Tag Archives: cultural differences

Being an expat…. part A) in the UK

st michaels

I started this blog with the aim to post about all the positive & interesting experiences I have in my new life here in Germany, as well as about the practicalities of creating yet another home. I don’t like to dwell on the negative, as it really doesn’t help me, nor would it be an uplifting read for anyone else. However, there is no denying that we have had several challenges with settling here… more than I’d anticipated. I had (and still have) positive expectation from our move from the UK to Germany. I think with my multicultural background I am quite adaptable and certainly found that our transition from the Finland to Britain went very well. However, there are a few major differences with our current move that have made it more difficult. Today’s post focuses on reasons why it was relatively easy to settle into our new life in England and the culture there. Next time I’ll discuss the same topics in relation to our move to Germany. Forgive me for being a bit wordy, but I’m using this blog as a way to clarify my thoughts and perhaps reach out to others in similar situations.

1) Language

When I moved to England I had a reasonable knowledge of the English language even though the last time I’d lived in an English speaking country was when I was a young girl. Finnish schools have English as a compulsory foreign language, so I learnt about basic grammar etc. One year prior to our move to England I had serendipitously enrolled and completed one year of a university degree on English language & literature (albeit at a Finnish university), which allowed me to develop my skills a bit further than those of a small child and luckily I had a few British lecturers. So although when I arrived in Britain I had the massive task of bringing myself up to the level of an adult English speaker, I could at least function on many practical levels.

2) Relocation

My husband’s previous employer had experience with relocating foreigners to the UK, so on a practical front we were VERY well supported. They even paid for our daughter’s extra English tuition to help her settle into the local primary school. Surprisingly they even supported us with some of the fees in buying our house, as well as paid for our hotel & meals for 2 months followed by another month in a holiday rental whilst we awaited for our house buying process to be completed!! We are very grateful to them for such amazing support.

3) Practical advice

I was much younger back when we moved to Cornwall (26) than now and my daughter had just turned 7, so there are natural opportunities to meet other mothers when dropping kids off at the school gates, as well as through arranging play dates. I met many very friendly Cornish ladies in this manner and had numerous invitations to have cups of tea. Also, I walked to and from school each morning and afternoon when we were still living at a lovely little local seaside hotel, which gave me a chance to walk together with parents living in the pretty little village of Charlestown. They were very supportive and friendly, patiently tolerating many silly questions about practical things such as buying groceries, doctors, dentists etc. So even before I started university I rarely felt lonely even though my husband travelled a great deal with his work (still does).

4) Social support networks

I started university ½ a year after we moved to the UK. This allowed me to gain immediate access to a social support network. Never mind that I was a foreigner, when people start university hardly anyone knows each other, so people are keen to establish friendships! Also, it obviously helps that people on the same course are likely to have some common interests and there were other foreign students around giving the university a multicultural vibe. I made some of my best friends at university 🙂

5) Countryside

When we moved to Cornwall, I was basically moving from a Nordic rural setting to a British one!! (See the above picture of the stunning St Michael’s Mount which was a local beauty spot we visited often.) I have come to realise that I really love the countryside and that is what I was mainly accustomed to during the years I spent living in both Finland as well as the US. My Finnish grandparent’s farm house was what I learnt to view as my home-base, probably because it was the one thing that remained the same and stable throughout my childhood’s many house moves. I think it became something of an idyll against which I compare everything else, probably because of many happy and secure memories from the times spent there. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate the conveniences of city life; in fact in an ideal world I would have a country escape as well as a city pad. Unfortunately, flats here in Wiesbaden are too expensive to allow for a countryside get away at the moment (at least for us).

6) Local mentality

Again, I think I was lucky because many people in rural England tend to be quite friendly and chatty, which was my immediate experience in Cornwall. I know this could have been very different in other areas or big cities where people rarely take time to smile or say hello on the streets. As already mentioned above, at university I met many people who had ‘uprooted’ from elsewhere to study, so the general attitude was one of acceptance. I love British friendliness, such as the casual small-talk that takes place in coffee shops, grocery tills, post offices etc. Also, there tends to be a general attempt to be courteous and considerate in the way people communicate. People even apologise when YOU bump into them 😉 After 15 1/2 years that habit even caught on with me!!

Usually when I have difficulties I try to problem solve my way out of them. I think it’s helpful to understand what is making this transition more difficult than previous ones. Understanding puts a person in a better position to adjust what they can to make things easier and learn to accept what can’t be changed AND importantly celebrate what is good – and there is almost always something positive to be grateful for 🙂 I would love to hear from you about any initial struggles you’ve had as an Expat in whichever country you have moved to. What made transitioning easier for you and/or what made it difficult?

In part B) of this post I’ll speak more about my German experience! (Below picture is from Cologne)

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