Coming Clean: We Failed Expat Life in London

Coming Clean: We Failed Expat Life in London

I wish I could tell you I spent days staring at a blank page. But, because I’m always compulsively writing, I started this post many times since we decided to leave London. I kind of liked London, I could see myself getting used to it after a while, but despite the fact that we had friends and family living there (meaning we wouldn’t lack a support system) I didn’t fall head over heels for London.

The post I’m publishing today, and I tend not to write a lot of personal posts, was meant to come out closer to the end of the year, in a sort of “new year’s resolution” reflection. But I needed to level with you; not doing this was blocking me from sharing my experience of London (which I’ll do in the upcoming weeks). Do I want to be one of those bloggers who whine about their personal life every other post? Not really. But I don’t want to sell you a made-up reality either (we have plenty of those around don’t we?).

I never considered myself a nomad but I never really settled in one place since I was 18. Maybe growing up as an islander does that to you. The longest, so far, I stayed at the same address was 10 years — felt like an eternity to me. You know what people say, that home is where the heart is? Well, my heart simply hadn’t been there in all those places. Until I moved one last time to a former industrial city across the river Tagus, with my best friend living next door, and a kick ass view of Lisbon. I felt at home, my son felt at home, “Mia the cat” felt at home, what more could we possibly want, right?

So why the urge to try expat life in London? The current political (and economic) situation in Portugal was not letting us move forward, we have friends and family in the UK, we had greater chances of better freelance work in our areas (you know, the kind of high-quality work with fair pay most of the times?). It was a completely rational decision, but my heart didn’t follow.

One of my favorite things about London is the parks during Fall. Not all were negative experiences.

One of my favorite things about London is the parks during Fall. Not all were negative experiences.

I had a thousand arguments running through my head every day: a new city to explore, something new is always happening, hop on a train and Paris is closer, a new country to discover… After the first month, I was starting to feel a bit more positive. Sure the job offers weren’t flooding my inbox, but they weren’t as rare as they were in Lisbon. I thought that was a major thumb up from the universe telling me I had done the right thing. And then my son started calling me every day — unusual for a teenager who was looking forward to having the house to himself (almost freedom, because my parents live down the street…). In his own awkward way of I’m-not-telling-you-but-I’m-telling-you, he missed us.

I decided to spend two weeks in Lisbon for the beginning of the school year, and to finish a pending project for a new book (coming soon), I ended up spending a month. One week before I returned to London we knew that home was here not there. I still love the energy of something always happening, but the simple things like house hunting were draining us. Especially when we compared prices there and here; the gap was unbelievable.

A lot of things went wrong and I assume we didn’t do a great job planning all the highs and lows, foreseeing all the possible scenarios. Above all, we assumed we were expat material (Dhanish had moved from India after all, we were just moving again). Clearly, we were not, at this time anyway.

I’m not territorial nor materialistic, but I like having “my” things. It’s not about possessions at all, it’s about comfort and peace of mind; I didn’t have any of those in London. We tried expat life and we failed miserably. But that’s fine. We’re home now. Our heart is here.

Have you thought about becoming an expat or are you one right now? What were your ups and your downs?

Statue outside Southwark Cathedral.

Statue outside Southwark Cathedral.

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  1. 1

    Sandra, all my respect to you. Life in London is hard. The first time I lived here I was dreadfully homesick but didn’t have the self awareness or maturity to know what was going on. I stubbornly “stuck it out” until I was thoroughly miserable. I always said I would never live in London again but here we are 18 months into a 4 year stint. I am often homesick for my easier life in Australia but this time know there is an end date in sight. London is an amazing city but not for everyone or even forever. And that’s ok

    • 2

      Thank you for your words Katy. I expect to explore London in the future, but I don’t think we’ll ever consider living there anymore. I felt like, unlike here in Lisbon, I’d never have the time to really enjoy the city and I think that’s what pushed me away. 🙂

  2. 3

    Good on you for trying. We totally understand this feeling. Alex lived in Rome for four years and I lived there for two and a half and toward the end it was miserable. I tried to suck it up because it was my dream to live there but it just wasn’t meant to be. Having panic attacks just wasn’t worth it!

    If you find a place where you feel home, that’s an amazing thing; don’t let it go!

    • 4

      Yep, I totally agree with you. I got out before reaching the panic attacks phase (I learned a lot about it from my previous career).

  3. 5

    I don’t think you failed. I think you were brave to give it a try. I read an article the other day that had the title “you are not for everyone and it’s ok”, and I made the correlation that certain places are not for everyone either.

    I am Brazilian, living right now in Miami and I hate it – but everyone loves it and think I’m crazy! London is the only place where I lived that I truly felt at home, but I know not everyone “gets it”.

    Good for you on following your heart and your happiness!

    • 6

      Thank you so much for your supporting words Monique. We were really excited to go, but after a while it faded and we were not having fun. Adventures are supposed to be fun, right? I do see this as a “failure”, in a positive way (it’s strange to look at the word as a positive thing but I actually see a positive side to it).

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