Tag Archives: expat

Dear Me, One Year Ago

21 Oct

Right now you’ll be at the airport, saying goodbye to parents. You’ll feel emotional, but it still hasn’t sunk in that you’re not just going on holiday for a few weeks. It’s a bizarre sensation, almost like a dream. Everything seems familiar – the rituals of watching the flight departure screens, buying a paperback for the beach, anticipating the sunshine at your destination – but it’s not quite as it should be.

When you arrive it’ll be dark; your eyes will be glued to the taxi window, taking in the black shadows of palm trees, the pavements bathed in amber light and, beyond, the dark waves of the ocean. Straight away you’ll unpack, in the mind-set that you need to make the most of your time here because you’ll be back to reality soon.

The next few weeks will be a delightful novelty – playing housewife in the mornings, exploring in the afternoons, returning to make sure dinner is ready for the hubby when he gets back from work. The temporary apartment will be comfortable enough, but you’ll find it a little tired and you’ll grow increasingly intolerant of the little pile of dead ants that mysteriously appear in the kitchen every morning.

So it’ll feel like Christmas when your shipment arrives in your new condo. Mundane things will seem unexpectedly special; UK carrier bags will no longer just be functional but hugely sentimental – “Ah, Sainsbury’s! Remember when we used to do our weekly shop on a Saturday there?” You’ll be just as thrilled to see your teatowels as you will your shoes. Then it will actually be Christmas – the tree will be up, your parents will be here, and you’ll have a fun but bizarre festive period, with Christmas morning against the backdrop of a white beach in place of the usual backdrop of a white-frosted lawn. The year will finish brilliantly with fireworks and cocktails, and you’ll feel excited about what 2011 will bring.

Winter arrives. You’ll get a job offer – which is fantastic – but have to wait almost 3 months for the work permit. The weather cools, the sky is permanently grey and there is little to do at weekends. You’ll be doing your best to carve out a role for yourself volunteering, but it takes longer than you’d (unreasonably) expected and you’ll worry you might be losing brain cells on a daily basis. You won’t have anticipated this feeling of being without an anchor, of not quite knowing what your place in this new world is. You’ll cry sometimes.

In April, after 9 weeks of waiting, you’ll find out that your work permit has been rejected. At first, you’ll think, “Oh well, it is what it is”. Then later it will hit you. You cannot work here. You have no job back home. You have no career options. Everything you had planned has just vanished, like a gust of wind just scooped up your dreams and carried them away. You’ll feel like there’s an amazing life here in Bermuda, but there’s a layer of plastic between you and it. You can see it, but you can’t quite touch it. You’ll cry a bit more.

Then summer comes along. The turquoise ocean sparkles, the sun beams down every day. Your volunteering tasks turn into meaty projects you feel passionate about, and love doing. Friends will fall into place. Weekends will be spent on the beach or playing in the water. You can’t quite believe that this paradise is where you live. You’ll wake up every day basking not only in sunshine, but in happiness – deep-rooted blissful happiness; thankful that you have the opportunity to live in a tropical climate, privileged that you can make a difference through your charity work, hopeful that this is how life will continue. You’ll feel something shift and instinctively know, somehow, that something good is just around the corner.

And it will be because, 11 months after you first arrived, you’ll get a work permit, and a job that you love. By the time you get to next October, you’ll feel like life could not be much better, and will be incredibly grateful for every day in your job, and every evening with your group of fabulous friends. Your only wish will be this – that someone could have written to you a year ago, telling you to be thankful for what you have, and patient for what is to come.

Home is Where the Sofa is

12 Oct

A few weeks ago, Rich came home from the supermarket with a face full of bad news. Our landlords were selling the condo. My head became jumbled with questions: should we move out straight away or wait until they sell? What if we can’t find anywhere as nice as our current home? What if we can’t find anywhere at all – we have no family here to stay with in the meantime! I thought back to when we’d first moved in; the living room filled with our 73 boxes from the UK, and shuddered at having to pack it all back up again and then unpack somewhere new after less than a year.

It certainly would be a huge convenience. But this worry gave way to something else – sadness. When we’d first moved in everything was still unfamiliar and uncertain – but our home was our fixed point for our emotional compass. I’d learned over the months that the unidentified black shapes on the carpet did not need to be interrogated for 3 pairs of legs – they were just pieces of lint; I knew that the dishwasher wouldn’t leak if I left it running when I went out; I trusted that my house wouldn’t let cockroaches creep in; that the closets would stand firm in keeping the mould from getting its dusty fingers on our clothes. In short, we trusted these four walls.

Your home is always a place of comfort and this is even more the case when you’re living abroad. On this island, there are no other buildings which we have as strong a bond with; none have memories of birthday parties, Saturday nights in or Christmases past; none have parents, or grandparents inside.

