21 July 2016

Claire McGill - Expat in Maryland, The United States

Claire McGill - Expat in Maryland, The United States

Claire McGill is a 39-year-old writer and fitness instructor who is living in Columbia, Maryland, USA. Originally from the town of Cheltenham in the United Kingdom, Mrs. McGill relocated to Maryland as her husband had applied for a job in the USA. “I practically filled in the application form for him,” she said. “I like a bit of risk, adventure and I have a passion for living life to the full.”

 

Mrs. McGill has been living in the United States of America for over two years now with her husband and son. She describes her experience as a blast. “I like to think that when I go to a place I go and fully integrate, make a difference, shape things, and in return that place and those people will make a difference to me and help shape me as a person,” she added. While Mrs. McGill has had no negative experiences while living in the USA, she noted that she does get lonely at times, and makes it a point to go meet up with someone or visit a new coffee shop. “The little things like that sometimes do more for your expat life than the big things,” she noted. Mrs. McGill also described the difficulty her son had with adjusting to the educational school system in the USA. “The schooling, mentality and approach to children and behaviour is very different in the USA from the UK, and it’s the one thing that I’ve really had to get my head around for my son’s sake,” she said.

 

It’s not unusual for expatriates to experience loneliness or homesickness when living overseas. Like Mrs. McGill mentioned, meeting up with people is a great way to take one’s mind off feelings of isolation. Expats may want to consider participating in activities and events hosted by clubs and associations around the area that to help them meet locals and other expats. Another issue that expats with families tend to encounter involves adjusting to a different educational system. It can be helpful for expat parents to have their children attend an international school which offers a curriculum that matches the country that they come from.

 

Find out more about Claire McGill’s experiences in the United States in her full interview below.

 

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Bath and Cheltenham (my parents live in Bath, and we have a home in Cheltenham)

 

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: We seem to get very itchy feet every three to four years and when my husband came home one evening with the news that he could apply for a job in the USA, I practically filled in the application form for him. Why not, I say! Let’s do it! Let’s try something different, have some new experiences and take ourselves out of the comfort zone of our three-bed semi, public sector jobs and shopping at Waitrose, because that’s not really my dream! I like a bit of risk, adventure and I have a passion for living life to the full.

 

Q: Where are you living now?

A: We live in Columbia, Maryland, USA. Out of one suburbia frying pan and into the suburbian fire! Its suburbia gone mad in Columbia! It really is Desperate Housewife country (on the East Coast). But, we are really near to the cultural hubs of Baltimore and Washington DC, which is a relief for the soul. That’s probably not fair about Columbia, because it is a very new place (built in the 1970s) and it’s really making inroads to establishing itself culturally. It’s a fabulously family-orientated place to live, and we are lucky, but I do crave the grit and chaos of Baltimore and NYC frequently! 

 

Q: How long have you been living in the U.S.?

A: We’ve lived here just over two years now, and it’s been a blast. We came with the mindset that we’ll throw ourselves in and get on with it. I like to think that when I go to a place I go and fully integrate, make a difference, shape things, and in return that place and those people will make a difference to me and help shape me as a person. It’s certainly been true of this experience. My family and I have travelled, experienced great things, and have grown together because of this expat experience.

 

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in the U.S.?

A: There really hasn’t been anything too difficult. Sometimes you get lonely, and if I feel like that I make myself go and meet up with someone, take a new walk round a lake or go to a new coffee shop. The little things like that sometimes do more for your expat life than the big things. I do hate the East Coast winters though! Oh my, the bitter wind and the snow days! Argh, they drive me insane! I’m a spring and summer gal for sure, and I love those seasons here.

 

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in the U.S.? What was your experience with these?

A: I didn’t find any trouble getting these things sorted, but I had looked it all up beforehand and even secured a job whilst back in the UK, so I was ready to rock when I came out. You can make things happen, but you also have to be patient. It sure ain’t like the UK! And the procedures ARE different. Sometimes I was like ‘Oh, I don’t get why you do that!’, but they just do, and you just have to roll with it.

