Reflections on 3.5 Years Abroad, Part 3

This is Part 3 in my mini-series, Reflections on 3.5 Years Abroad. You can catch up on the series by following the reflections on expat life tag. Stay tuned tomorrow for a wrap-up of the series.

Of all the years I spent in the UK, I think 2012 was by far my favorite.

At the beginning of the year, a co-worker had told me about a job opening in the Bay Area, and encouraged me to apply. At this point, I was keen to move back, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I applied, did something like five interviews, then radio silence. The hiring manager was a apprehensive of my intentions for applying for the job, and didn’t seem convinced that I was applying for the job for the right reasons. The problem may have been that I was too keen to move back, or maybe I wasn’t really suited for the role or the team, but I found out by February that I wasn’t going to get the job.

I was absolutely devastated. I was starting to realize that moving home wasn’t going to be as fortuitous as moving to London. While I was feeling quite low after hearing this news, I tried not to let things get to me–I had a wedding to plan in less than four months time!

Over Christmas, we finally set a date, and decided we were going to get married in April. Have you been to the UK in April? Most years it’s gorgeous (not this past year though–it was terrible), and we were hoping to take advantage of lovely weather and blooming tulips. Mid-January through mid-April was mad with wedding planning (girls, give yourselves more time than I gave myself–and if you don’t, remember to keep it small like we did). My saving grace was that most of our wedding was planned locally. We married at the Petersham Hotel in Richmond, I bought my dress just a few hundred meters from my doorstep, the cake baker was just down the road in Kingston, and the flowers were from the florist in the center of town.

To us, the day was perfect. We only had 14 guests at the wedding which I loved. It kept things intimate, about us, and we got to talk to everyone who came which was especially important to me as I had friends and family traveling from the US. After the ceremony and reception (interestingly, the meal after a ceremony here is called a wedding breakfast which according to the Wikipedia entry comes from “the fact that in pre-Reformation times the wedding service was usually a Eucharistic Mass and that the bride and bridegroom would therefore have been fasting before the wedding in order to be eligible to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion”), we headed to a local pub where we spend the remainder of the evening drinks beers and Pimms and chatting. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to celebrate.

To an extent, having the wedding in Britain made me feel a bit better about being an expat, and almost made me want to stay. It’s hard to deny the impact having friends and family around had on my view of living in the UK. Unfortunately, upon returning from our honeymoon in Australia, it reminded me how much I missed having family and friends around (and cats–they didn’t attend, of course, but of the things I really miss, K2 and Whitney are probably at the top of the list), and how lame I felt for not making many new ones here.

The day I got back from Australia, my co-worker, bridesmaid, and best friend this side of the Atlantic called and dropped a bit of a bombshell–she was offered a new job, and was wondering if I’d be OK if she accepted the offer. We had been shifted to a new team at the beginning of the fiscal year, and neither of us was gelling particularly well with our new manager. My friend had reached breaking point while I was away, called a few people within the company to see if anyone was hiring, and managed to find a new opportunity quickly. I was excited and happy for her, but realized it would mean we’d be working on different teams, and not working as closely as we had when I moved the UK.

A month later, I was taking an afternoon walk along the Thames when she called. She dropped another bombshell and said she and her boyfriend were moving to the Czech Republic. On one hand, I was thrilled–it would be a great opportunity for her boyfriend to learn more about her culture, and despite how I feel about living in the UK (which isn’t always peachy, but mostly OK–in case that was unclear), moving country is an opportunity that should not be passed up. But it also perfectly proved the idea that the expat community is an ever-changing community.

When she changed jobs, my job changed as well. We worked together from the start of my job here in the UK, and in order to keep a bit of continuity for our stakeholders, and to switch up my job responsibilities a bit, I took over most of her work, and shifted mine to a new team member. At first, I liked the slight change in work and the challenge of training a new colleague and forging a new work relationship. But I quickly learned that the work wasn’t any more satisfying than the stuff I’d be working on previously.

With the management shake-up at the beginning of the year came a lot of changes to the project-based work I was doing previously. I think part of it was due to me being off sick for so long, and part of it because the geographic shift of our stakeholder community. But what it amounted to was no more project-based work, and strictly reporting stuff instead. I was no longer doing the job I was hired to do.

I decided it was time to take action, and start looking for a new job. I talked to a trusted colleague and former manager who gave me some advice to help me figure out what type of role I might want to pursue (which I’m still trying to nail down, but will keep you posted). She also recommended some people I should contact for informational interviews. Between late July and September I set up four or five interviews.

Meanwhile, the Olympics had come to London, and the entire city had lit up. The London 2012 Olympics were the highlight of my time abroad. I got to see the Olympic torch and two bicycle road races pass in front of my flat, and for the first time felt so proud and so happy to be living in the UK. When Team USA wasn’t in contention for a medal, you could easily find me cheering for Team GB. I had Mo Farah fever (how couldn’t you? He’s such an awesome athlete, and is so super likeable), I was cheering for the Brownlee Brothers, I was gonzo for Great Britain.

Seriously, if London had the same buzz, the same vibe it did when the Olympics were on, there would be no other place I’d rather live. But as the Olympics and Paralympics came and went, so did the energy.

I cracked on with my info interviews, and made an agreement with Darren that I would look for a job within the UK until the end of the calendar year. While the people I spoke with were friendly and somewhat helpful, many were quick to pigeonhole me into a business intelligence/report-generation role rather than something that would give me more opportunities to meet with customers and stakeholders, or flex my analytical skills in a new way, which was what I was looking for. Not only that, but none of them seemed to be hiring. I was getting increasingly discouraged.

The main challenge I faced was that I couldn’t look for a job outside my company. I am in the UK on a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa which strictly prohibits me from looking for a job in another company. And while I could have done info interviews until I was blue in the face, they weren’t going to get me anywhere unless someone was hiring. Thanksgiving rolled around again, and I started winding down my job search in the UK so I could focus on enjoying the holidays.

Once again, we traveled to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. The weather was fantastic last year, and we spent loads of time exploring areas we’ve not been to before. Everything was super relaxed, I got to catch up with several old friends, meet the first baby added to my circle of friends from childhood, and spend loads of quality time with K2 and Whitney.

Coming back to Britain hit me harder than ever. Even though I knew my UK job hunt deadline was fast approaching, and the likelihood that I’d move back to the US was becoming higher and higher, I was as homesick as ever. I wanted to spend Christmas with my family and my cats, I wanted winter sunshine and mild temperatures, I wanted a life that was seemed much different than the one I’d established here.

We ended up spending Christmas in London. It was the first time Darren had spent Christmas away from his family, but the eighth I’d spent away from mine. I don’t mind spending Christmas away from my family, but this year, I couldn’t bear the thought of spending Christmas pretending I was happy when I was anything but happy. We ended up having a lovely Christmas regardless, and as it was just the two of us, it made things a bit more special.

As New Year’s Eve drew near, I was eagerly anticipating the year ahead, and excited about the possibilities of 2013.

Tune in tomorrow for the final part of Reflections on 3.5 Years Abroad. Things start looking up and plans are finally laid.