London seems to be on our minds lately–with Prince William and Kate Middleton’s recent American trip and the release of the last Harry Potter movie.
It all has me craving tea time, proper football matches and wanting to politely “mind the gap” on my morning commute.
Don’t you just want to live in London?
Such a classy international city where they still speak English and you can inexpensively jet off to the world’s most fabulous destinations. Where coastal castles and storied history outline the cosmopolitan city limits.
If Americans could live anywhere outside of the USA, they will most likely choose London. So now the question is, why not?
Why not move to London and live out your international dreams?
Hold the excuses, perhaps the question we should address is how–how can I move abroad?
Just ask my good mate, Emily.
At 27, she quit her graphic design job in Chicago and moved to London to pursue her Masters degree. Without hesitation, I say she is living the dream. She’s living my dream, and your dream, so I decided to pick her brain in hopes of turning more fellow international travel dreamers into international travel doers.
Livin’ the dream–and the high life–in Verbier, Switzerland.
What did you dream about doing when you were a child?
If you told Kid-Emily that any of this was going to happen to her I think she would have laughed! Actually if you told 4-years-ago-Emily she’d probably laugh too. My parents taught us we could do anything we wanted with our lives, but I think they meant more along the lines of type of career.
I wanted to be everything, a figure-skater, a jockey, a teacher, a gymnast, I never really had my heart set on one particular thing.
When did you know you wanted to move to London?
The first time I visited, I walked out the doors of the Tate Modern along the Thames and heard about 5 languages at once followed by a guy playing Neil Young “Out on the Weekend” on a guitar along the river.
Something clicked and I actually got pretty overwhelmed but knew that I had to come back here cause this city was not done with me yet. Cheesy, I know, but sometimes a city just grabs and doesn’t let go!
How long did it take to go from dreaming about London to living in London?
To be honest, I kind of grew up dreaming about London. My parents had us watching lots of Monty Python and Wallace and Gromit, and my favorite movie as a little kid was Mary Poppins. I like to blame my parents for me wanting to move here, whether they meant to or not :)
Realistically though, I had always considered the idea of doing graduate school abroad if I ever decided it was time for graduate school. Career-wise with the economy in the dumps and me being very unhappy in my job in Chicago, the reasons seemed to add up that it was time to consider grad school.
When I started researching programs, the very happy accident happened that the most unique and closest to exactly what type of program I wanted was in London.
What was the ultimate deciding factor for you to go?
I applied to two courses in London, not knowing a thing about how competitive it was, and when I got into the first one (the one I really wanted) I knew I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
Was there second thoughts in your own head?
Of course, it’s a big deal to borrow a bunch of student loans and move 4,000 miles away! But the voice that said I would regret it forever if I didn’t go was much, much louder than the second thoughts.
What had to happen before you left–with apartment, stuff, job, finances?
I had to quit my Chicago job, which to be honest wasn’t too hard :) But the other stuff was. The student visa application process was a mountain of paperwork and stress and deadlines (that I almost missed), not to mention the student loan application process that was more of the same.
I’m not sure which was worse actually, they were both pretty stressful.
I had to sell most of my furniture and find someone to sublet my apartment. My apartment didn’t wind up actually being rented until I was already here and pretty majorly freaking out about it. But it worked itself out. My strategy was always “one thing at a time”.
If I hadn’t done that, my brain probably would have exploded! Also in hindsight, I probably should have been in a better place financially before making the move, but you live and learn and I still wouldn’t change anything.
(Rehashing that time in my life is actually making me remember how stressful it was! But I was also so unbelievably excited about the new chapter I was setting out on).
How much planning went into your move?
As far as the actual move, it wasn’t too bad! Thankfully apartments here are mostly all furnished, so I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about that. I showed up with three suitcases and my friend Rhian’s had very generously volunteered to let me stay with her till I found somewhere.
In a miraculous event, I managed to very quickly find an amazing house-share with 5 amazing English housemates who are like my family now. I can’t even explain how grateful I am that I got so lucky, I think it has had a huge effect on how much I have enjoyed myself and how much I want to stay!
What was the toughest adjustment to make to living in Europe?
Honestly I didn’t find it very hard at all! Maybe it’s because England and more specifically London is kind-of like “America 2.0”. The amount of American-ness that is here was pretty surprising. It was the same kind of things you have to get used to when you move to a new city, just re-learning where to buy things and how to get around.
