25 May 2017

Sarah Waddington - Expat in Philadelphia, USA

Sarah Waddington - Expat in Philadelphia, USA

We’ve had the chance to talk to Sarah Waddington, 27, a French expat who has moved to the USA with her husband. Mrs. Waddington who has been living there for more than six years, now works as a project manager. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I'm originally from France, from the suburb of Paris.


Q: What made you move out of France?

A: I came to Philadelphia the first time as an exchange student at Drexel University and I met my boyfriend (now husband) at a party on campus.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I had to do an internship to graduate so I focused on finding one in the area that led to a job offer afterwards. We still live in Philadelphia.


Q: How long have you been living in the US?

A: It was on and off from December 2010 to November 2012 but I have been here for good since that time when I finally got my work visa.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my husband who is local so nothing to adapt to from his perspective… well except to ME!


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I do miss home sometimes and just the general feeling of being understood with regular pop culture things I grew up with, jokes and food. We try to go back once a year to visit but at this point, I think it is just nostalgia. I left as a student so there is really no going back to that lifestyle anyways. My friends have also moved away a lot and my brother lives in Canada. When I feel homesick I usually rely on the French friends I made here just to feel connected. We help each other that way.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Americans are really welcoming at first but it is hard to bond deeply with them. I usually describe their approach as a "decrescendo" relationship: coming in really strong with a lot of adverbs "great" "amazing" "so awesome" but hard to sustain and get them to really bond deeper with you. In France, it is the opposite, we are "crescendo" in our approach: really reserved at first and getting closer as the relationship goes.


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

A: My first friends here were made through my husband since he grew up here. After a while, I created my own circle of people from my home country who were in my situation, dating or married to a local. Through my hobbies, I have been able to develop my own local circle of friends and I finally feel well rounded!


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

A: I think it is cheaper but I grew up close to Paris.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 3$.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: 3 course for 20$.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 3 course for 70$.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: 12$+, alcohol is regulated by the State of Pennsylvania. I don’t smoke so I don’t really pay attention to that!


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in the US?

A: I would suggest going to Bank of America for their ease to deal with international people. Frankly, they are just a lot more familiar with people coming in and not having all their documents immediately. They are also everywhere in the city and have a lot of partner banks abroad so you can always avoid bank ATM fees with them.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: For my three J-1 Student and Intern visas, it was fairly easy because I had the assistance of my school and my sponsor to get me on track with the documents I needed. The H1B is another story altogether, there are A LOT of paperwork that needs to be done and each lawyer, if you decide to use one, has his/her way of doing things, on which you have no regards, until you get a Request for Evidence, like me, and realized they filed under the wrong terminology…true story. I wouldn't recommend doing it by yourself though, it is too time-consuming and important to make a mistake and ruin your application. However, I suggest being on top of your application at all time because it is YOUR future.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in the US is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: If you are coming for work, your work insurance should cover you for most things. The key is to stay in-network for your treatments so you have no surprise. You must educate yourself on your plan and the different options available to you. More to come on this since the USA is in the middle of a health insurance overhaul.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in France or the US?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: It is offered by my work and this would typically be the case for US expatriates. Packages depend on their insurance companies but the minimum would be to have a plan that covers preventative care.

Coming in as a student, my sponsor provided insurance for the duration of my stay here and my internship.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to the US? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: All I had were suitcases because we took an apartment with my husband when I decided to move back. I didn't use any moving services.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The hardest for me has been (and still is) the sugar-coating when you express yourself. There are many ways of saying things, and me being a rather frank person, it is always difficult to self-censor. It is complicated to find people to hang out with where being frank and honest is more common. For example, for most Americans, engaging in a debate of opposing ideas is not part of a positive social interaction while it is THE basis of family/friends diners in France. A lot of screaming and loud voices but it's all love!


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

A: The "customer is king" and they are very open to accommodations. This may seem trivial, but the fact that businesses are open so late for example (not the banks though) releases the pressure to do certain things in time and avoid running against the clock. They are aware that everyone has a different rhythm and that it is up to the businesses to adapt to reach as many people as possible.

For what I like the least, there is a point that I thought was a cliché but that now with nearly 6 years of immersion, I admit openly. They are very materialistic and they always need more: a bigger house, one more car, more of this, more of that, and in addition, you have to celebrate and buy gifts for everything.

One last thing that is much less serious: the price of telecoms. My phone plan costs me $ 100 a month! Our internet bill is in the same range.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any recommendations for future expats?

A: There are so many things to do in Philadelphia, this is why I have a blog dedicated to it but in bulk and in no specific order: Reading Terminal Market, Independence Hall, Constitution Center, shopping at the outlets, eat a cheesesteak, Lancaster, and the Amish, attend the Made in America festival…


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

A: I didn't use to but in recent months, yes, especially when I see the current climate. I often wonder what will make me pack my bags and call it quits. When I think of the environment in which my potential children would be raised, I am a little nervous about seeing some intolerable things become part of their daily lives especially the relationship between whites and blacks, since I'm in an interracial relationship.

But the quality of life and the professional opportunities are much here. For example, we already own a house and we are thinking of another piece of real estate to buy, which I think would be hard to imagine in the Paris area.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Come with an open mind and be ready to get rid of your habits as soon as possible. Do not try to compare everything!


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the US?

A: I love to explore philly.com and the Atlas Obscura, which talks about the "off the beaten path" things to do in Philly. http://www.atlasobscura.com/things-to-do/philadelphia-pennsylvania/places

I read a lot of other expatriates' blogs. More on my blogroll: