Yep, I’ve decided that after almost 4 years in America I’m going to return/repatriate back to the UK. It’s not a decision I’ve made lightly, in fact it was a harder decision than the one I first made when I decided to start the US visa process and I’ve agonised over it for a long time. But I need to put my happiness and mental health first and I believe going home will increase those massively.
Disclosure: This post isn’t meant to offend America or the people that live there, it’s purely to show how I’ve struggled with the differences in culture and life. I know Americans that live in the UK and they struggle with similar problems there, so I’m by no means saying that the UK is a ‘better’ country. It all comes down to what you’ve been used to and of course everyone has different life experiences and that’s OK. People often associate living abroad as being glamorous or exciting and yes, sometimes it is and a lot of people love it, but there’s also plenty of people that do struggle with homesickness and culture shock and it’s not often spoken about.
Why I’m Repatriating
*I wrote this post after I booked my flight. That was before the poop show that 2020 has become had even started. If you had seen this post: Living Overseas: Yep I Had An Emotional Breakdown Thanks To The Coronavirus, you can imagine how hard it’s been. In all honesty, if I hadn’t been moving home (yes my flight has been cancelled twice already), I probably would have found it even harder to deal with what has been going on. It’s like one of my worst expat nightmares coming true. We had this false sense of security that we could always just get home if we had to. With border lockdowns and quarantines, many expats have been trapped abroad and can’t get home, even if they wanted to.*
The Quick Answer
For those that can’t be bothered to read the next 2000 words, here’s the quick answer. Imagine a triangle with a hierarchy of 3 basic emotional needs (ignoring things like health, food, shelter). What would yours be? I’d have thought mine would be similar to most peoples:
- Family of my own: This would be things like your relationship/partner, if you have kids, you’re own house/life etc
- Access to ‘Extended’ family: Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends etc.
- Feeling comfortable in your surroundings: Such as culture, safety, weather (no winters…), physical location.
Now when I look at my triangle, while I’m in the USA, I only have one of those ‘needs’ filled. Yes I still have my family and I can go home, but I’m in a reality where I have to say goodbye to them often, I don’t get to see them a lot, I miss milestones and events. I find it hard to deal with the culture, it’s different and strange to me, I don’t like the winters, therefore I feel more comfortable and like I fit in when I’m back home.
Having only 1 corner filled, leaves me with 2 empty corners. It’s tipped and balanced in the wrong way. I have more emptiness than what is filled. By being in the UK, I then have 2 corners filled and 1 empty…it pushes me into a balance that’s 66% filled instead of only 33%. Don’t get me wrong, losing that 1 corner, that we both worked so hard for, is by no means easy. In fact it’s extremely painful.
I’d imagine that most standard relationships have all 3 corners filled. I see it all around me. People that love their country, have their favourite places. Even those that have moved states, still have the same cultural celebrations, foods, stores, currency, language, they sound like they belong. They have their own families and yet they have their extended family fairly close by, within a driving distance, it’s ‘easy’ to meet up and spend time with these people. Have their support in times of need etc. I feel selfish for wanting it ‘all’. But so many people HAVE it all, or at least 2 corners, without even really thinking about it.
The Detailed Answer
I’ve made it no secret that I’ve struggled with expat life. I miss my family and home a crazy amount. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved exploring Iowa and the Midwest and visiting places I don’t think I would have ever seen or even known about as a British tourist, but I do believe that location has also played a big part in my depression.
I grew up just outside of London, England. I was used to having one of the world’s major cities right on my doorstep. It was convenient, the bands I loved always had London tour dates, the millions of ‘London’ airports satisfied my travel needs…to go from that, to a small town in the middle of nowhere was a huge shock. I’m 3 and a half hours away from the nearest major city and international airport. I’m 30 minutes from the nearest shops and doctors! I don’t like having to get in the car to do everything, I miss just being able to walk or catch public transport. Maybe I’m just spoilt or privileged to have had that, but when you know you could still potentially have that again, it does make it hard adapting.
The weather is a huge factor. Massively. I always suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), where I’d get depressed in the winter, but in America it’s unbearable. The cold makes me miserable (-50c is not fun) and hurts my face and skin and driving in the snow gives me anxiety. It seems like winter starts in November and goes all the way to April. Every time I arrange something during winter the weather is then extra bad so I have to cancel and then I get disappointed.
I see other expats living in other areas of the country and they are like ‘yay we love the weather in America, we’re never going home! UK weather is miserable!’. I’m sure I’d be feeling the same if I was living in year round summer because it WOULD be an improvement compared to the UK. But winter in the Midwest is so much worse. I’m not used to the snow or the cold temperatures and I struggle.
Cultural differences are another big one. I’ve often clashed with people for not having the same opinion. I’ve been told I’m wrong and if I don’t like it then I should go home, so guess what? I am. The gun culture is just ridiculous and scary, no child should be made to do lock down drills at school in case a gunman decides to come in and shoot up the school for example. Yet a large majority of the population thinks guns stop guns. Fight violence with violence.
The way people seem to wear their ‘Driving Under the Influence’ badges with pride because they have ‘no other option’ if they want a drink. Here’s an idea, have a Coke and be a responsible grown up. I don’t drink and drive but I don’t want someone else’s poor choices potentially killing me.
