27 April 2015

Communication and the redefinition of home to expats

I blearily cracked open an eyelid, my proper first view of a London morning framed by the bright red struts of a dorm room bunkbed. Blinking, I peeped out the window over the sleepily setting up Borough High Street. The sky was overcast with the promise of rain, but I was simply too excited to care as the realisation dawned that it was my first full day on the other side of the world. 28 hours of flying (broken with a long stopover in Singapore) had taken me away from my family, but headlong into the biggest, scarily amazing adventure I could imagine.

Rolling over, I realised that my dorm mates were beginning to stir as well. Heads began to pop up from blue duvets and limbs began to stretch as I rubbed my eyes in utter disbelief. Here I was 11,659 miles from home, and across the room from me were 3 girls I had sat exams with in a small Auckland town; we had shared a few house parties and High School common room gossip, but over the ensuing years lethargy meant we had lost touch. Once the shock had worn off, we celebrated over cornflakes and mugs of coffee before we parted once again. They were off to Scotland on a week long bus tour, but I set about establishing a life here in the capital. 
 Communication and the redefinition of home to expats

What is with all of these musings? It's coming up to my 9th anniversary of stepping onto London Tarmac, and when serendipitiously Lebara contacted me about working together on a post about the joys of expat communication, it seemed like a nice excuse to look back with a few musings on my first few months in a strange country.

Contrary to waking up that morning to familiar faces, I soon learned that when you arrive onto British shores there are usually 3 main challenges;
  • Finding a job that pays the bills, 
  • Sussing out an area to live that'll suit your wallet + not cause you to have a 2 hour each way commute
  • Establishing new networks of friends. 
There are also a plethora of smaller challenges; finding a really good Flat White (it's much better now, trust me, we've progressed a heck of a lot in 9 years), understanding the intricacies of office Tea protocol (get your round in and always ask everyone if they'd like a cuppa even if they don't drink it)  and keeping in touch with home, even though all you'll want to do on a Saturday morning is recover, rather than reassure your parents that everything's ok.

Communication and the redefinition of home to expats

Of course whilst you're going about all of this, home beckons like a lasciviously easy option. The well-worn comfort of your parents, friendship networks established over years of strawberry cheesecake and business contacts you never even realised existed. And there you are starting anew. Some lucky people come over with friends, or to groups of old mates which cushions the shock, but not me, I decided to do it my way.

Communication and the redefinition of home to expats

I was young, on my own, living in a hostel, on the other side of the world to my worriting parents and somehow trying to organise a new life in a strange city. When I first arrived in the UK - what seems like eons ago now - smartphones were but a sparkle in the corporate tech developers eyes. My folks  were being updated through phonecalls on a rather dilapidated shared phone mounted in a corner of the hostel common room using credit from pre-paid cards that I picked up from the local corner store.

I'd occasionally splurge on the eyewateringly expensive hostel dialup - especially when you convert it to New Zealand dollars - to dash off very excited emails & the occasional facebook photos. I'd also visit the local library to search for jobs, frantically scribbling down the names & phone numbers of possible leads that I would call from my brick of a cellphone (usually hoping they'd call me back because I only had 56p worth of credit left). Once I landed a job, stereotypically pulling pints (Kiwis and Australians seem to have kept the pub trade rolling along for many years; we were cheap, cheerful, reliable, prone to annual leave limited exploring and kept taste-testing the produce, much to the delight of the Landlord's ringing till) it was many months before a UK bank thought to trust me with enough credit for a phone plan.

Communication and the redefinition of home to expats

I suspect these days things are a little different - dialup is but a distant nightmare dream but it must be an interesting challenge staying in connection with family and friends; uploading 'hotdog legs on the beach' photos to facebook, adding fishpout selfies outside iconic landmarks to instagram and updating those ever changing travel plans with your family so they know just which country you are in. If you're a new expat these days, the internet can be such a wonderful places for getting in contact with like-minded travellers in such a huge city like London - hello Twitter & blogging!! Communication is still so vital.

Communication and the redefinition of home to expats

(...though I'm pretty sure in many ways my Dad wishes we could go back to a simpler communication method and that I'd send him less photos of exotic building cornicing...)

How did you find it?

Lebara have just launched a new website which is continually growing and aimed at helping people connect and to my delight they also have a foundation that is helping communities around the world to connect in ways they never imagined. They kindly sponsored this post in order to keep our travel fund topped up for future fun.

29 comments :

  1. You know, this actually sounds really fun! Although I'd miss my Citymapper app tremendously, it would be such a fun challenge to try to adjust to a new place without the aid of my iPhone and the internet. You ought to be proud of yourself, Emma! So....when you moved here 9 years ago, was your plan to just stay for the usual 2-year visa or did you think you'd be here "forever"?

