Somewhere In Between

Me on the 4th of July Cruise
Originally uploaded by julieboddy
Last week I took the Life in the UK exam, a mandatory step in the UK immigration process if you want to stay in the country long-term as a spouse of a Brit. I found studying for the exam to be really boring and frustrating because the book was filled with facts that seemed irrelevant and also at times inaccurate. After ranting about one particular bit of misrepresented statistics, an American friend of mine recommended that I think of the test as an "English Language" test rather than a knowledge test, which made it a bit easier for this egghead to accept. The test itself was actually pretty easy. I did have to memorise a lot of dates, numbers and odd factoids which I think the average Briton wouldn't know but hey, I passed and it was a relatively painless hour of my life to get past this first hurdle.

Next up: Indefinite Leave to Remain visa followed shortly thereafter by my UK citizenship. Both expensive and paper-heavy ventures but then I'll be done forever with this UK immigration BS and can quickly start bragging about being a European citizen. :)

In November I will have been living her for three years. THREE YEARS!! I cannot believe how fast the time has gone actually. The first three months were pretty easy - almost like a vacation - but then it got really tough really quickly. For about a year my entire core being seemed to rebel against the foreigness of this place and I couldn't settle in properly. Around the 18 month point I finally began to feel acceptance and even some contentment with my "new country". Nowadays entire weeks will go by where I don't even realise I'm a "stranger in a strange" land until something happens to shock me into recognition that this ain't Kansas anymore, Toto. It's the littlest things that make this happen as well.

Most recently this occurred when I was riding my bike into the city centre to pick up some spices at the Quayside (river dockside) market. Just as I was turning left to take a short-cut through a nearby park, I was suddenly overcome with the feeling of "foreigness". Potentially only other expats can fully understand what I mean by that statement, but basically I was riding along on my bike and this huge swell of emotion came up involuntarily, pushing the thoughts of "I live in a foreign country. This is not my culture. This is England. How did I get here again?" into my mind. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling necessarily, but just a highly intense awareness around the fact that I'm not in my native land. These thoughts were then followed up by mixed feelings of pride, sadness, intrigue and loneliness all at once. It lasted for about 5 minutes whilst I was cycling along and then *poof* it was gone. Very weird sensation all around, but from what I can tell, quite common amongst expatriates, even those who've been here 2 and 3 times longer than myself.

I tend to surround myself with friends who are also foreigners of one type of another. My closest work mates are from different parts of the country to the North East (and believe me, on this small island, being from a town only 75 miles away means you're a foreigner!). The people I am closest to here "in real life" and online are from other parts of the country and/or from another country altogether. Most recently I've started up local friendships with some Scottish and American people who've been transplanted to Newcastle for various reasons. I crave all of their company as fellow "strangers". The empathy these groups can provide is really important but also it's a heck of a lot easier to make friends with other displaced adults than it is to break into a circle of life-long friends like a lot of the Geordies I encounter seem to hold dear.

Sometimes I wonder what all of this means in terms of me as an American. My vernacular is changing quickly. I spell like a Brit, swear like a Brit and discuss vegetables like a Brit (i.e. courgettes, to-MAH-toes, BAH-zil). However, even after I get my UK passport and have all the rights of a British citizen, I will never really be British culturally-speaking. I'm also starting to realise how foreign I seem to Americans these days as well, which is equally weird (just ask my sister!). Besides the way I speak and write, my viewpoint on world affairs has totally changed, my eating habits are vastly different and my reliance on public transportation is almost awe-inspiring. My husband says I'm turning into a 'Mid-Atlantic' citizen, meaning that I don't have a single cultural home anymore and that my culture is formed somewhere on a mythical island between these two incredible countries. On good days, I take that as a huge compliment, but on bad days I look at it as a disadvantage and I mourn for my waning American identity. I think the reality lies somewhere in between, wrapped in the loneliness of being "forever foreign" and the excitement of being a "citizen of the world".