 

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live with my husband, my son and my two cats, who came with us from England, and had to adjust to life out here too. I think we have all adjusted in our own way. I feel that, whilst I am referred to as the ‘trailing spouse’, in fact that title belongs to my husband because he learns all there is to know about the area from me. I despise that title ‘trailing spouse’, though! It sounds to archaic, like we’re just moping around the house, busy doing nothing, waiting for our husbands to come home and eat the supper we took three hours cooking them whilst they drank port and had cigars in the office and the tennis club. ;)

 

My son has had to adjust to school, as have I. The schooling, mentality and approach to children and behaviour is very different in the USA from the UK, and it’s the one thing that I’ve really had to get my head around for my son’s sake. My son speaks in an American accent to fit in at school, but talks with a British accent at home. He can easily flit between the two, but chooses not to speak to me in an American accent at all! I love my expat lifestyle. I love being British in America, quite simply.

 

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in the USA? How did you manage to find a social circle in the USA?

A: I’ve met a huge range of American people and this was mainly through my blog, www.ukdesperatehousewifeusa.com. I blogged in the Columbia community and from that several people reached out to me, I got invited to events, and began to meet up with all sorts of folk. It’s been a joy to be accepted into the community here. I wanted my expat life to be more than creating a Little Britain in the USA, doing the school run, going to coffee mornings, listening to women talk about where they shop for groceries and when they intend to steam clean their sofas.  I decided to do something different with my expat life and have me some fun, including getting on TV. If you read my blog you’ll see I got on the telly in four different TV shows, including House of Cards and VEEP. Such fun! I also attend political and community events, write for county magazines and expat global publications, trained as a fitness instructor and nutritionist, and have written a children’s book, all to make an expat life that is different and rewarding in the USA. My commentary in all this is that things are possible in the USA if you put your mind to it and that everyone loves hearing and accommodating an English accent. The TV stuff is a bit of an experiment: how will my Britishness be perceived on TV? I know this: it's more fun to do this on the odd Monday than doing the Groundhog Day school run!

 

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: I would say to anyone coming here that you have to believe in yourself, take risks, do things outside of your comfort zone, challenge yourself, don’t hanker after the UK, don’t create a community that isolates you, and always be the cheery Brit that folks remember. There is so much to see and do, and not just in the travel aspect. Every day you can see or do something new, like taking a walk in a new place, having a cup of coffee somewhere different, or talking to someone you’ve never met. Those are the expat every day experiences that will enhance your life on a daily basis.

 

Q: How does the cost of living in the USA compare to your home?

A:  I think the cost of living in a home here is astronomical. And I mean the McMansion homes that everyone lives in in this area. The air conditioning alone is something like $600 a month! WTF?! We do eat out more here, though. It’s simply more accepted, and with kids tagging along, which sometimes is nice, and sometimes a pain in the wotsit.

 

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in the U.S.?

A: I love the community here. They love the Brits. We have a great relationship and thankfully can joke about all the war stuff from 1812 and wotnot without causing offence! For the record, we’re sorry. I think we continue to learn about each other, and that is a fascinating thing. As I always say to my son, one way is not right and one way is not wrong: they’re just different .

 

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in the USA?

A: I love turning right on red.

I love how friendly most people are.

I love driving on the roads.

I love the summers and the beaches.

I love the American positivity.

I love how there are loads of excuses to have a party here.

I love being a 2 hour plane journey from Florida J

 I don’t get American football.

I don’t like that I can’t walk to a town.

I can’t function in East Coast winters.

I struggle with American schooling and discipline.

I can’t help but laugh at American’s obsession with hygiene.

And I want to tell some American parents to stop fawning over their children and taking them everywhere all the time and mollycoddling them and living their lives through them. (But I don’t!)

 

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: I’ve been homesick on occasion – usually during the winter!

 

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I just Skype or email or Facebook. It’s really so much easier than it was even 10 years ago to be an expat.

 

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I would love to go to Australia, or a city in Europe to live. Big differences there! Anywhere! I don’t mind going back to the UK for a bit, but I know I’ll get itchy feet again soon....

 

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: The hardest thing has been knowing that we are only here for three years. We’ve packed it all in though, and our bucket list is nearly complete. I did a police ride along with the Baltimore Homicide Department recently, and that was something on the list I was very excited to accomplish.

 

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in the U.S.?

A: My main tip is this: don’t judge.

 

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the U.S.?

A: Mine of course! And LiveWorkTravelUSA, plus BBC America. They’re all so fun of advice and fun anecdotes. There are a lot of us Brits out here writing about living in the USA.