Thankfully we discovered that our contract is binding until November 2012, and so anyone who buys the condo before then will have to take us on too! It was an enormous relief to know that I wouldn’t have to give up home just yet. And for Rich? It was an enormous relief for him to know that he wouldn’t have to give up the L-shaped sofa just yet! 🙂

What do you do?

2 Oct

Invariably, when I meet new people, one of the first questions I get asked is: “What do you do?” It’s a common conversation starter of course, and it’s even more logical to ask in Bermuda, where most twenty-something expats are here because they are on a work permit. I’ve often wondered whether I’m the only twenty-something expat without one!

My answer used to be simply that “I volunteer”. It wasn’t unusual for people to assume that this meant that I shook a donations bucket outside the supermarket once a month, and then spent the rest of the time on the beach drinking G&Ts. So my answer became a garbled protestation that “I volunteer with three charities, and actually it’s like the equivalent of a full time job without getting paid, and I really don’t like G&Ts”. After a while, even I got bored of my defensiveness, so I just made up jobs – I was an accountant, an insurance underwriter, and a management consultant all in a period of about a month.

I have loved my volunteering work and it certainly has kept me busy. I’ve written communications strategies, delivered workshops on social media, organised corporate fundraising events and, my favourite project, taught a little group of senior citizens how to use the computer. In the office of the charity I volunteer with most regularly – The Centre on Philanthropy – I have my own desk, email account and responsibilities. But I’ve hated not earning my own money.

The Centre on Philanthropy's Give Back Games 2011: waiting to collect the scores for the Sack Race! We raised $72,000 for local charities.

However, after eleven months of being on the island, one rejected work permit, and an encounter with an agency that discovered after two months that my paperwork had actually “gone missing”; the “third time lucky” adage came true. Last week I got my work permit through for temporary and contract roles. A few days later I was offered a marketing role for a telecoms company. I start tomorrow!

I cannot tell you how excited I am to start work. Bring on the Sunday evening blues, the daily commute in rush hour, the overflowing inbox… – I’m ready for it all!

On Friday, my last day of unemployment, I kept my diary clear so I could do the one thing I hadn’t allowed myself to do in almost a year of being here – spend a few hours at the beach, on a weekday! The sky was a perfect blue, the sun shone, and, as I walked along the shore, iced tea in hand, the waves rushed up to greet me, as if to say “what took you so long..?”

10 Things I Miss From Home

29 Aug

Before we got the sad news of Rich’s sweet Nan passing away, I’d been drafting a blog post on the things I was missing from home, not realising that in just a few weeks’ time I’d get to experience most of them during a whirlwind trip back to the UK. Here’s my list:

1. Friends and family – This probably goes without saying! Sunday roasts at our parents’, dinner parties with friends, board games with grandparents on a rainy afternoon…It was lovely to go home and snuggle in that cosy warmth you get from being around familiar ones.

2. Changing seasons – Bermuda tends to have just two seasons – winter (cool and rainy) and summer (hot and sunny). Although winter in the UK goes on far too long, I do miss the cherry blossom in spring, the smell of freshly-cut grass to announce summer, the crunchy, colourful leaves of Autumn, and the sparkly snowflakes on a bright winter’s day.

3. Decent bread – A crusty French baguette with cheese and pate, crispy bacon between two slices of Tiger Bread, a chip buttie in a seeded roll – along with fish and chips, a good loaf of bread was on my list to consume as soon as possible when I got home!

4. The train – It may sound strange to some, but I miss my commute from Winchester to London each workday. I loved having that hour of peace where I could read a book, catch up on emails uninterrupted, or just watch the world rush by with no demands on my time. With no trains in Bermuda it was a novelty to sit back and enjoy that serenity again.

5. Zizzi’s Penne de la Casa – Rarely have I gone to Zizzi’s and ordered anything else. And although there are better Italian restaurants in London, the Zizzi’s Strand branch will always be special as it’s been the meeting place for years for me and my bestest friends to catch up over a bottle of wine (always Frascati) and set the world to right.

6. Wildlife – In Bermuda, other than frogs, toads, lizards, a few feral chickens and some flying bugs, we don’t have many creatures roaming the island. It was lovely watching the squirrels scampering around my parents’ garden, spying foxes dashing into the bushes and looking out for rabbits as we drove along the country lanes in the moonlight.

7. Fish and chips – If only expats could set up their own business in Bermuda – my fictional fish and chip shop would make a killing! There’s nothing quite like a good piece of battered cod served on a bed of chip-shop chips, all wrapped up in paper!

8. Shops – An afternoon browsing and buying treats in the High Street without having to take out a bank loan to afford it? Definitely missed!


9. London – the hidden alleyways, historic buildings, and the hustle and bustle of city life. Whilst island life is wonderfully relaxing, a trip to the big smoke was reinvigorating – even the stuffy Tube!

10. Un-sensationalist news – Oh Huw Edwards! How I’ve missed news that is read calmly by proper journalists with normal teeth! With no noisy commercial breaks! 🙂

What do you miss the most when you are away from home?

