I'm Here To Stay

By: Taylor Kellum - Also see author's expat blog listing & expat interview

Today, I am an expat. I had to earn that title, though, through a series of time consuming (and bank account draining) visa applications, lots of time and patience, and a giant leap across the pond. Being an expat has become my identity almost, but in a good way. Like if I was to make a list about myself…. Blogger. Running enthusiast. Frozen yogurt connoisseur. Expatriate.

But before I can share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my move across the pond, I have to explain how I got ever so lucky to have the opportunity to become an expat in the first place.

Basically, I met my (now) Fiancé at a summer camp that I wasn’t supposed to work at and he reluctantly made it to….

I was your typical American university student coming off her freshman year and was ready for a summer away from psychology classes and loud dorm rooms. I had gotten rejected from the summer camp I applied to because camper enrollment was seriously low. No new counselors were hired that year from America, so I wasn’t alone in the employment struggle. Like the responsible teenager I was, I got my old high school retail job back for the summer instead.

At the last minute before camp started, I got a phone call from my best friend who was working in the camp office that day. She said “We need one more counselor. If you can call the boss now and interview tomorrow morning, you have the job!”

I was beyond thrilled! Not only would I have a fun job that wouldn’t feel like work, but I also heard that about half the staff is from England……. What 18 year old girl wouldn’t be excited?!

Alex (that’s my now fiancée AKA the reason I’m now an expat) had just spent his year doing an amazing internship in Oxford, England. He heard about this “Camp America” program that allowed people from all over the UK to spend the summer in the States. He planned on going to the convention held in London in order to get more information and to sign up to work at an American camp.

When the Saturday of the convention came, he didn’t really want to wake up as early as he needed to in order to get the train to London. He hit the snooze button…. and again….. and again…. Never fear, though. “If it’s meant to be, I’ll get there!” he thought after hitting snooze for the 18th time.

He slowly made his way to the train station after already missing the early train. He thought again, “Well if it’s meant to be, I’ll make it to the next train and get there in time.”

Lo and behold, Alex wound up on a train to the Camp America convention. He picked the first camp booth he came across and was sold on the sign that said “Spent your summer in Florida!” It was a done deal.

Now, I ask you: Is there such a thing as fate? It’s okay to believe in it in movies and books. The princess marries her knight in shining armor, the frog turns back into a prince, and (spoiler alert!) Harry Potter lives to defeat the dark lord. Fate is such a kind force in these stories.

But this is real life we’re talking about; MY life to be more specific. And I still don’t know if I believe in fate, but it sure does seem fateful that I met Alex. I mean, if he missed the train and never made it to the Camp American convention, or if I wasn’t hired as a camp counselor at the last minute, we may have never crossed paths. I think I’m allowed to believe in fate if only for a second.

(I’ll let you be the judge of that one!)

We found ourselves a summer romance, which turned into a more than summer long distance relationship.

Fast forward about 3 years. 3 long years of expensive transatlantic plane tickets, endless Skype dates, and tearful airport goodbyes. In those 3 years, I had visited England 4 times all for at least a month at a time. I had done everything remotely touristy. I had taken a picture inside of a red phone box. I had eaten fish and chips on Brighton Pier. I had pretended to run my trolley into Platform 9 ¾ .

Something had to change.

I always knew I’d be the one to make the move across the pond. I loved England. It felt like home. His family felt like my family. And Marmite started to taste good. (I’m kidding. Not about Marmite tasting good, but about it being a deciding factor.)

Going from the south of Florida to the south of England sounded as easy as a passport and plane ticket. And it is, if you’re just visiting. But to move to another country? Well that’s a-whole-nother story.

When you’re young and in love, anything seems possible. The UK government will tell you otherwise. Sorry, but they don’t care about your fateful love story about summer camp.

I spent hours on Google researching ways to legally move across the pond. The UK Border Agency was basically my new best friend (or worst enemy if you want to look at it that way).

Well if I was Canadian, this would have been a lot easier. Canada is a part of the Commonwealth, and I could have moved in a heartbeat.

Or maybe I could apply as an unmarried partner? Technically we’re unmarried, so that makes sense. Oh, but I have to show evidence that we have been living together, in a genuine relationship that is like a marriage for two or more years? How does that make any sense? How can I live there for two years if the government won’t let me live there at all?!

Everything came down to this exclamation of frustration: “Why can’t two people just be together?”

I’m living proof that two people can in fact be together. You just need to wait longer than regular couples. And you have to put more on the line. I was willing to uproot my entire life and throw it onto another continent. But my desire just wasn’t enough. (I remember watching the Kim Kardashian wedding special one day in my bedroom, and she threw a fit when Kris Humphreys asked her to move to Minnesota with him. I remember thinking, “Really?! I’m willing to move across the world, but you won’t move to a different state to be with your future husband?!” How unfair is that? We all know how that marriage turned out, anyway. Karma.)

I started to sound like a broken record after a while. Every sentence started with “why” and ended with “England”. “Why can’t I just move to England?” “Why don’t you support me moving to England?” “Why do most people think I’m stupid for dating someone from England?”

The silver lining was when we got engaged in May of this year. The UK Border Agency finally had a sub-section for me, and it was about freakin’ time! The Fiancé(e) Visa was my very expensive ticket out of Florida. We just had to get married within six months of it (hopefully) getting approved. Okay. I accept. Who wants to end up like that “Five Year Engagement” movie anyway?

