Massive life changes ahead!

You can likely deduce from the odd post here and there that there are big changes ahead for us, and there’s a lot we haven’t officially shared on our social media.

In mid-October, we’ll be expecting our first child. It’s been such an adventure being pregnant in London and also travelling around Europe. In my third trimester, I’m still going strong on the morning sickness (which should be called pregnancy sickness because there is no time of day that it doesn’t strike). I’ll probably be one of those lucky 40 weeker’s (i.e. sick for the entire pregnancy). Thankfully, there is something called doxylamine that my sister recommended that has made it very manageable. The other big change is that at the end of August, Joe and I will be moving back to the US – San Diego to be specific. It has been an amazing 5 years in London. It’s been our home for a majority of our married life, and we’ve made such incredible friendships that are going to be hard to say good-bye to. There are a lot of reasons why we’re moving back, but a big one being that this is probably being the last opportunity for his job (that brought us out here) to relocate us back. Either way, with the many factors, it seemed like our chapter in London was coming to a close. It has very little to do with the fact that we’re having a baby. If anything, that was the really exciting part of the adventure we were looking forward to.

The move back is bittersweet. We love how simple life here is, and it makes you realise how much space you don’t actually need. We walk and public transport everywhere and we’re close to so much green space. There’s amazing food, and we truly love living in the UK/Europe. At the same time, there are modern conveniences in the US that would make life with a baby easier. More space for less money…because let’s face it, living in London is expensive, having cars and an extensive friend and family support network.

A big part of what we’ll miss is our friends network here. We found a lovely church just over a year ago, HTB Courtfield Gardens, where we’ve made some amazing friends that we wish we could hold onto for a bit longer. This past week we were at the annual church camping retreat with everyone, and I just had this sense of how special HTB and the community there is. We will really miss that. For me personally, it’s saying goodbye to another country and another city. Having moved around so much, I love how diverse and multicultural London, and our friends are. People are from everywhere and love to travel and explore just as much as we do. I’ve never “gone back” to somewhere I’d left, so going back to San Diego for me will probably be a harder adjustment than it will be for Joe, who grew up in San Diego. Saying that, it’s likely that our time in San Diego won’t be long term, so we also want to enjoy it there as much as possible.

We’re approaching our last 2 weeks of work in London, packing up our belongings for shipment and then heading to Asia for a 2 week holiday before flying to San Diego. I’ll have my first ob appointment in the US at 35 weeks, so it’ll be a different kind of adventure from there. London has made such an impact on us, and we’re both definitely open to moving elsewhere if the opportunity arises. Our lives are so much richer as a result of experiences, travel and friendships. I hope that as we move on, our friendships all over the world will still be accessible and that they will even come visit us wherever we end up.

2 years ago…

…we moved out to the UK for my husband’s job. It was an opportunity that had come up a couple times before, starting around the time we got engaged. I’d been in San Diego for about 10 years at that point and really wanted a change, and moving to the UK was exactly what I’d been hoping for! It took both times for the opportunity to come up and not work out for us to want to move, and get excited about it. So when it came up for the third time, we were both jazzed to go. We packed up our stuff, put half in storage and shipped half to the UK. It’s surreal when all of your stuff is in boxes, your cars are sold and you have no keys on your key chain. There is no physical place where all of your stuff is that you can run to. At that point, there is no turning back.

Looking back now, it’s crazy to think how hard it was when we first moved. When we landed at Heathrow, we had a driver meet us at the airport to take us to our corporate apartment in Reading. Reading is about a 30 minute train ride from west London and a little boring. The driver dropped us off at a building with a gated area and no way to get in. We sat outside with our suitcases, tired and jet-lagged. We had no phone, and no way of contacting anyone. We finally got a wifi signal on Joe’s laptop and used his soft phone, accessible from his computer, to call his HR who could get in contact with the person we were renting the place from. We were finally let in and dragged our heavy suitcases up 4 flights of stairs (no lift) to our small flat. It honestly wasn’t the smoothest start to our new life. I think those first few weeks I was really in cruise control just getting things done. Figuring our groceries, researching places to live, researching jobs, applying for jobs and taking interviews in London. Thankfully, within those first few weeks, we found a place to live in London and I got a job.