Otherwise it wasn’t bad at all.
How long did it take you to get used to your new surroundings?
As I mentioned before my new housemates were a huge part of the fact that I instantly felt at home here. I was snuggled on the couch with a cup of tea and East Enders on the telly in no time. Not that I had ANY idea what was going on in East Enders (and I STILL don’t!) :)
What is the student life in London like?
It’s an amazing place to be a student. The museums are free and you can go at odd times when they’re not crowded. Everyone has student discounts. You can survive here on next to nothing as long as your rent is paid!
That was a pretty surprising discovery.
Do you have time to travel? Where have you gone? Where would you like to go?
Since my Masters was a two year course squished into a year, I didn’t have a ton of time to travel. Plus I had a LOT of visitors from America, so I did a whole lot of exploring London. Part of why I wanted to stay was to have the opportunity to catch up on all the quick and cheap travel options from London.
What do you like most about living in a different country?
I absolutely love the people. My Masters course was very international, and I have friends from quite literally all over the world now. It’s endlessly fascinating to me to learn about other cultures and watch us all interact. Dinner parties are like U.N. meetings.
How is the job market?
I’ll be honest, its tough. Its SUPER competitive in my field (Graphic Design, Marketing, etc) and I have had a really hard time trying to make myself stand out. A masters degree here does not carry the same amount of weight as it does in the States, everyone has one.
How has life in London changed you?
I think I have a greater appreciation for being American. I see how the rest of the world watches us and I find it a little unsettling at times. I never thought of myself as very American or patriotic or anything, but since I moved here I’ve become really aware of how, despite all of the negative things about the US, we are pretty lucky to have such an amazing country and I feel very blessed to have grown up there.
Nowhere is perfect and every place has its pros and cons, but it’s taken away some of the bitterness I felt towards all of the politics and other crap that goes on in the States.
Where have you traveled to? What do you want to see the most?
I’ve been to Verbier, Switzerland to ski, to Paris, Dublin, Edinburgh, Northern Ireland, Wales, a few coastal towns in England, and most recently to Italy to visit Cinque Terre and Pisa (it was AMAZING!).
I have this problem where there’s nowhere I DON’T want to go . . . so I have to keep lists with travel priorities.
Spain and Greece are really high on my list right now. I want to do a big foodie tour of Spain and just eat my way through! Mmmm, chorizo.
Now that you are living your big London dream, what’s next?
Now that I’ve got my post-study work visa (2 years! woohoo!), my focus is finding a full-time job that’s at least semi-permanent. I’m freelancing in the meantime.
It’s hard but it’s also forcing me to really think about what I want and how to present myself, what my unique attributes are, etc. Always a good thing to do at a turning point in your career.
Why do you think some people have your same dream, but shy away from it?
I have had a lot of people tell me “Oh, I can’t believe that you did that, I’m so jealous, I could never do that!” They could, it’s just a matter of figuring out your own how.
It might be partly some of the “bubble mentality” in America that something so far away must just be impossible, because I have met plenty of people from much farther away than the US who don’t look at the world that way and like me, didn’t think it was such a big deal to move to London for a change of scenery.
That being said, you have to really want it to put in the effort and I really, really wanted it.
What do you think would encourage more people to pursue their dreams?
Good question! I was lucky to be raised by parents who never tried to talk me out of something I really wanted for my life, and that definitely gave me the guts to think I could do just about anything I put my mind to. If more kids could be encouraged like that I think it could go a long way.
Do you think you will move back to the states?
Ha, the million dollar (pound?!) question! My parents are of course hoping I move back next month :) I don’t know how to answer really other than to say that yeah, probably someday I will live in the states again, it’s where my family is and that’s always important.
Who knows when though! I’m enjoying it here for now, and I’m okay not planning things too far in advance.
An immense thank you to Emily for letting me share her brilliantly inspiring story of how she manages to live the dream and live in London. I have no doubt that she will continue to make amazing strides overseas. Even though I, and her droves of American friends, miss her dearly, we’re happy to loan her to London for as long as the city and its people make her smile.
Some people in life really deserve the happiness they receive, Emily is no exception. It goes without saying that she worked hard to make the move abroad, but in doing so, she created the life she wanted and a path for others to follow.
And for that, we thank you.