And don’t even get me started on healthcare. So much of my wage goes on health insurance that I don’t even use, and yet for a while it was something you HAD to have, otherwise you’d get fined. It feels like I’m just burning money. The amount that I waste in health insurance could buy me the equivalent of around 6 or 7 RETURN flights between England and America ANNUALLY. If I ever got sick or injured there’s then a bill on top of those insurance premiums. In all honesty I’m terrified of something happening to me and then I wouldn’t even be able to afford to visit home. When I first moved here, an insurance broker even went as far to say ‘never get pregnant on this insurance plan, if you want to, I’d highly advise you getting a different plan first because it’ll cost you a fortune’…that plan was costing me $300 a month.
I miss British food. I can get some things in the States but sometimes you just crave the things you can’t have. British food is sometimes described as bland, sounds appetising right? But my body hasn’t really adapted well to American food, it often just makes me feel bleugh. Things don’t need to be brightly coloured or full of additives or sugar and for some reason I can’t drink milk here but I can back home.
Of course I miss my family and friends. It’s hard being away from them, missing out on spending time with people, births, milestones, celebrations. In the Midwest family culture is huge and an important thing to many people. For me, that doesn’t have any of my blood family around can often just make me feel worse or alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love the people that have included me here but sometimes you just want/need your own relatives too. When I’m feeling sick or need help or support, it’s always those back home I feel the need to turn to, however that doesn’t always work when you factor in time differences. I can’t just jump on a plane last minute to go and see them, well I could, it’d just cost me a fortune. I couldn’t even go home for Christmas because the flight prices were so expensive.
I Feel Like I’ve Failed
I do honestly feel like I’ve failed. But I shouldn’t think like that. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to risk everything, pack up your life into a suitcase, say goodbye to everything you know and move to the other side of the world. That alone is a huge achievement.
But ultimately my decision effects and hurts a second person and that alone made me feel like a selfish monster. It’s not easy to walk away from something we worked so hard for. I feel sad that we’ve had to deal with challenges, such as immigration, that most couples don’t have to even think about. The fact that we can’t just both live in the same country easily. If I leave, I can’t just come back. I give up my right to a Green Card and if I was to return, I’d have to go through the process again. If my partner wanted to come to England, we’d then have to go through the UK visa process. For ages I’ve carried a lot of guilt. Guilt that I just couldn’t settle and that I’ve put a huge pressure on our relationship. I’m sad for us both. It seems cruel that in a different ‘world’, if we were the same nationality, our relationship could have been easy.
Believe me I gave life in America 110%, I had a job interview the day I landed, I’ve built up this website to the point where it can pay for a flight home in profits, I’ve had some great opportunities. But it just wasn’t enough. It has felt like a huge part of me is missing and while I’m living in America, that hole can’t be filled. I feel empty. You can take the girl out of England but you can’t take England out of the girl. My health has suffered to the point where my hair fell out for 5 months through stress. I want to be able to blend in again and not stand out like a sore thumb. No one likes to feel as if they’ve failed at something.
I came over hoping that eventually I’d settle in and I’d get used to a new life and be able to adapt. Maybe I just held on too much to my ‘old’ life for that to happen. Or maybe I’m just making excuses for myself and it’s actually OK to admit that I’m not OK and life in another country just isn’t for me. A prime example that shows that I’m not quite alone in my thoughts, is the recent situation with Meghan and Harry…yes I don’t have press hounding me all the time, but she didn’t like living in England and had the guts to move back to a country where she was comfortable. People argue that she knew what she was getting into when she married a Prince, but then I knew what I was getting into when I married someone that had a different nationality to my own. I’m sure their decision was even harder than mine when it potentially meant dividing the Royal Family. Sometimes your best intentions don’t always work out. That’s life unfortunately.
People often argue the expat vs immigrant debate, thinking it’s a class thing because ‘privileged white people’ are considered expats and everyone else is an immigrant. I entered the States on an immigrant visa, that was stressful, cost an absolute fortune and yet Green Card holders are constantly threatened with ‘we’re going to take it away from you if you do this, this, this, this, this, this etc’, the rules are constantly changing and it’s scaring people into getting citizenship, just so they don’t get deported. I don’t have the same rights as an American citizen, I’m kinda just treated as a tax paying monkey.
Despite being on an immigrant visa I’ve always considered myself as an expat. An immigrant emigrates to another country, usually with permanent intentions. An expat is someone that lives outside of the country of their nationality. I’ll always be a Brit, I have a British passport, I was born in the UK. I moved with the intention that the UK would still be in my future, I was honest from the start of this journey and that me moving to America was just what needed to be done at this particular stage in my life. In my mind, it was always temporary. I just didn’t know if temporary was going to be 5yrs, 10yrs, 15yrs. Luckily I’m in a position where this is an option. Not all immigrants have the choice to return home.
I’m not saying the UK is perfect. It’s far from it. It’s going to be hard leaving people behind, repatriating, going back to dealing with endless traffic jams and small houses. As another fellow British expat recently said, “America has a better standard of living, but the UK has a better quality of life”. I trust my gut that this is the right thing for me to do for my mental wellbeing and I hope people respect my decision because I’ve honestly been beating myself up over it for a long time.