be equally frustrating to live in a state of transition where simple questions like "What's your phone number?" leave you without much to say. More often than not, I find myself going into explanations about having just moved, changing numbers and addresses, etc. probably as some defense mechanism to prove to a total stranger that I'm usually more independent and better off than I am right now.

 

The Legitimate, High-Quality Friendships

Who would've thought that moving abroad would grant me access to such incredible friendships? Before I left, I didn't know about the "expat community" or really care to get involved but man, am I glad I did. These are your friends and allies, and the only people who will really understand what you're going through and will be eager to talk to you ad nauseam about visas. Since leaving home, I've made friends all over the world who I came to know in an instant, very real way purely because of our shared experience. Feeling vulnerable far away from home has a way of turning strangers into friends. It's pretty incredible.

 

Homesickness, And What It Becomes

This was something I struggled with more than I would've ever guessed. Living in London, I was homesick for my family, friends, climate, and scenery – not to mention any and everything American. Even the smallest things, like seeing an American brand or overhearing another North American accent on the street would make me feel so much better. As bad as it was, eventually it was something that I (and I'm assuming most folks who leave home) got used to. Even unusual situations start to feel normal after a while, and my experience with homesickness was no different. You get used to living your life away, and that's all there is to it.

But then – what's funny – is that when you do come back, no matter how much has changed at home, it'll feel like you never left at all. Life can change a lot in a few years, that's for sure, but it's also amazing how much stays the same. It's almost like you never even left.

 

Patriotism

It's a weird feeling to be elsewhere in the world and feel like, somehow, an entire country of people that you know back home may know you better than the community around you. It's a false feeling, of course, but it's one that I think most anyone who has left their home country even for a short while would recognize. This feeling gave me a strong, sturdy allegiance to my country. Of course it was always there, but I think patriotism and a love for where one comes from has a way of showing up the further you're away from it. You don't know what you got 'till it's gone, you know?

Anyway, I never would've thought I'd so thoroughly enjoy hearing The Star-Spangled Banner at a baseball game, but here I am.

There will be plenty more to say as time goes by, of course. Overall though, things are feeling pretty good. Comfortable, slower, friendlier. Just right, you know? I'll keep you guys posted – after all, it's just been over a week.

Oh – and if you've ever lived abroad or even thought about living abroad, I'd love to hear about your thoughts. This is an experience that's different for everyone so I'm eager to hear what others have to say on the topic. Let me know!



Life As An Expat: Say What?

The world of foreign spouses and long distance relationships isn't always as glamorous as it seems. 

You've got your time zone differences, the cost of international travel, visa issues, and the like. 

But this post got me thinking about one aspect of having a foreign spouse that's perhaps a little unexpected.

You see, Jaime wrote about the fact that she doesn't understand her husband half the time (he's a Brit, she's American). I relate in so many ways. D (who's South African) and I have daily conversations about the words pawn and porn – because mainly, when he says either word, he's saying the same word. The exact same word. You would be surprised at how often those words come up, so this is a constant topic for us.

Even when you take away the accents and the slang, in my three years in London I've found that there are still many ways that an English speaker can straight-up not understand another English speaker. Even the most everyday exchanges can be rough. It's funny because it's English – we are, quite literally, speaking the same language. 

And yet.

After the post, Jaime and I started talking about English to English translations with some other American expat pals. This led me to realize how much I actively change the way I speak when I'm in London in an effort to be understood. Here are a few of the main differences in the way I speak English in the UK vs. the US:

READING A PHONE NUMBER OUT LOUD

Phone numbers are written and spoken in different formats in different countries, and they can even be different lengths – that's obvious enough. But the cadence in which phone numbers are read in the UK is different from what I'm used to in the US and it makes me crazy self conscious anytime I'm asked to provide my phone number to the NHS, a utility company, whatever.

Rather than the xxX-XXx-xXXx cadence I'm used to, a phone number is read some other way here. What way is that? Three years in and I haven't a clue. Instead, I just read my phone number like a random list of 11 single digits: X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X and wait for it all to be over.

 

RESPONDING TO THE QUESTION "YOU ALRIGHT?"

This has a different meaning in the UK than it would in the States. The person asking you this "question" isn't really asking if you're ok. Instead, it's more of a rhetorical, "How are you?" This isn't a question poised as a concern about your well being – it's just a polite greeting.

When I first arrived in London, I used to respond along the lines of "Yeah, thanks. Why?" because I was concerned that I was coming across as down or depressed. Now I just awkwardly say "Yeahh...you?" and smile.

 

SPELLING MY LAST NAME OUT LOUD

Another issue I have with providing information about myself to people deals with spelling my name. My last name (surname) usually needs to be spelled if it's asked for. Instead of saying "R-E-E-T-zee" and even pulling out my mom's old "T as in Tom, Z as in zebra" – I now say "R-double E-T-zed" and haven't gotten a follow-up question since.