Everyday

10 Mar

When I go on holiday I love learning about the history of my destination, but I also love going to the local supermarket, looking through the launderette window, and watching people at the petrol station. I like to imagine what their “everyday” looks like – what they make for dinner; where they spend their weekend; what “normal” is to the people that live there.

When I recently spoke with a good friend, she too wanted to know about my everyday in Bermuda.

Food and Drink
Food is a big part of our everyday. With the exception of milk, eggs, and some vegetables, everything else is imported. The ship comes in on a Monday afternoon, so we shop on a Tuesday evening to get the freshest produce. This can be limiting; during December there was a huge shortage of carrots (!!) so if you didn’t get to the supermarket quick enough, you would have to wait for next week’s shipment and hope carrots were included! But the advantage of importation is that we can get our home comforts – Robinson’s Squash, Cadbury’s chocolate – as well as more exotic items such as Kiwano fruit, which look like puffer fish!

Almost every building in Bermuda has a white stepped roof to collect water

Water
Our water comes from rainwater which is collected and filtered by our limestone-treated roofs, and stored in enormous tanks. When it rains heavily, people call this “tank rain” as it fills up their water tanks! It’s a great way to put a positive spin on grotty weather!

Transport
Cars are crazily expensive; on average it’s $30,000 for a new car and, unlike England, they do not depreciate significantly in value, so second-hand options are often pricey too. This is why expats such as Rich and I buzz around on a comparatively cheaper scooter! I also take the (distinctively pastel pink) bus which is regular and cheap, though there are no timetables at bus stops (it arrives when it arrives!) Bus stops are marked by poles sticking up from the ground – pink ones signify that the bus will be going towards Hamilton, and blue ones will travel away from Hamilton!

Television
There are a few local television channels, but in general it’s US programmes and US advertisements that clog up the TV. The local advertisements are just that – local! You will know at least one person who knows someone in an advert, and they tend to have their own unique style! Here’s a fabulous example, courtesy of Bermuda Post Office, which uses the power of hip-hop and a rapping postman to remind you to use the postcode!

Sundays
Bermuda is a very Christian country and so Sundays really are the Sabbath here. Until about 1pm the capital is absolutely deserted as everyone goes to church. And there are more churches per capita here than any other nation in the world! The sale of alcohol from supermarkets is prohibited on a Sunday, something we still find ourselves forgetting as we start to head out to get a bottle of Pinot Noir to accompany our roast dinner. It’s also illegal to carry a bottle of alcohol out of the supermarket without it being in a bag as I learnt when I popped in to pick up some Bailey’s for Christmas!

But, for all of Bermuda’s quirks and unique charms, there are frequent reminders of its outstanding beauty, even on the work commute. As my bus pulls into Hamilton, just past the wonderful Johnny Barnes, I see this:

And it takes my breath away. Everyday.

Happy Balance

13 Feb

My vision of Bermuda as I ploughed my way through tax forms in drizzly London

Becoming an expat has been a funny thing. The process of letting our house, leaving our jobs and filling out piles of tax forms was a stressful one, but my vision of Bermuda was a constant sanctuary of beauty that would dissolve my woes and restore my zen. When I was on my eighth tax form (yes, eight) and tearing my hair out at HMRC’s consistent inability to use PLAIN ENGLISH I stopped, took a breath, and thought of myself lying on a white beach, warm sunshine on my face.

Bermuda in my mind was turquoise oceans and tropical flowers and pastel coloured houses. And, conversely, England was grey and drizzle and grumpiness and train delays. I expected there to be downsides, but I tended to dwell more on thoughts of the beach than of the bugs.

For the first few months of living abroad, everything was exciting – streets we hadn’t been down before were interesting and exploring supermarkets was a novel adventure. Then, winter came, and so did the downsides. I spent a lot of January missing the things that England could guarantee me but Bermuda couldn’t; fresh berries in the supermarket, the variety of shops on the high street, cinema multiplexes, good value Italian restaurants.

It’s like when you first buy a house. Before you move in your new house has a south-facing living room that catches the sunlight, blooming roses climbing round the front door, and a back garden with lots of potential. Then, after you’ve lived there for a little while, you also start to notice peeling paint on the bedroom door, the gap between the oven and the worktop which catches the crumbs and the dip in the floorboards on the landing. Your sunny living room is still cheerful and bright, but your relationship with your house becomes a more realistic one. There are things to tweak and fix and sometimes just put up with.

I left England thinking it was a country full of rubbish weather and stressed commuters, and imagining Bermuda as a warm, relaxing paradise. The truth is that nothing is that two dimensional – there are so many things about home that I took for granted when I was there and miss now, and Bermuda has shown me its limits too. I’ve realised that everything is a happy balance; that there are amazing days and disappointing days when finding your feet as an expat; and that to truly enjoy the experience you have to stop and take in what you have, rather than miss what you left behind.