Today’s interview is with Ariana, an American expat who is living in UK. Ariana Mullins is a licensed massage therapist, freelance photographer, real food enthusiast, world traveler, and creator of the blog, And Here We Are… She has made her way to England via Oregon, Germany, Los Angeles, and the Philippines. She enjoys throwing dinner parties, making her family laugh, and creating beauty in the simple things of life. She now enjoys a quiet life in Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk with her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Amelia. Ariana’s expat blog is called And Here We Are.
Where are you originally from?
Los Angeles, California– but I spent my youth in the Phillipines, so this is always a tricky question.
In which country and city are you living now?
Bury St. Edmunds, England.
How long have you lived in England and how long are you planning to stay?
We have been here for almost three years, and are currently looking for new jobs globally– so it’s hard to say!
Why did you move to England and what do you do?
We moved here so that my husband could work with US military families. He helps parents work with their special needs babies. I am a massage therapist, but have been working mainly as a writer and photographer in the last few years.
Did you bring family with you?
Yes, there are three of us. My daughter who is 7 is now a seasoned traveler!
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
My family has now lived in both Germany and the UK. I think we all did very well with the transitions. In Germany, we were just so excited to be starting a new life in a new place, learning a new language, etc. A lot of that enthusiasm carried us through the more difficult parts.
Although there has been no language barrier in England, the cultural differences seem stronger to me here. It’s been harder to adapt in many ways to small-town English culture. Things that are tough include the reserved nature of the English, lack of warmth and friendliness, etc. I also struggle with the food and weather, coming from Los Angeles.
So, it’s not so much about living away from my own home country as it is about living in this one– we all have places and cultures that we jive with more naturally.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Making friends here has been really difficult. Most people in my small town were born here and in a way, born into their social circles and friendships. Most of the people who have become my friends here are also transplants, and lament the difficulty of breaking into the social circles here (even though they are English, or even from just 100 miles away!) If I had to do it all over again, I would live in nearby Cambridge, where there are a lot more foreigners/ expats and more ways to socialize easily.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The wonderful thing about Suffolk (and most places in the UK) is that there is SO much to see and do, everywhere! You can hardly walk a mile in any direction without coming across some historic site. I love living in the country, where we can visit farms, take long walks and visit village pubs. We live an hour away from the coast (beautiful English beaches and beach villages) and two hours from London– so there are a lot of options!
What do you enjoy most about living in England?
I really love the aesthetic pleasures of living in Suffolk. The architecture is beautiful and charming, the landscapes are breathtaking. It’s a visually very rich place to live– and the gardens are incredible! There are so many places to go for beautiful walks and to get into nature with the family, and I value that this is part of life for most English families.
Although I struggle with the food, it’s a great place to be a cook, as the produce is good and it’s easy to find high-quality meats and things to cook with at home. We regularly drive to a local farm to do most of our grocery shopping, and we can visit vineyards, breweries, and all sorts of fun places for food-related adventures.
I also love the ease of travel from England. We can drive across the Channel to France, or fly inexpensively to many places in Europe. This is a huge bonus for my family!
How does the cost of living in England compare to home?
It’s expensive. Really expensive. All of our guests are pretty shocked by the prices, and this is a challenge for us. We were really surprised to find the restaurant prices in London were about the same as they are in our little town. We get paid in USD, so stretching our dollars is always on my mind.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in England?
The high cost of living, cold social climate, the weather (if you’re used to plenty of sunshine) and the food.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to England, what would it be?
If you like to have a lot going on socially, choose a bigger city where you are more likely to find other expats and people with similar interests. Take advantage of all of the lovely things– the countryside, the gardens, etc.– and find things to do that make you happy. For us, we have taken up foraging, home brewing, and other hobbies that we can do cheaply as a family– this has brought us lots of entertainment and kept us from feeling quite so bored or lonely!
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I have lived for many years as an expat, in various places. The hardest part is not being there for your friends and family when they need you, and vice-versa. It can be heartbreaking to not be able to help someone you love when they really need it, or to wait to meet a new baby in your family for over a year. When we need help ourselves, it feels kind of awful to be alone– I had to have major knee surgery when we were brand new in the UK, and it was really hard.
Facebook and Skype really bridge a lot of these gaps, but the loss or disconnection from family and community is the hardest part of expat life for me.
When you finally return home, how do you think you’ll cope with repatriation?
I know from experience that there will be things about being back in the USA that I will just absolutely love! I will revel in those things, for sure! But I will definitely miss the visual richness of living in Europe. Finding someone who has also had to move back home, and talking with them about my experience will be an invaluable way to process.
Right now, however, we have no plans to repatriate. If anything, we will move to another European country and start again on a fresh multicultural adventure!
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
- Be brave! If you would really love to move overseas, DO IT. There will always be 101 reasons you can come up with not to, but it’s such a fun adventure. Nothing is permanent, and if you don’t like it, you can go back home– but it is an experience that could be incredible for you. Nothing risked, nothing gained!
- Stop making comparisons. Don’t think about how things are done “back home” all the time– just step into the new culture and observe. Nothing that is different from your own culture is wrong– it is simply different– and the sooner you can accept your new culture, the happier you will be.Don’t get stuck in an expat group that sits around and complains about their host culture– nothing good can come of that! Look for positive people, and join those circles.
- Be a good customer. One of the things I love about Europe is that you can do so much of your shopping at small shops and markets, rather than going to one large supermarket. These greengrocers, butchers, and florists can become your best friends. Be a loyal customer, show interest in their work, and they will reward you and can be great cultural liaisons for you.I was lucky to befriend my local ethical butcher, and he and his wife have provided so much good advice, cultural understanding and local connections over the years.
- When you find yourself struggling with your new country, try to find something you can do to take advantage of its strengths. I do sometimes struggle with living in England, but try to go take a walk in the countryside, visit a National Trust property or do something distinctly English when I am feeling disenchanted. I remind myself that I will be living somewhere else someday, so now is the time to enjoy the things I love here.
- Don’t romanticize the expat experience. It is tough. It is often scary. Rough patches can last for a long time. So know that you may be very uncomfortable in your new life as an expat, and get comfortable with that idea. Becoming an expat can change your life and be an incredible experience– but it’s hard work, and not magic!
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is all about tasting and discovering this beautiful world we live in! I chronicle my family’s adventures as travelers and expats, I share lots of photos, and talk about food and recovering lost kitchen arts. Recently, I have written about how to face your fears, the perfect date in Monmartre Paris, how to butcher a hind quarter of beef (a lesson from my local English butcher) and how to make fermented rhubarb soda– you never know quite what you’ll get, but it’s always lots of fun!
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