(Similarly, I make a point to spell my first name allowed as well, as RobIn is typically only used for males in the UK, while RobYn is the female version. Don't even get me started on the amount of mail [post] I've received addressed to "Mr. Robin Reetz".)

 

RECONSIDERING "CUTE":

In my experience in the UK, "cute" is generally referred to as something that's actually cute – like a baby, or a tiny thing. This differs from the American use of "cute" where the word is used for, quite frankly, anything.

I learned this after my first long-time contract job here when I referenced wanting to move to a neighborhood with a "cute High Street". My co-workers used to (lovingly, mind you) say "super cute!" after I responded to anything with enthusiasm because I said it in response to lots of things and no one else does that.

Except American expats.

 

THE MIGHTY EXCLAMATION POINT

Another thing that mainly only American expats do? Use exclamation points. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but in general email etiquette is far more formal and far less excited than it is in the States. In fact, most professional emails don't contain exclamation points – which came as a shock to me, considering I've always worked in the world of women's editorial. (Those people basically invented exclamation points.)

 

On that note, I'd love to hear your experiences with this – whether you're an English speaker who hails from somewhere other than the US, or if you're an American who struggles to give their phone number. What are your experiences with English-to-English mistranslations?


Suite Hazen

For one reason or another, expats tend to find each other. 

This is exciting in the same way that it was exciting when I first visited London with some girlfriends at age 18 and we came across some Americans in the area of London that I now know to be super touristy Paddington.

When we found out these Americans were from a town we'd never heard of in California, we just thought that was the coolest thing. What were the odds that some fellow Americanswould be in London at the same time as us?! (Turns out, pretty high.)

So while the feeling of hearing a familiar accent abroad doesn't quite thrill me the way that it once did, my new most exciting thing is finding others who survived the battle of long distance relationships and are now settled with their partners in one of their respective countries.

That's where my relationship with Lauren from Suite Hazen began. Lauren is from Canada, lived and worked in New York, and is now living in the UK. After a career in PR, she owns the beautiful Suite Hazen – an online shop that stocks designers like Monica Squitieri, Na Nin, Grace Lee, and more.

In honor of (or spite, depending on your preference) Valentine's Day, Lauren shared a few lovely shots of the newest pieces at Suite Hazen – 

Suite Hazen | Second Floor Flat

Gorgeous, right? Head over to Suite Hazen for all of the above. (I'm considering doing a little treat yo'self action with this, this, and these.)

 


Life As An Expat: A Changed Plan

I have a strong sense of self.

Though indecisiveness definitely doesn't escape me (As far as I'm concerned, "Thai or pizza?" is a rhetorical question), the big decisions have always felt clear. Once I decide what I want to do, I do it, and I stick with it.

This strong sense of self, the feeling of knowing where I stand, has come to be more and more in the recent handful of years, that's true. Age and all the rest.

But even so, I've always felt led by an inner compass.

Making big decisions and big moves and big changes doesn't scare me. I know, and maybe always have, that ultimately it's going to be ok. Whatever comes up, comes up, and I'll work it out as it comes.

This is why the decision I've made during the past few weeks has been hard for me. Really hard. I made a plan, I gave my word, and I'm not sticking to it. The very idea of that makes me feel unmoored and uncomfortable.

I'm wondering why my compass led my astray.

Here's the thing: I'm going back to London. Just for a bit.

I won't get into the details here because, you know, Internet, but there's been some delays with our plans. We found out about this a few weeks before I was scheduled to come to North Carolina but were hoping that something would pan out that would make the delay shorter, and therefore make our time apart more bearable.

That thing didn't pan out. It fell through. The plan failed. And now I'm going back – for a while. Though we can't be positive, it should be late spring or early summer before we'll both be able to come to North Carolina. We can't be apart for six months, and logistically it doesn't make sense for us to live in two countries for that long.

So I'm returning.

That's where we stand. D and I were both out of our minds with stress when we first found out about the delay. We've done three years of international long distance dating, followed by two and a half years of paperwork in London, and now this.

But it is what it is now. We're dealing with it as we go, learning, sharing our story with others, doing what we can and knowing that we will get to the point where we can have a house and a goddamn dog. (Is it so much to ask? Sometimes it feels like it is.)

I'll be in North Carolina through the end of January, then heading back to London. I'll get another chance to see the local dogs in our park, to go to pubs with friends, and to complain about the weather. I'll get another chance for all of it. 

And then.

And then we'll both come to the U.S. together in May or June, just in time for my niece's first birthday and the sweetest, sunniest months of the year.

I can't wait, though I will. As long as I need to.

