Expat: relocation

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Move to a new country and you quickly see that visiting a place as a tourist, and actually moving there for good, are two very different things.
Tahir Shah, Travels With Myself

We have now been in the States for a little over a year, which has caused me to reflect on many things. One of these being our actual relocation, in it’s simplest sense: we used to live in Edinburgh, now we live in a small town just outside Boston.

Before we moved to the US I had visited Boston several times. I loved it.

It’s a beautiful city with history and culture. Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, brownstones and universities. The real Cheers bar, Aquarium, Science Museum, Children’s Museum and the wonderful Museum of Fine Art. A ‘city centre’ you can walk around; the Make Way for Ducklings ducks; Frog Pond, where can skate in the winter and splash in the summer. It has seasons, four of them, often all in one day!

I still love the things that made me love Boston as a tourist, and made me visit more than once, but it is (of course) different living here.

As a tourist you do not need to choose schools for your children. As a resident you agonise over whether you have made the right choices for your unsure, unsettled, uprooted kids.

As a tourist you do not need to make friends. As a resident you must; for your children’s sake, for your own sake.

As a tourist you do not need to brave mums groups and activities. As a resident you have to take a deep breath and walk into a lot of rooms where you know no one.

As a tourist you can happily spend a whole day without talking to anyone. As a resident, those days make you sad and worried and lonely.

As a tourist you do not need to scour the supermarket shelves for baked beans that the kids will actually eat. As a resident you try every brand available, before admitting defeat and spending three times as much per can on imported proper Heinz beans. The same goes for cheddar.

As a tourist you do not need to pass a driving test. As a resident you do!


As a tourist you simply wander the streets. As a resident you wander and you say hello to neighbours, you stop to chat to acquaintances, you bump into friends.

As a tourist you just need to know where the nearest café is. As a resident you get to know the regulars and chat over coffee.

As a tourist you do not need to use the ‘American’ word for things. As a resident you find you do without realising, as do the kids and their changing accents make you smile.

As a tourist you get compliments on your accent. As a resident you still do :)

As a tourist you don’t mind being ID’d every time you buy a bottle of wine. As a resident you still love it!

As a tourist you don’t feel at home. As a resident you start to.

[Update 12 March 2015: I’m linking this post up with the lovely Chantelle from Seychelles Mama, for her Expat Family linky. The winter months are hard for me, the relentless cold and the never ending snow. I retreat into myself and forget that proper seasons are one of the things I love about living here. Re-reading this post reminded me that while relocation can be hard, it’s not all bad.]

Seychelles Mama

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37 thoughts on “Expat: relocation”

  1. Wow, this really brought back to me the feeling of moving somewhere new and being an outsider. It just reminded me that most of us feel that at some point in our lives. And it also reminded me of that process of learning about a new place and then becoming part of it. Simply written and simple examples, but deep with meaning and experience.

      1. It was a really thought provoking post. I started to write about the way I am often indifferent to outsiders, not wanting to make a fuss or just being busy with my life. But remembering how I’d felt being new somewhere made me realise I should make an effort to be more welcoming. Then after I’d started writing I deleted it, because it made me look bad! But it’s true and I will make an effort.

        1. It is difficult though, I do understand that, people are busy – I have been guilty myself. But, it does make all the difference having someone say hello, or include you in something – I am much more conscious of my own actions now xx

          1. Sometimes, often in the past and still a hangover for me now, it’s that I don’t want to draw attention to myself. That I imagine the other person is more confident than me anyway and doesn’t need me. It’s about getting over that and imagining what the other person might really feel.

          2. I know exactly what you mean, I’ve often found myself feeling the same. I now try to be the one saying hello to the new face (at classes, playground etc.), but I sometimes have to take a deep breath first x

    1. That’s really interesting, because it’s not forever for us either. I made a conscious decision before we moved to ignore the ‘temporary’. I worried that it would keep me at arms length from everything, and for two/three/five years (whatever it ends up being), that would stop me from making the most of it. Having said that, I worry that we aren’t making the most of the ‘tourist’ opportunities as we’ve settled into the day to day more easily than I expected!

  2. In my younger years I used to work as a Relocation consultant and my biggest client was BT. I saw first hand how difficult it was for families to uproot and move area – and that was generally just in the UK. I am full of admiration for people who move country as well! Having spent most of my life in Surrey/Berkshire, moving to Somerset made all the above real for me too – thank goodness I can still see my family fairly easily :) Thanks for linking to PoCoLo x

  3. Ugh so true!! So many people come to visit us in China and say “Wow what a beautiful city, wow it’s not so hard…” but of course visiting is so much different than the reality of being left here. Ha ha. Don’t get me wrong, Xi’an is a lovely city but also very challenging. Loved your post! Nice to meet you via Seychelles Mama.
    Cheers, Nicole

  4. I can totally identify where you are coming from Sara. I’m now in my second country as an expat. It is not an easy journey.

  5. This is a lovely post!! It is amazing how different life as an expat is compared to visiting somewhere as a tourist!!!
    We had never actually been to the Seychelles before we moved here (potentially risky I know!!) but I watch tourists and see how differently they look at the place! Knowing that a tourist sees a place but at the same time they really don’t!!!
    It’s nice that you can look back on this post as a reminder of the good things now you’re in the cold of winter definitely one of the bonuses of writing a blog!!
    Thank you for sharing with #myexpatfamily Sara, I always love having you join in :)

  6. This is SO true. It’s the same for me (but as an American in Britain) especially the talking to people thing and also the importing in food (at a cost!) and speaking British English without blinking. And I am never ID’d here. Never have been but did have to get my British driving license!! Great #myexpatfamily post :-)

  7. This post resonates for so many reasons. One of the truths of expat life is that just as you start to feel at home somewhere you uproot yourself and start all over again. The adventure and benefits are huge but there are downsides as well.

    Hope you continue to enjoy the perks of being a resident while managing to keep some of the tourist magic.

  8. I really love this Sara. It’s so important to remind ourselves of the benefits that a relocation can bring. It IS hard sometimes and like you I struggle in winter (Milan’s winters are not at all nice, despite Italy’s reputation for having good weather!). Spring is around the corner though, and I really hope that it brings a renewed sense of joy for your adopted home for you too x

  9. Absolutely. I know the end is in sight, but I do find winter very tough. Spring will change my outlook completely again :)

  10. Great post! We have only been on our Expat contract for 3 months and many of your thoughts ring true for me….the walking into a room where you know one of them is the hardest for me.

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