The Expat Mama Meets...
In the first installment of our The Expat Mama meets... series we have the pleasure of chatting to the very lovely Holly Vine! Holly is married to Charlie, and is super mum to her devastatingly cute 5 month old twins James and Eddie (for proof of my claim see Holly's Instagram, you won't be disappointed). She is also a freelance food writer, recipe developer, and content creator for a number of outlets in the USA as well as on her own lifestyle blog hollylikestocook.com . Originally from England, although Holly and Charlie had been living in Wales for 5 years prior to their expat life, they now live in Rhode Island on the East Coast of America.
How long have lived in America and how long are you planning on staying?
We've been in the US for three and a half years. We've just bought a new home so we're pretty settled for the time being! We came to the US because it was an excellent opportunity for Charlie's career, and in turn our whole family. To make it work has require a lot of time, effort and adjustment, so for us the question of coming home is much the same as the process we went though when deciding to move out here; it needs to be the right decision for our family.
What made you move?
My husband works for an Education provider that works with international students wanting to study in Australia, the UK, Canada, and the US. He had previously been working for the UK branch of the company when an opportunity presented itself in the US. At the time we were itching for a new adventure and new challenges for us both work wise- so it came at just the right moment!
What has your experience been like so far?
It has been a real roller coaster, although after the first year to eighteen months things have settled into some kind of normality! I found it difficult to find the balance between committing and settling, whilst still remaining somewhat transient and ready to move, potentially back to the UK. Sometimes it felt like living two lives, one here and one in the UK, which was exhausting.
What has surprised you most about your move?
The culture shock! I think that when you move to a country that speaks a different language or has a drastically different culture to the UK, you prepare for culture shock. With the US I didn't expect there to be one, after all we (in the UK) have been immersed in US culture through TV, movies and products our entire lives. It's the small culture shocks that really knocked me for six: standing in a super market and realising my nearly 30 years of brand loyalty means nothing in the face of a whole new range of products; retaking a driving test ten years after I passed the last one; slight changes in language, sayings and phrases that are so unfamiliar, as well as so much of my vocabulary being completely foreign to Americans- they don't have quite the same immersion in our TV and media aside from Downton Abbey!
Instead of staying 'You ok?', or 'Alright?' as a casual greeting or invitation to start a conversation, in this part of America they say 'Are you all set?'. For the first six months I though people we're asking if I was upset and got a real complex about my facial expressions!
What has been the biggest challenge?
Fully committing to a life here, not just living here- which is a big difference. For a long time I held back from throwing myself into life in America as something other than a longterm traveller. There's an experience you have as a resident that you just don't get as a tourist, long term or otherwise. I felt like I had to hold back from becoming too tangled up in a life here in the US in case we had to drop and run back to the UK at a moments notice- why I felt we might have to do a mad dash I don't know!
But once I decided to give myself permission to immerse myself, life became so much easier, I took on a full time job (our visas we're based on Charlie's work, I was eligible to work but not required to. We made all our plans on the assumption I may not work in case I wasn't able to find a job), we bought a home, and we decided to have our children here.
Would you recommend America to someone else?
Yes I would, although I caveat that by saying America is a BIG place and I only know a very small part of it! One thing I have learnt is that the tourist America and resident America are quite different. The tourist America is all shiny and bubbly and 'have a nice day', the resident America is, well, it's normal. It's normal people living normal lives. There are the usual frustrations, and there are the huge perks. Where we live in New England, the weather is a dream as far as I'm concerned. The summers are hot and sunny, the winters are cold and snowy. Geographically we are near to the metropolitan bustle and culture of New York and Boston, and the scenic beauty of Rhode Island's coastline and Cape Cod.
Also having not found the path to becoming parents a particularly easy one, the medical care and facilities here have been incredible. We pay for private medical insurance to give us access to those facilities- something I would make the top of any expat's priority list, it is expensive but we can attest to how valuable it is.
If you plan on moving again, what would you do differently?
It's hard to say what I would do differently, because we did the best with what we knew before arriving here. I think we stumbled along pretty well! If I were to make another big move, including the one I'm sure we'll made back to the UK at some point, I think i'd try and remind myself to take things slowly, not to expect things to feel normal right away, and to know that however much you plan something sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
We moved as a young married couple with two suitcases each and nothing else. The next move will be as a family of (at least!) four, with so many other considerations to make to ensure the children's experience is as stress free as possible. I feel like I learnt a lot on our move out here, but I know our move back will be very different!
How does America compare to your home country in terms of quality of life, family benefits, career propects, healthcare and opportunities for women?
We moved here because of work, it is very difficult to move to the US without a very secure job, it's a difficult process to obtain the work visa and as such job security, as much as it ever can be, is quite assured for people like us. No job means no visa means no America, so all of our experience is based on the comfort of having a good, solid career.
Our quality of life is excellent, I think in many ways better than it was in the UK. Housing is more affordable, as is entertainment which is abundant and very family friendly. Eating out is a key part socialising, and bringing your baby to a restaurant it totally fine! Beauty and fitness services are affordable and accessible, and sports are a big part of life.
Healthcare, as I've mentioned, can be fantastic- that has certainly been our experience as recipients of private, paid-for, insurance.
There has been a lot of concern regarding the access to many of these services and opportunities as a result of the 2016 presidential election. It important to note that I speak from the privileged position that is afforded to me by my ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital and socio-economic status. America has always been known as the land of opportunity, something we have been so lucky to experience, I truly hope that the force of the public reaction to the election outcome will ensure that those in power are held accountable for ensuring that these opportunities are available and accessible to all.
What is your favourite thing about living in America?
My children. Charlie and I always knew that we wanted to have a family, but when it came to starting that adventure it did not come so easily. The medical attention and care that I received following our hiccups and supporting my, eventual, successful pregnancy were incredible. Having never had children, or had to work through a difficult medical and emotional journey in the UK, I can't conclusively say how the experiences compare, though my gut feeling is that being treated like a paying customer here (which we are) did make everything more efficient- which was a huge help during the difficult times.
Our twins were born at 32 weeks and spent 6 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Their care was outstanding, as well as the care and support we had as parents. Medical stuff aside, I love having children in America. America is very family friendly, taking children to restaurants, to events and parties is an accepted and expected part of family life.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone thinking of making a move to America?
Don't assume it's 'as seen on TV'! It's easy to think that years of watching Friends will have equipped you for American life (...i did!) but it hasn't, sorry! America is a big place, be prepared to be a very small part of it in some respects, and a complete alien in others.
Though there are many ex-pats working in America, we're diluted by the sheer volume of citizens. When doing anything where your visa status makes you unusual (tax returns, buying property, driving licenses) assume it's going to take longer and you may need to work a bit harder to get it right- paying for an expert is DEFINITELY money well spent.
Get health insurance. When negotiating your salary and benefit package ensure your health insurance kicks in the minute you arrive in the US and become very familiar with how it's set up (if necessary make sure you have money or an additional benefit plan set aside for your deductible/excess and your co-pays)
Don't assume everything is the same state to state. If you live in a small state or near to a state border, it's easy to think that everything will be the same 20 minutes down the road, but each state has their own rules, laws and customs it's important to be aware of- this also goes for moving between states (even if it's only a few minutes away) be prepared to do a lot of paperwork!
If you enjoyed reading about Holly's experience of life on the other side of the Atlantic and want to follow her expat experience, albeit via her super cute twin boys and hunger inducing foodie posts, remember to pop over to hollylikestocook.com for lots more loveliness!
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