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An Interview with … SarahG

An Interview with … SarahG

"My husband had never been to the US before he met me, but ended up taking several vacations to America and we even had our honeymoon in California. I said, in passing, that it would be interesting to see if we could move to the US, but was not honestly expecting anything to come of it. We thought we’d give it a go, as we did not want to get further on in life and wonder 'What if?'"

Tell us a little about yourself and family.

I’m married with 2 kids ages 9 and 7. I’m originally from Scotland and my husband and kids are English. We moved to the US towards the end of 2009.

What were your reasons for moving to the USA?

We wanted a change and felt we were young enough to do it and basically thought “Why not?” Our kids were young enough to not be losing lifelong friends and had only just started school so we had no worries about GCSEs etc. I had spent a year as an Exchange Student in Michigan when I was 18 and enjoyed it so much I wanted to go back pretty much as soon as I arrived back in the UK. My husband had never been to the US before he met me, but ended up taking several vacations there and we even had our honeymoon in California. I said, in passing, that it would be interesting to see if we could move to the US but was not honestly expecting anything to come of it. We thought we’d give it a go, as we did not want to get further on in life and wonder “What if?

How long did the emigration process take?

All in it took about 4 years from when we started looking for jobs. Both my husband and I applied for jobs but he was the one who ended up getting an offer. We looked for jobs on sites like Monster.com and sent off speculative letters to companies that we had heard of and that, from research, had applied for work visas for non-US citizens before. It was 2007 when a company in Indiana agreed to sponsor us for H1B/H4 visas. We were not successful in 2007 or 2008 as the quota was met very quickly both years and we did not get through the lottery that they do when the quota is met that soon. We contacted the company again in January 2009 and they said they’d give it one more go, and in early May 2009 we learned we had been successful and that, pending interviews at the US Embassy in London, we would be moving to Indiana. My husband moved over at the start of October 2009 and I followed with our kids at the end of October.

In which state do you live?

Initially we were in Central Indiana, but in February this year we moved to the South Carolina coast as my husband got a new job and we had our visas transferred.

In your opinion what are the biggest cultural differences between the USA and the UK? (Perhaps things you were not prepared for, or were surprised about)

The biggest differences are that it is very difficult to walk anywhere, at least it is where we have lived. People drive everywhere and there is a drive thru for pretty much everything. We used to drive from East Anglia to Scotland to visit my family and never looked forward to the long drive up the M6 and it seemed to take forever. Since we have been in the US we have driven from Indiana to Florida, Georgia, Canada, New Orleans, north Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and we recently drove from South Carolina to Washington DC. People really don’t think anything about getting in their car and driving for 9 or 10 hours to go away for a weekend.

Another thing that does take some getting used to, even though you see it on TV, movies and even on the news, is the size of food portions. They are HUGE. When we go out we have on occasion got one kids meal and split it between our 2 kids and then my husband and I will share an entrée. If we don’t do that and get a meal each, we end up bringing most of it home again and having it for lunch the following day.

Also the amount of time the kids get off school for summer is a big adjustment. I had 6 weeks off when I was at school, my 2 kids have just gone back to school after 11 weeks off! They also start school at 7.40am and finish at 2.40pm, which is different to what I was used to.

What are the things you enjoy most about living in America?

Now we are in SC I like living close to the beach and the weather being warm. I was in Indiana for the ice storm of 2011 and that was awful! My kids go out in the neighborhood here on their bikes and they have lots of space to ride in. There are lots of activities for them to do. My 7yo daughter did cheerleading for 2 years and now wants to try some sports. I like that you can drive for a couple of hours and you can be somewhere that could almost be a different country.  We have had a lot of car problems here and we have always had a complete stranger come to our rescue.

Could you describe anything that you dislike about living in America?

Obviously healthcare is a major issue and the cost for it. Our daughter has kidney problems and needs to see a nephrologist every year and the costs pile up quickly. The hospital she went to in Indiana looked like a 5 star hotel and was very modern, but you’d expect it to for the price you paid. I used to walk to the local corner store when we lived in the UK and that is not so easy to do here. There is a CVS nearby us that I could walk to and I do sometimes but I get weird looks by people as I have to walk on the road as there is no path when you leave the sub-division we live in.

What do you miss most now you are not living in the UK?

