When you are planning to go abroad for any length of time, you probably expect to experience some degree of culture shock when you arrive in your new city. Your mode of transportation may change. You’ll probably have to find a new supermarket and bank. Some new experiences will be exciting….like finding your new favorite restaurant, bar/pub and Saturday afternoon hangout spot, while others will just be a pain!
I certainly experienced some culture shock when I went abroad, but I did not realize that I would have to go through the same thing when I finally came home!
I initially went abroad to Wales to study for one year. I was supposed to finish my degree, and then come back home to California and begin my ‘real adult life’. Well, plans changed when I fell in love with my new city (Swansea)…and one of my housemates! One year turned into three, and then eventually ten. I didn’t completely put off growing up, I started my career and climbed the ladder, and even married that housemate I fell in love with. I hit 30, and suddenly realized that it was time to come home. My husband and I were ready to grow up, and start a family, and what better place than back home in California. The planning, packing and excitement began, and then the reality of the situation hit me. Of course I had visited over the years, but setting up life in California as a grown-up was going to be a huge challenge! …and my husband expected me to know what to do…being a local and all.
I had become accustomed to the National Health Service in the UK – it wasn’t always my favorite, but I grew to understand how it worked and stopped thinking about the cost of making a doctor’s appointment, let alone paying for health insurance. I knew that we would initially need to pay for our own insurance, but I had no idea what kind of plan to get. PPO versus HMO didn’t make any sense, and the cost of it all was mind blowing! We settled on Kaiser, took a deep breath and paid the ridiculous monthly bill…Counting the days until we found jobs with benefits.
…Oh yea, we didn’t move back having already found jobs…we had to find jobs when we arrived. I had been working for the same place for five years. I didn’t know how to put together a resume – much less a resume that would stand out in the bay area job market. I didn’t understand the concept of an informational interview, or the value in maximizing connections and social media resources. What a relief when I landed a job at Stanford (with benefits!!)
Of course once we were lucky enough to find jobs, we had the shock of our lives when we began the apartment search (we had been staying with family initially). Even coming from the UK where homes are not known for being spacious, we had always been used to having a space for guests and a garden/backyard. We quickly realized that in the bay area, space is limited, and even the tiniest of apartments are rented quickly; so we lowered our standards, wrote a big check, and moved into a cozy cabin.
Now working and setting up our own place again, grocery shopping became a challenge. I had gotten used to Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. I knew what I liked, what things were called, and where they were located in the store. My trips to the supermarket these days look more like a mouse stuck in a maze. I am no longer quick and efficient when I shop, but forever going back and forth from one end of the store to the other because I have no idea where to find what I’m looking for, and on a bad day, I spend ages looking for a product that doesn’t actually exist in the US.
Since first going abroad, I have always maintained that food – that is finding good and familiar food – is key to feeling at home. In the UK, eventually I gave up searching for good Mexican food, it just doesn’t exist. Indian food became my new comfort food. I assumed that coming home to the very multicultural bay area I would be able to find good Indian food for sure, but it has yet to happen…and searching for a proper fish and chips seems to be a waste of time as well….At least I have rediscovered my love of Mexican food.
Probably the most surprising shock came when I started work. Most of my colleagues were American. Hey, I’m American too, but sometimes we would be chatting and I would just have a blank expression on my face…I had no idea what they were talking about. They were discussing something on the news, a recent court case, the latest super hot Hollywood couple, or something else that I clearly should have known about. Yea, I’m American, but I haven’t really been here for the last ten years. Talk to me about what’s on the BBC, the train time table or where to get the best cream teas and I’m with you, but who are the Kardashians and why are they famous? My colleagues just didn’t understand how I’d missed out on so much ‘important’ pop culture.
Anyway…just a few friendly words to let you know that life in the bay is challenging, even for a Californian native…I wish that I had found this blog while I was getting settled again…
We’ll be adding more content soon – but if there is some element of life in the bay that’s a total mystery to you, let us know, and we’ll do our best to explain.