And with that, maybe my compass is back on track after all.



Becoming Minimalist: Moving Tips

In case you're out of the loop, this dude and I are in the process of moving from London to the U.S.. And lord, is it a process.

I made the first leg of our move over the break – I'm currently in North Carolina, albeit temporarily since half of my life is still in London – and will be going back to finish everything up before we both settle, finally, this summer in Durham.

If you've ever lived between two countries then you're well-aware of the many difficulties involved. Like dealing with phone contracts, insurance plans, and carting paperwork across the ocean.

Since we'll be shipping most of our stuff over to North Carolina in the spring, when I came over last month for the holidays I brought little with me. Like, very little. Like one suitcase little. 

Last year I embraced a more minimalistic lifestyle which has helped me to no end in this move. When I was packing up just before the holidays, I found that the easiest part of my move rather than what once would've been the hardest was choosing what clothes and shoes to bring with me. Suddenly, putting "outfits" together seemed like the least important thing largely due to some prep work I'd done ahead of time.

Whether you're planning a move or are heading out on a long-haul holiday, here are a few minimalist moving tips to get you started on your packing:

1. Review each item individually

This is the first step in the process of packing like a minimalist. I'll be honest – this step is a lot of work, but it's also worth your time. To start, look at each item you plan to bring with you on your move. Taking the time to give each piece the attention that it deserves will help you to determine how much you like it or use it. If we're talking clothes, take every single item out of your closet – one by one. Think about the last time you wore the item, think about whether it's comfortable, and think about if you really want to wear it. Make sure you do the same thing with paperwork, old birthday cards, photos you printed at CVS in 2007, etc.

When I was working on this step, my mouth actually dropped open a few times. I can't even tell you how many magazine tear outs I brought along on my Brooklyn to London move in 2012. I also apparently took the time and, essentially, spent the money to move these tear outs throughout London without knowing I even had them in the first place.

Trust me – you won't believe some of the stuff you're holding on to. 

 

2. Give yourself some space

After you've gone through everything you plan to bring with you on your move, give yourself some time to let it all sink in. A month is ideal but if time doesn't allow, review all of your items again a few weeks or even days later. The idea here is to perform multiple edits, as there will be many items you don't want that you won't catch the first time around. 

'Scuse the wrinkles and fuzz!

3. Set a limit and stick to it

Because I made the unwise decision to fly an American airline when coming to North Carolina last month, I was limited to one piece of luggage in which to pack my temporary life. My winter-appropriate clothes and shoes, toiletries, paperwork, and Christmas gifts all had to fit in one measly bag. In the end, this limit helped me to pack in a much smarter, more conscious way.

And while I don't recommend flying the carrier I chose(I'm looking at you, United), I do recommend setting bag and box limits for your move. Once your set number of bags or boxes is filled, you're done. It sounds harsh but will help you become a better editor in the end.

 

4. Imagine yourself in your new environment

Remember: At some level, every single thing that you move will cost. Think long and hard about this before you pack those ZARA pants that don't really fit, the sneakers that rub your ankles, and those Christmas cards you got from your co-workers years ago. 

Imagine yourself on the other side of your move, when you open a box or piece of luggage and find these items. Do they really have a place in your new home? Will unpacking them bring you joy? If the answer is no, get rid of them before your move and save yourself some money, time, space, and – sometimes most importantly – mental clutter.

A few more thoughts on my experience with minimalism and moving:

It's almost as if in the mere act of getting rid of things, I found what I was really looking for.

All of those clothes, all that shopping, all that money, space, and time. I don't know what I was trying to fill by buying so much but I know that by slowing those actions I found whatever I was missing before, and found what I was looking for. 

 

Want more minimalism? Check out these posts: 

Why I'm Getting Rid Of One Thing, Every Day

What Happened When I Got Rid Of One Thing, Every Day

Thoughts On Mindful Shopping




Around London: Playing Tourist

Last month, my dad and stepmom came to London to visit for a few days. The day after they left, I woke up, made coffee, and sat down in our living room. My mind was quiet.

I couldn't remember the last time it had felt that way.

Maybe it was the last time I was with family, and everything easily dropped into perspective. Suddenly things like 'personal brand building' and my million other selfish obsessions didn't matter anymore. Because I realized what really mattered, and that’s being in a warm pub on a chilly night with parents and a husband, drinking beer and laughing over wrong orders.

We spent three days seeing London – scratch that – several parts of Southern England from top to bottom. Here's a look at what we saw, including shots from Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge:

If you celebrated, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with sweet family time and quiet minds. Let's all aim for more of that this holiday season.

Which, by the way, kind of, officially-ish starts today. Let the daily wishing-there-was-more-chocolate-in-the-Cadbury-advent-calendar routine begin.

Photos by D Watterson III