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  2. Awe, what a fun flashback. This totally took me back to my first few months abroad as well. My Dad always likes to remind me of how when he moved away for college he had to write letters to stay in touch with his family. While I like writing the occasional letter I am much more a fan of a quick phone call.

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  3. My first trip abroad I traveled around France for a few weeks with friends. No smart phones and none of us brought cell phones because a) they didn't get internet and b) roaming charges from France - no thanks. So basically apart from one cryptic email (Cryptic because I ran out of credit on the slow dial up hostel computer) my mom received no communication from me. In retrospect I could have died ;) Just kidding, but she must have been a very trusting mom x

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  4. Making brand new friends as an adult can be quite a challenge. You really need to jump into it, and try to not to rely on just expat groups because they just up and leave you to go home! That's what I discovered anyway... Also, my parents have only just stopped with the dial up. I'm frigging serious.

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  5. Literally I can't imagine those dark ages before broadband...you were very brave to move across the world at such a young age.

    Lots of love,
    Angie
    SilverSpoon London

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  6. Oh my, this brought back memories of "communicating" in Paris 10 years ago: when I started off with those pre-paid cards bought in local tabacs and then had to deal with a serious distrust of these new-fangled SIM cards (they didn't have them in the States at the time). And even further back, dare I remember staying up until midnight every night to AOL chat to talk to my Swiss boyfriend at the time? That dial-up noise will always send my heart aflutter I think. Learning experiences aside, I think 9 years calls for a celebration! xx

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  7. It's crazy making friends as a grown up (well, I say grown up which is a bit of an untruth really...) because you think 'oh, yeah, this'll be easy' because you've forgotten all of the playground horrors...
    Uggggggggh dial up.

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  8. It's amazing what we did, isn't it? I was the same in Prague - but we absolutely survived without all that tech at our beck and call. It's just so different now, being able to video call your parents from the poolside!

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  9. I am always still in awe of how far away you and Rebecca are from "home" ... I complain about being 5,000 miles away, but I honestly don't know how you ladies do it! I applaud you.

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  10. @KarenBurnsBooth27 April 2015 at 17:23

    I know how it feels to be far away from home and your post so very poignant and also uplifting! Fabulous post Emma! Karen

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  11. I have a lot to thank Emma for not only being my Daughter but bringing a whole new lovely family into our lives.I am now the proud owner of a fully functional PC capable of broadband usage with the ability to Skype any where in the world, thanks to Emma for dragging me kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I also have an I phone capable of the same functions, we are all here able to share Emma's inherent travel and taste adventures due to these modern day miracles . Thank you daughter we all love you very much and look forward to the next adventure, and also to her long suffering Mr Kiwi.

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  12. It's all down to lovely friends - we simply couldn't do without them!

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  13. The things we do to stay in touch with out family huh! Oooooh, that's SO sweet Jess!

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  14. I don't think I'd cope anymore without GoogleMaps is has to be said! Though I do tend to take screenshots of maps just to work the battery a little less - first world problems huh!?
    Heck no, I was planning to be here for a couple of years then pop back home. Oops!!

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  15. I think I'd have to adopt you even if you weren't my Dad! Thank you for your utterly lovely message :)

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  16. I kinda adore getting letters (that aren't bills!). There is something really lovely about opening a physical item that arrives on your doorstep - I guess it's why I insist on sending Christmas Cards after all this time.
    I hear ya on the phonecalls though - there is something about an actual conversation that brings such joy!

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  17. It's strangely difficult isn't it Karen? :)

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  18. What a lovely post Emma, and I think that anyone who leaves their home behind and travels across the globe to start a new life is so very brave.

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  19. 4 years on in London and I agree with so many of things you have expressed so well Emma, it's always hard to start all over again , no matter what stage of life one moves away from a place we used to call home.

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  20. What a great first memory of London. Isn't amazing how fast time goes by. Nine years is a pretty big milestone! My first memory of London is landing mid afternoon January after a very similar long flight and it was snowing. Freezing but snowing! Think I fell in love with London right there and then.
    Claire xx

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  21. Hahahahaha. The tea protocol. I had to spend ages figuring that one out too.

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  22. Glamorous Glutton29 April 2015 at 17:47

    Great post. I've lived far away from home, not as far as you but I do remember the nightmare of dialup. It is so much easier now and anything that means that we can all stay in touch with friends and family far away is fantastic. GG

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  23. Brave, crazy and naive in so many ways - but it really teaches you so much about the world, and about yourself!

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  24. You'd think the small stuff to be the easiest right!?

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  25. Ditto that - though mine was sitting on Heathrow tarmac for an extra hour due to rain. Rain!? Even the customs people thought I was crazy :)

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  26. These things that British people take for granted! It's like a totally new unspoken law. Seriously!

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  27. Love this post. It's always nice to remember what the past was like, and compare it to how different life is now!

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