Adapting,  Living Abroad

Being Home: A Reflection on the Ups and Downs of Moving Abroad

Today we are taking a break from our regular content to spotlight another expat whose story and writing we really wanted to share with you. Today’s post is from guest writer Usha Sitaaraam. Originally from South India, Usha currently lives in London with her husband. She is a self-confessed coffee aficionado, loves books, bookstores, libraries, and spending time wondering about inconsequential things and banalities of life. She has acquired a taste for travelling and exploring from her husband and loves to blog about her travel exploits and her random musings. You can find her writing on her blog, Le Coin des Bobby, as well as connect with her on Instagram. Without further ado, we will allow Usha to take it from here as she shares about the challenges and benefits of moving abroad…

Moving to London meant many mixed emotions and loneliness.Being Home

I moved from India to London 14 years ago. I am a South Indian by heritage, and as a child I have grown up in different parts of India, which are culturally and linguistically very different from each other. When an opportunity came up for my husband to move to the UK, we thought it would be a good change for us and took the plunge.

Having moved around extensively with my parents as a child (and so had my husband likewise), and we both were well versed in English, I thought a move to London would be achievable without much of a challenge. But what I had not anticipated is the raw emotions it brought along, leaving me feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed.

Challenges

Mixed Emotions

Once we landed in London, I was busy with organising and setting up a living space in London and decided to put my career on hold for a while. As I gradually settled into my daily life in London, I started feeling extremely irritable, tired and at times low. I was not able to fathom what was happening to me. I initially attributed this to being homesick. It was like sadness was slowly creeping into every part of me and my life. I had lost the support system of friends, who were my emotional and social support. I felt extremely lonely and often would find myself loathing at the situation I was in.

London was anything but noisy in comparison to my home country of India.My husband, who was facing his own challenges of cultural differences at work, was at a loss in understanding my predicament. It took a while for me to understand the complex emotions and thoughts running around my head and unravel them. I would try to be objective to find the root or the reasons behind, but the overwhelming emotions were making it very hard to be objective. The initial excitement of moving to a new country seemed to be getting slowly replaced by a huge sense of loss. I had loved my work, my independence and following my ambitions. The loss of my career felt like I lost a part of me. So, I drove myself to extreme pressures to start afresh and re-establish myself in my career. I had for some unrealistic reasons convinced myself that my work was my identity. Over time I realised that what was gnawing at me was the grief of losing my career, and my independence, and I simply needed to grieve the loss.

Communication Barriers

Another challenge I faced was with communicating. As I knew English well, I had hoped communication would not be a major concern. Yet, it became a challenge as I had a different accent to most people living in London. I was not familiar with many of the phrases and slang of London. For instance, Indian food is widely popular in England and for some reason all Indian food is called Balti or Curry, which was incomprehensible to my Indian brain. Where I come from, Curry refers to a meat dish and Balti (bucket) in colloquial context refers to a visit to the restroom or just to the inconsequential object mostly found in the bathrooms of India, a bucket. Or the time when I was asked “Do you want cash back” at a supermarket checkout and I had no idea what that meant. My incomprehension, coupled with grief, made the first few months of being in London a very confusing time. I felt I was talking, yet somehow no one understood me or sometimes no one heard me.

Loss of Comfort Zone

I also found London to be very quiet compared to India. India, a land of sensory overload, where all-round cacophony is the order of the day. Having grown up in such an uproarious environment, my brain was used to such cacophony. It was reflective season of autumn when we moved to London. The quiet autumn season, when the days were getting shorter, light faded away much earlier, and the trees shed their leaves, and as the evening drew, it would go even more quiet especially in the residential areas, and except for the occasional car passing by, there was no sound from outside, no birds chirping, just the silent glimmer of lights seeping in through the windows from neighbouring houses and apartments.

Moving abroad taught me so much about myself.I had moved from Mumbai, the Maximum city, the city which never sleeps, the city buzzing with life even in the middle of the night. The apartment I lived in Mumbai, was surrounded by a cocoon of sounds, round the clock hubbub and pandemonium of daily life. I could hear distant honk of cars, murmur of a distant chat or the sound of TV rising from the windows of the neighbours, children playing street cricket in the open area of the Building, clanging of pots and pans from the neighbouring apartment, opening and closing of the Lift and neighbouring doors. There was a constant barrage of noise floating around even late in the night and I would fall asleep listening to it.

