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Dispatches from London: Beating the Expat Life Blues in London

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When a person comes to London for the first time, or maybe even the second or third, in their eyes, it’s this metropolis of royalty and history. The first things to see are Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. There’s a list of things one has to do while they’re in London, and that list can be quite long, with most of the items being free. It’s a chance to see a play or musical on the West End. There’s no way someone will miss out on going to Trafalgar Square. All of this encompasses a feeling of excitement and freedom a person has when they’re visiting a city they’ve always wanted to go to. Now that I have lived here for over four months, my wonderment for London has waned a little bit. This isn’t to say that I don’t still get very happy every time I walk past Piccadilly Circus, or see a double decker red bus. It’s just that now all of this seems commonplace to me, and I can now understand why all the people who asked me upon my arrival, “Why would you want to live in London?” were so concerned at my gleefulness at living here.

The life of an expat is a very interesting one. People move across the world for a majority of reasons; school, marriage, military, work, travel experience, etc. Many of the blogs I follow are of women who left America to attend school or just see another part of the world, ended up meeting a man and then decided to stay with them abroad. Now, I’ll admit, this was originally part of my intention as well. If I couldn’t get a work visa, I could at least try to get a fiance or marriage visa. I lost interest in this plan once I realized how ludicrous it was to make that my main goal, and also after hearing how hard and expensive it is to get one. But a lot of girls my age have that dream. We want to meet that handsome, charming stranger with an English accent who will sweep us off our feet and then reveal he’s royalty. Sadly, life doesn’t exactly mimic film plots, but a girl can dream.

But as I traverse London in my final few months before departure, I wonder what will make or break it for me in terms of my feelings on the place. I tried out Los Angeles in the autumn of 2013, and moved away after a few months, promising never to return unless I somehow got invited to the Academy Awards ceremony. I doubt I’ll leave London with the same feelings, but I want to know what will make it stand out in my mind as a place I want and need to return to as a place to live in the future. Unfortunately, my heart has been shattered in regards to being able to stay. Visa restrictions make it almost impossible to try and live here, and even the work I would be able to do now is limited, which makes finances stressful.

So how to make the next three months keep my spirits and attitude up? I think it will be to throw all the fears, thoughts and irritations aside of life as an expat and make sure I am taking advantage of my time in London. It is really one of the most amazing cities on the planet, and I am determined to not allow the odd feelings gnawing at the back of my mind take over. That whole expat culture shock curve graph keeps spiking and dropping for me, and I want it to stay at a consistent level of happiness. Anyone who’s lived away from home knows about this stress and how it can sometimes ruin your experience of enjoying the new location that you’re living in. The happiness you felt at the beginning can suddenly go away when you start missing people or the familiarity of home.

Now, how do us expats combat this? For me, I think it will just be to throw myself into every aspect of London living that I can. Just knowing that I get to live in this magnificent city should keep me lifted and continuing to explore and learn as much as I can about it. I have a very open schedule this semester, so on my free days, of which there will be a lot, I think it’s important for me to continue to get out of my comfort zone and go to every nook and cranny of Greater London, so when I return to America, I can say that I did it all. I will not give in to this expat slump that can happen unexpectedly. I live in London, which is amazing, and no amount of lonely or confused feelings will take away from my fantastic opportunity to be present in this place.

Any tips from current or former expats on how to beat the blues?

Samantha O'Brochta
Author: Samantha O'Brochta

Samantha was formerly an expat in London in 2014/15 before moving to New York City, where she can be found blogging and taking photographs for her site Some Call Me Adventurous. Samantha has an affinity for traveling the world, watching BBC shows, making people laugh, dancing alone in her room, dressing fashionably, and attempting to make Pinterest crafts with disastrous end results.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I lived in London for 3 years when my daughter was a toddler and I found walking the streets and exploring was a terrific pick me up when I was blue. Try this book: http://shop.theaa.com/store/home/london-aa-50-walks-in-paperback These walks are free for the price of the book. All you need is an Oyster card to get you to the area of the walk. It’s amazing what you discover. And if something peaks your interest on the walk you can research it and explore even more. Or, go to Parliament Hill and just sit with a book and look up occasionally to see the skyline. Or go to an outdoor balcony of Royal Festival Hall at night and take in the magnificent view of the Thames with St. Paul’s to your right and Big Ben to your left. Walk the Embankment. Splurge and take a boat to Greenwich or Hampton Court and enjoy the river and the sites. Window shop, anywhere. Go to any of the many Christopher Wren churches and absorb his brilliance. Go to the National Portrait Gallery and stare into Anne Boleyn’s dark eyes. Savor every moment.

  2. I think this has been said on one of your other entries, but please try to get out of London and explore more of England. Brighton is a quick and easy place to get to, go to Windsor, Southend, even up to Birmingham or York! All can be done in a day – well, Youk might be pushing it a bit! How ever you spend your remaining days, enjoy!

  3. Just realize that the holidays and right after ate the most difficult times for ex-pats. I studied in France for a year and became depressed over the holidays. I bought a “cheap” rail pass good for a month and did little trips to nearby towns. It didn’t cost a lot, and I learned a lot about other places, too.Once the weather got nicer, my spirits lifted. Good luck, and enjoy this time in your life. You’ll want to look back on it fondly.

  4. I agree with Becky and with Graham, savor every moment in London and try to get out of London if you can. London is probably my favorite city on Earth, but there is so much to see in the UK outside of London as well. Take a weekend trip up to York. There are lots of places to see for day trips as well. Go see Cambridge, Oxford, Hatfield House, Sandringham House, Osborne House, Leeds Castle, the market at St. Albans, Bath, Stonehenge and the list goes on. You never really get to know the English people until you get out of London I think.

  5. You can visit me in the beautiful Peak District! I would love to show you around. It’s only a two hour train ride from St. Pancras. There is so much more to England than just London. I moved from Atlanta, GA in 2001 to marry my British chap. And thirteen years later it can still be a struggle living here missing family and friends but there is just something about living here that keeps me here.

  6. When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. (Samuel Johnson)

    Try these books:

    Tired of London, Tired of Life: One Thing A Day To Do in London

    Quiet London

    London Villages: Explore the City’s Best Local Neighbourhoods

    And yes, please, please, please get out and see the rest of England. Hop on a train and spend a day in:

    Greenwich
    Bath (you simply cannot miss this city!!!)
    York
    Cambridge
    Canterbury
    Salisbury
    Oxford
    Dover (and Dover Castle)
    Hampton Court Palace
    Windsor Castle
    Stonehenge

    We’ve lived here for 18 months. We have 7 months to go. I live a train ride away from London and I go at least twice a week. I love London so much. It is my favorite city on the planet and I will miss it dearly. I loved all of Becky’s recommendations too!

  7. Thanks to all who appreciated my suggestions. FYI. I lived in London from December 1983 – December 1986. My daughter has been back a couple of times but I have not. Every day I miss that city. Every. Single. Day. For all of you who are there, or are going to be there, I hope you love it as much as I do.

  8. Becky, I have been there 16 times and could keep going back forever. I wish I could afford to live there for even a year. Great great city with so much to offer. I think of it every day.

  9. Hang out at a book store- Daunt’s in Marylebone is my favorite. And Maison Sagne Patisserie Valerie is next door.

    Do a guided walk or day trip- the best is http://www.walks.com I plan my
    London trips around their schedule.

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