When we moved to our new flat in west London, we had no furniture as our stuff had yet to arrive. We made a big Ikea trip to get cheap dishes and cutlery to use in the meantime. We borrowed an air mattress and bedding and slept on the floor for almost a month. When Joe went to work, I stayed at home…and sat on the floor. I can’t really remember how I passed time, but I remember I didn’t have much to do 🙂 My new work contract was taking some time to be written and in that time I was able to be home to take deliveries and installations. Whilst I was pretty bored (and uncomfortable because I had to sit on the floor), it worked out well. All was right in the world when our stuff was finally delivered. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re using your stuff…the stuff you’re familiar with. I think it still took us some time to get accustomed to things, but it got a lot better.

I think the first few months in a new city / country are the hardest. You kind of have to just power through and get your environment settled before you actually feel settled. Sometimes you have to also go through the motions until it starts to get fun. Most people say that it takes about a year to like London and 2 to love it. I think we were fortunate that we started loving it before our 2 year mark.

Has moving here been worth it? Absolutely. I mean, we miss friends and family and feel like we’re missing out on a lot going on at home, but we’re also enjoying our life out here. As someone who has moved around a lot, I see the positives of uprooting and making a new life somewhere. I don’t think we truly know what we’re capable of handling until we have the courage to drop everything and try something different. Was it a risk to move out here? Yes it was, but it has been such a huge growth experience that I’m glad we’ve done it. I know that I mentioned missing friends and family, but since being out here, we’ve been visited by so many amazing people. We both love to share our home and our city with friends and family. We’ve had some really great experiences with guests and hope to have many more in the future. There is nothing that makes us happier than to share our lives with our guests and see them enjoying London the same way we do.

At the end of the month, we will move into a new flat. It’ll be our 3rd move in 2 years and whilst moving is a pain, we are looking forward to being in a larger flat that is closer to Hyde Park and to the centre of London. We’ve been so blessed with the space to host friends and guests and we know that our new place will be just as much of a blessing as our previous places. Being able to live in London and travel around Europe has been such an incredible experience. Looking forward to enjoying the rest of the time we have here!

Does social media make connecting harder?

Revelation: Life isn’t as awesome as it looks on Facebook or in photographs.

For those of you who read my blog, this post will seem a bit off piste. Instead of seeing another post about our Spain trip (which is in the making), you’re seeing a post devoid of photographs and travel.

Time for some honesty. There are ups and downs being an expat. Life in the UK is good. We have a good home, job and life in London. I personally have moved a lot in the course of being a Missionary Kid and a Pastor’s Kid. Canada, Australia, San Francisco, San Diego and now London. Before we moved to London, San Diego was my home for 10 years. Prior to that, I was used to having to leave behind friends and family. In a lot of cases, it was easier to just cut ties rather than trying to keep in touch with everyone. A majority of my friends are from San Diego and it’s where we go “home” to when we go back to visit. I’ve been sharing with a couple friends back in the US about how I realise that Facebook and this blog make it seem like life is awesome and some huge adventure, but people fail to realise that there are very real day-to-day, week-to-week stresses on my life. As a result, perhaps being don’t check up on me as much as I’d hope. On the flip side, I see everyone else’s lives forging ahead, with me not being a part of it, and I don’t then check up on others as much as I should.