Aside from family and friends the things I mainly miss are food. Proper chocolate. America I love you, really I do but your chocolate sucks! I think American “˜chocolate’ has a stale or bitter taste and as I’m allergic to plain chocolate I usually resort to going to World Market or asking for “˜care packages’ to be sent to us. I also miss sausages and proper bacon. TV channels with no commercials do not exist here but you do get a lot of opportunity to have bathroom breaks and make cups of tea. Although this is something NBC need to work on when they show the next Olympics.

How badly, if at all has homesickness affected you?

I got a little homesick around Christmas the first year here but it’s not been too bad for me. Skype helps as well as Facebook and email. I also have my blog which I set up to keep our families up to date with what my kids are up to and where we go on vacation etc. I also post videos of the kids to YouTube so their grandparents and other family members can hear their accents changing. The fact that I left Scotland at 18 and did not return there to live has helped me settle here. I have lived away from my family for half of my life and I am more used to living away from them that I am with them. I’m a novelty when I go back to see them so they are generally pleased to see me. I saw my parents and brother about once a year when I lived in England and it will be around the same now we are in the US, although it may stretch to every 2 years.

How easy was it for your husband to find?

My husband works and I think he has probably been very lucky with his work situation. He got his initial job in Indiana quite quickly and when it became clear those employers could not go down the permanent resident (Green Card) route for us, we knew we’d have to find another job for him. He found his current position quite quickly and the visa transfer was straight forward. Hopefully I will have similar luck when I start looking for work when we finally get Green Cards.

How easy was it to enroll your children in a new school?

It was very easy to enroll them in school. All we had to do was prove we lived in the boundary for the school and show passports, visas, lease, utility bill and birth certificates. It took about 10 minutes to register both kids at both of the schools they have gone to.

How does the education system differ from the UK?

They do start school later here and although my son had started school in England when he was 4 he ended up in Kindergarten in Indiana as he was struggling to keep up with the work. I posted about his being moved from 1st Grade to Kindergarten on BE here –  http://britishexpats.com/forum/showthread.php?t=643985

Luckily when we moved to South Carolina in the middle of the school year, their new school was doing the same stuff as they had been doing in Indiana, and both my son and daughter were familiar with the worksheets and books being used.

Have your children settled?

My kids have settled very well. They were 6 and 4 when we moved to America and made friends quickly. They both discovered their accent made them different from their classmates. My daughter has adopted more of an American accent over the last year, whilst her older brother still sounds very English but has the odd word that is tinged with a US accent.

Has your quality of life improved?

The warm weather and sunshine definitely helps mood and increases opportunities for spending time outside and not having to wear sweaters, thick coats and prepare for lots of rain or cloud etc

How does cost of living compare?

{mosbanner right}Aside from medical insurance, I think we are paying less here for stuff than we did in the UK. We have gone from 2 incomes to only 1 and we are not noticing too much of a difference from when we were in the UK. Gas in South Carolina is cheaper, currently, than it was in Indiana. Gas is overall cheaper in the US than it is in the UK but you use your car a lot more here. Clothing is pretty much cheaper and I have been asked by friends in the UK to get them stuff here and send it over to them as even with shipping costs they are still saving a lot of money.

In what way does America fit into your long-term plans?

Ideally we do not want to return to the UK to live, and the green card process should be starting for us at the end of the year. Both my kids want to go to college and have said they like living here. When we went back to the UK in the Spring of 2010, for a family wedding, my son was sitting next to me on the plane and he said, “This is just a visit isn’t it? We are coming back to America again aren’t we?”

In retrospect is there anything you would change?

I wouldn’t have let negative comments from “˜friends’ in the UK bother me as much as they did just before we moved over. The people who made the most negative noise about us leaving the UK were people who had never lived anywhere other than the town they grew up in, and only left the UK when they went to Spain for 2 weeks in the summer.

I’d have shipped more of our stuff over as we have lots in storage with my in-laws that we will eventually have to get sent over once we get permanent residency. I would also have tried to stop my daughter stick her head through the handle of her carry on case just before the immigration guy called us up to his desk when we arrived in the US after a 10 hour flight!

Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?

A lot of people will have negative views of the US and these will mainly be based on what they have seen on TV, movies and in the news. Be prepared for people to share these opinions with you and for not everyone to be supportive. I feel it is better to try something and if it doesn’t work out then so be it, at least you gave it a go and took a chance on something.

SarahG has been a member of the BritishExpats.com community for 5 years and currently lives in South Carolina. You can read more about her adventures in the US on her blog at: http://wehavemovedtousa.blogspot.com/