In contrast, I found my noiseless apartment in London eerily quiet, and unsettling; It felt like a warm comforting blanket of sounds surrounding me had been suddenly taken away from me. I felt very unprotected and vulnerable. This feeling of missing the sounds was even more perplexing to me. I, who preferred a calm and quiet environment, who avoided noisy and loud places, was missing the sense of sound. London cannot be classified as a quiet place by any standards. Yet its relative lack of noise was stirring a completely new emotion within me, a sensory challenge which was completely new.

Moving away from my home country to a new country raised some challenges, but it was not all doom and gloom. I have found it to be a very rewarding and life changing experience. It has taught me so much about myself, helped me evolve as a person, as a wife, and as a human being. It has been an enriching experience individually and as a couple.

Learnings

Personal Growth

Self-awareness and Self-care has been one of the biggest learnings of relocating to a different country. It has helped me evolve as an individual and us as a couple. It made me realise how fragile I was, yet the acceptance of that fragility made me also realise how resilient I am as a person. The change of place challenged some of my preconceived notion about myself and of my surroundings. I had to adapt to my new surroundings and learn new life skills to cope. While adapting and learning, I understood more about myself. It has helped me realise that I am more than my career and my work.

Living abroad has impressed upon me the importance of maintaining our family’s own little traditions.The Importance of Traditions

Another learning has been making own little traditions as a family. I believe it is very important and vital to make your own family traditions, even if you are single, you must have unique traditions that you have set in your home. We started making our own little traditions and routines. It acted as a huge positive coping mechanism, as a couple we consciously started to spend more time on activities that were more in tune with our likings, it meant setting up boundaries and saying no and not engaging with activities which did not spark joy in us. We ended up making new family traditions together as a couple, which were unique to us. Though it started as simple stress buster activities, it gradually developed into more meaningful traditions. It gave us a sense of security, gave us immense peace and joy and helped us grow stronger as a couple. We cook together on random days, we have attended short courses together, or we have simply gone on long walks together amidst nature.

Personal Passions

We pursue and follow our individual interests as well. I spend some of my weekend’s volunteering at a historical property in our area, in pursuit of my love for history and Conservation, and my husband pursues his passion for cricket by playing at a local club. I have found volunteering to be a very enjoyable experience and it gives me the opportunity to meet different people and talk to them. It is completely different from what I do every day for work, and it helps me get a different perspective. While I am volunteering, I meet people from all over the world, and they help me understand art and architecture from their point of view, and I find such conversations very refreshing.

Although I’ll never stop loving India, I can finally say I have arrived Home in London.Embracing my New Home

Last not but least, it is about embracing the culture of London. A true Londoner is one who embraces its multicultural identity and the constant change happening, in a positive manner. I especially like the unique quirky side of London, which made me fall in love with it. I love the eclectic market at Camden and its jazz cafes, and I love the food markets at Spitalfields, and at Whitecross/Silk street. I love the exhibitions, museums and West End Shows. I absolutely love walking along the banks of Thames, sitting in tea rooms sipping tea and gorging on cakes. My personal favourite time of the year in London is Christmas time, when it dazzles and radiates joy. We celebrate Christmas with equal fervour as Diwali. We have our own little Christmas celebration at home with a Christmas tree and some Vegetarian food.

Moving out of my home country and venturing into a new country and finding a new life in a new city, had its set of challenges, but I would not change a thing or regret the decision. It has been a wonderful and exhilarating experience. It helped me come out my shell, helped me understand myself better, helped me engage more with the wider world in a way I was comfortable and that spoke to me.

London was a tough nut to crack, it took me a while to adjust to this eclectic city, but once it wrapped its arms around me in a warm embrace, it has never ceased to amaze me with its charming exuberance and vibe. I have lived in many cities growing up in India, cities which I absolutely adored and loved, but London is the one City that made me feel I have finally arrived Home.

—Usha Sitaaraam

Being Home: A Reflection on the Ups and Downs of Expat LifeThank you so much to Usha for sharing with us her vulnerabilities and growth as a result of her international move. Have you experienced similar ups and downs moving abroad? We certainly have! Feel free to share them in the comments below and remember you’re not alone!

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