This article from Relevant Magazine was a very timely read. It is titled “Stop Instagramming your Perfect Life“. In a nutshell, life looks better online than it does in real life. We take photos of things we want to share. Most people don’t post the day-to-day drudgery, because let’s face it, no-one would really consistently be interested day after day. I realised that while social media is great for keeping up with what is going on with other people it can, in actuality, create more distance because we’re not taking the time to find out what’s really going on at a personal level. I think it’s also so easy to compare our lives to others’ and thinking that everyone else is better off and happier than us. It then makes it so much harder to truly be content with our lives because it seems like someone else has it so much better.

When I posted the article to Facebook, a couple of my friends had some great insight:

“Maybe it’s a GOOD thing our life isn’t accurately portrayed in Facebook because then, there would never be any need to really check in with each other. I guess in the end we really have to remember our life can’t be summed up on Facebook, and we gotta check in with our friends if we want to know what’s really going on with them.”

“But regardless, once you understand this perspective of the article, it goes a long way and changes entirely how you view social media.”

For me, the big takeaway from that article was that I needed to view social media differently and realise that if I truly want to connect with my friends, effort must be made to do it in a more personal way. Obviously, the time difference and distance compound the matter…and only exacerbates the disconnection I feel from being an expat. But these realisations help from feeling like a total foreigner to life back home.

Italy Trip: Last stop, Venezia

Apologies on the delay on this last Italy post. To close out this 4-part blog on our travels in Italy, here is Venice. One of my favourite movies is the Italian Job, where the heist at the beginning of the film is done in Venice. It was neat to walk around and see reminders of the film.

Upon arrival in Venice, it was wet and quite uncomfortable. Getting used to a new location, getting our bearings, and wanting to take in the coolness of Venice but feeling kind of damp made it a bit difficult to enjoy at first. Also, the narrow twisty streets of Venice are hard to navigate when you have no idea where you’re going, when there are people everywhere and when you’re carrying luggage. Once making it to our hotel, we rested and decided to venture out when the weather cleared up. Thankfully, it did clear up and we were able to take a stroll around Venice in the evening.

The streets of Venice turn at every point possible. The street names changes at each turn, and it’s really hard to know where you’re going. It may seem a bit silly, but in the evenings, it can have a bit of an eerie feel to it. It made me think that you could have some really interesting and creepy ghost tours of Venice. Once you get used to the layout, and can properly read a map, it gets a lot easier.

We made use of the vaporetto system as the water buses are a great way to see Venice. I even listened to some of the Rick Steves recordings for Venice.

Braving the weather in front of St Mark’s Basilica
These made me think of the part in Italian Job where Donald Sutherland’s character says to Mark Wahlberg’s character “See those pillars there? That’s where they hung people who felt fine.”
St Mark’s square in the evening
St. Mark’s square
Night shot of the Basilica of St Mary of Health, or Salute
Night shot down one of the main canals
The main elements of a Venetian life brought together. The homes, docks and boats.
A quick snap over the canal. It surprised me how expansive some parts of the grand canal were
In comparison to the above, there were also tiny side canals like small alleyways in a traditional city

One of the things that Rick Steves mentions in his audio guide, is that with the high cost of living, the fact that everything needs to be brought into the city, and it’s costly to renovate the aging homes, most locals are moving out of Venice. Imagine having to carry a child or even groceries across small bridges, narrow paths and windy streets – it’s quite difficult and can be a nuisance. He said that it may become a bit of an “amusement park” in the sense that no-one really lives there, but tourists go to see it, stay in the hotels and visit the restaurants. It’d be sad if that happens, but I can understand, especially considering how expensive it would be to live there.

Job Hunting in London

One of my main focuses when we moved to the UK was to find a job. Coming from a recruitment background, I was interested to learn what the similarities and the differences would be. While I am by no means a recruitment expert or a seasoned employee in London, I hope that sharing my discoveries and experiences will be helpful to someone else who is relocating.

My profession is Human Resources. Specifically the “technical” side that deals with analytics/metrics and compensation.

