Origins of this expat

People often ask me ‘How did you end up here?’  Here being England.

The short answer is that I married a British man I met while a student in London in the mid-2000s. The long answer is that my eventual move here has been a long time in the making. I’ve had an interest in, dare I say love of, these isles since I was a very young girl that stayed with me into my teens and young adulthood.  It’s what drove me to study in London and what has led me to this current chapter living in a victorian terraced house in Tunbridge Wells with our half-American / half-British little boy.

At about three years old, when my memories begin, I became convinced that I was somehow a princess.  On any given day, I was either a Queen or a Princess, and my parents indulged this, as they did with the other aspects of my very active imagination.  One evening, my dad decided to interview me on his giant black 1980s camcorder.  We got into a discussion about who I was going to marry, which was an extremely serious question for a three year old and caused me a bit of angst as I didn’t think I could marry my older brother since he seemed rather busy trying to become a fighter pilot.  Anxiety levels were high and, in trying to avoid a meltdown, my dad casually suggested maybe I could marry Prince William.  I asked, ‘Does he have a mommy?’ To which he responded, ‘Yes, she’s the Princess of Wales.’  Which obviously led me to believe that she was a Princess of WHALES and rode the seas on the backs of two Dolphins.  This sounded intriguing  and so from about three years old I was not only Royal but apparently going to marry into the British royal family.

As I grew into an older little girl, I perked up anytime there was something mentioned about my future family on the news but also started to become interested in wider British culture.  In 1996, the Spice Girls released Spice World and I was completely hooked, like any good preteen girl.  For my birthday that summer, I got the CD as a gift from my mom and had a Spice Girls / Strictly Ballroom (the movie) themed birthday party. I didn’t have many friends around this time, and maybe the aforementioned sheds light on why that might have been. I don’t think any of the girls who came to that party read this, but thank you for being my friend during a very awkward and lonely period in my life.  I continued to follow the Spice Girls throughout the nineties and thought that London seemed like an especially cool place as portrayed in ‘Spice World’ and British people really wore fantastic clothes!  In case you are wondering, I always identified with Baby Spice.

In August 1997,  I remember exactly where I was when I learned Princess Diana had died.  I was 12 years old and we were at our family’s beach house in Delaware.  I came downstairs to the smell of my dad cooking breakfast, the warm summer sea breeze drifting through the house, and the radio on. My father was visibly shocked and broke the news.  Like most Americans, I grew up enamoured with Princess Diana and felt very, very sad that day.  Later, I got up at 3:00am by myself and watched her funeral on TV.

By this point, I was ready to be in the UK.  I was soaking up all I could about the history, the culture, and, of course, my future husband.  I bought books in the preteen section of the book store about Prince William – what his school days at Eton were like, what sports he enjoyed. I had a diary where I wrote how much I loved him.  The other girls in class were all huge fans of Leonardo DiCaprio and N’SYNC and surreptitiously passed around picture books of them during class, but not me.  No one shared my love of the young Prince, and I was glad not to have competition.

I’m very happy to say that this obsession with Prince William didn’t last long, and by the time I was a teenager I had moved on.  Sailing, school, and being an all-American girl took up my time. My older brother, now nearing the end of high-school, was really into music and, wanting to always be as edgy and cool as he was, decided I needed a niche band of my own that could match his eccentric and obscure taste in music (literally nothing has changed and we are still the same way today).  While watching MTV, back when all they had on were music videos, I heard a song called ‘Yellow’ by the band Coldplay.  I asked for their CD ‘Parachutes’ for my 15th birthday.  I’ll never forget that feeling of absolute pride when my brother told me he thought the band was ‘cool.’

That Christmas, my dad surprised us with plane tickets to London for my brother’s 18th birthday.  This was before people bought tickets online, and inside a huge box was a National Geographic Tourist Guide to London, with our plane tickets tucked inside the book.  I had been begging my dad to take us to Europe from a young age, but he always said he wanted to wait until we were older and could really appreciate the experience. So, in February 2001, we flew to London for five really glorious and rainy days.  It was my first transatlantic flight, my first time using my passport.  My dad let me go to the British Museum alone while he and my brother did something else, and I can’t quite describe the feeling of sheer joy I felt as a 15 year-old wandering the streets surrounding the museum.  I remember I wore a light blue turtle-neck and a navy blue peacoat. I had my dad’s digital camera (one of the first) and I took about 500 photos of gold Grecian necklaces. Would parents let their kids do that sort of thing today? I’m not sure.  It was a different time.

My interest in this small island piqued again once I got to University and I had the opportunity to study abroad.  I eventually decided not to study in the UK, as I wanted to live in a place where English isn’t the first language, so I instead moved to Amsterdam.  Not quite what you were expecting, huh?  My ancestry is Dutch, which is why I chose to study there and also because I didn’t speak any language other than English, apart from a bit of Spanish.  I learned some Dutch, gained a lot of beer and cheese weight, and had a grand time.  My closest friends there were British, and some people in the programme went on to study in the UK as well, so I did the same.  I spent an additional three months abroad at Oxford getting my arse kicked intellectually but actually thrived and it’s what encouraged me to apply to the London School of Economics for my Masters degree. I had also decided at that point that England really suited me and I wanted to stick around for as long as I could.

Well, the ending to this story is that I met my British husband six months into my Masters programme. I wasn’t actually looking for a husband – I was only 23 and had big career plans – but I like to think that it was kind of destiny.  At my wedding, my dad played his interview with me as a three year old asking, ‘Daddy, who will marry me?’ Wasn’t Prince William, obviously, but close!

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