Before moving, I did a few things:
1) Create a CV
2) Network with Recruiters/HR Professionals in the UK
3) Network with Recruiters/HR Professionals in companies I am interested in
4) “Follow” companies I am interested in

Networking is important (see my previous blog post on LinkedIn). You have access to their postings, and can also see what groups they are a part of, so that you can also join. The groups that I joined are: linkedHRuk, Human Resource Professionals Worldwide and Human Resources UK. Joining groups is also a great way to see what people in your profession, in another country, talk about and are concerned with. There are some great discussions to monitor and jobs will also be posted there.

Writing a CV was my next hurdle. How do CVs differ from resumes? In the US, CVs are normally used for people in academia. The most I knew about CVs were:

  • They have your photo on it (or so I’d been told)
  • Personal information such as gender, marital status, age is included
  • It is more than 1 page long.

Of the 3 bullets above, only 1 is accurate: A normal CV is 2 pages long. After speaking with recruitment consultants here, putting your photo and personal information is a no-no (thankfully, no photo ever made it onto my CV…phew!). It’s the whole not wanting to discriminate based on appearances or any other EEO information, similar to the US.

The way mine is arranged is: Name, address, phone, email -> Professional profile statement -> Key skills -> Work Experience -> Education -> Professional Development -> References (available upon request). Very similar to a US resume.

In my previous experience with job hunting, I would apply directly to the company’s website for a job/jobs I was interested in. In my time here, I’ve noticed that every job I apply to is being recruited on by an agency. I’m not sure what the percentage of agency vs. in house recruiters that are on jobs are, but in London, I’m pretty sure it’s higher than 50%. A lot of the tech companies outside of London I’ve been told have a 50/50 ratio. 50% of jobs are recruited on in-house, and the other 50% they utilize agencies. In any case, I applied for a few jobs, those got me in contact with consultants who basically represented me. In addition to the specific job I applied to, they’d say “I have a few more positions I think you’d be a good fit for”. Once you make contact with a consultant, it’s a lot easier because they recruit on similar jobs for numerous clients. The consultant basically becomes your recruiter. They present jobs to you, you decide if you want your CV to be shared with that Hiring Manager, and they can also assist in prepping you for a phone interview and in-person interview (if it gets to that stage).

I’m thankful that I could make contact with some really reputable agencies. Just like in the US, there are agencies that are more reputable than others. All you have to do is ask. Amazingly, it has actually led to a job that I accepted, and will be starting in about a week and a half! 😀

With the economy being the way that it is, I didn’t think that I would get a job only a month into being in the country. I am very very thankful and feel SO blessed to be able to work and grow professionally in the area I want to be in.

We’re Moving!

We’re moving to the UK!

After a long time, many discussions and many prayers, Joe and I will be moving to the UK for him to work on a project with his company. The excitement is definitely there. The consensus is that there is no better time to go. It’s temporary and we’re not tied down with kids or a mortgage in San Diego. We’d have the opportunity to travel Europe and really take advantage of the close proximity to so many countries.

Having moved so much growing up, moving across an ocean wasn’t foreign to me. But, I was apprehensive because it has been a long time since I’d had to adjust cross-culturally, and I had a feeling it would be tough.

Last week, Joe and I were in the UK for an exploratory trip. We stayed in a hotel in Reading, which is where his office is. The plan was for him to work with the team in the mornings and he and I would explore the area in the afternoons. The mindset of holiday vs. relocation is completely different. While we got to enjoy some great weather and see some sights in London, what we were about to do with the move really hit us. We’d be leaving family, friends and the life that we have in San Diego. The isolation and the homesickness hit us mid-week and that is when we both knew it would be harder than we thought.

The experience and opportunity definitely outweighs our fears. We both agree that the move will be a priceless experience for us individually and as a couple. I am thankful that even though the trip out there had its difficult moments, we had a lot of fun seeing the sights and exploring the various areas we could be living.

With that said…come visit us! In case we’re not enough of a draw, the Summer Olympics 2012 will be held in London :O)