It sounded simple enough. Apply for visa + be charged lots of money = happy expat! Right?

Wrong.

We were up against a time clock, because on the 8th of July, 2012, the UK Border Agency would make it exponentially more difficult to obtain the visa, and any application sent after this date would be subject to those changes.

Challenge accepted.

I discreetly packed up my three years of “evidence” of mine and Alex’s relationship to send to the UK embassy in New York. When I say discreetly, I mean I didn’t tell anyone I was applying for the visa. It was like I was trying not to jinx it or get my hopes up because there always was that chance it would not get approved. (I read enough horror stories online about people getting rejected for the visa, and that was not about to happen to me!)

Anything I could have possibly sent in the package to prove our relationship was substantial, I did. Skype records. Phone records. Photographs. Cards/letters to each other. Flight details. I’ll spare you the details, but the list goes on and on. That doesn’t even include sending all the nitty-gritty, like my passport, birth certificate, and bank statements, too!

It’s all so very exciting to prepare for. That is, until it’s sent off and now out of your control. Your fate (it always comes down to fate, doesn’t it?) is now in the hands of whoever opens your package at the embassy. He or she will deem you worthy of a visa into their country. Or not.

I don’t think I’m spoiling a suspenseful story by saying my visa application amazingly got approved. And before that nerve-racking deadline, too! All my patience, hard work, and waiting were finally paying off!

Now came the tricky bit of telling everyone I love that I’m moving to England sooner rather than later. Starting with my parents.

My dad and step-mom. Both American to the core. Both have that “my way is the right way” mentality. Neither has ever been out of the country.

They knew I was going to move to England eventually. What they didn’t know was how soon I was planning on actually making the move. And it’s not like I had anything bad to hide from them. A lot of my peers didn’t have bachelor’s degrees yet (I did), were jobless (I wasn’t), or were already off having kids of their own (also wasn’t). I think I’ve done pretty well in my 22 years here on planet Earth and I was about to follow my dream of moving to England.

Winning the battle against the UK Embassy did not mean I was going to win the battle with my parents, though.

When I finally mustered the courage to tell them about my plans to move in early October, it was like World War III broke out. I had a plan for my future, but that didn’t matter. Apparently I was (to directly quote them) “throwing away my degree” and making the “biggest mistake of my life.” Wait a minute. Just last week they were bragging to their friends about their responsible daughter who graduated college early, who had so much drive and determination when it came to work, and who was engaged to an amazing gentleman who they approved of so much. So now that’s all gone the drain because I want to move in October. (“Well that makes sense…” Said the most sarcastic person ever.)

My parents didn’t believe me when I said we had to get married within six months of my visa approval date (surprise!). They said they looked it up at we had 27 months to get married. I have no idea where they got that number from, but by the way, it is wrong. (First of all, 27 months?? What a random number. Yes, the UK Border Agency declares you have 2 years and 3 months to get married. That seems fair enough. Not. Secondly, that’s an awfully long time by any standard. Most visas would expire twice over before 27 months.) So in their true stubborn nature, they came up with every excuse possible to not come to the wedding.

I was in a no win situation. Whether I told them 3 months before or 3 days before, my parents were going to blow things out of proportion.

I was upset, but there was nothing I could do about it. People will always think what they want. They’ll hold on to their opinions no matter what. At the same time, people will do what they want, too. Like I did what I wanted and moved to England. And if my parents truly want to come to my wedding, they will.

Eventually, little things like that start to not matter anymore. Nothing changes the fact that you are following your dream. No matter how many fights you get into, no matter much money is in your bank account, no matter how many suitcases full of clothes you want to take, you are moving across the pond. (Those fifteen pairs of shoes you wanted to take with you start to become less important, too. Somehow I miraculously came to the conclusion that I really don’t need 8 pairs of flats. In reality, my suitcase was over the weight limit… Oh well!)

Every minute you spent planning, every tear you shed during the goodbyes, and every moment you spent wishing is all a distant memory when you can finally say “Well, I’m from Florida, but I live here now.”

I thought I’d never make it to this side of the pond. And there was a flicker of fright when the immigration officer made me feel like a criminal! (Seriously, I thought I had it all together. I brought a binder full of evidence in case they gave me a hard time, and I knew every question she threw at me. Still, they investigate you like you stole Big Ben from right under their noses! Seriously, Ms. Officer, it’s vital that I enter your country. I have a wedding to attend. MY OWN. Yes, I have a Fiancée Visa. Go on, take my fingerprints.) But they’re apparently supposed to make you feel like that. Welcome home!

I think the best part is knowing that I don’t have to anticipate anymore goodbyes. As happy as I was to visit England for the past three years, I always knew I had to leave. But now, this is where I will remain legally for the next, well, forever! Every sheep I see wandering the fields on the side of the road still excites me. All the brisk autumn days still make me happy even when I get stuck in the rain. And I will never get sick of all the mornings filled with toast and Marmite.

I’m happy to say that I’m here to stay.

Like I said before, going from the south of Florida to the south of England sounds as easy as a passport and plane ticket. But it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

But it’s possible, and I think that’s the most part of the story to tell. I can preach my story day in and day out, but all that’s left to say is that it’s possible and it’s worth it.

About the author:

Taylor is a 22 year old south Florida native who now lives in the south of England. She loves her new home and loves sharing her experiences so that she can help others trying to make their way across the pond. In her spare time she enjoys running and collecting anything with an owl on it.
Blog address: http://runningacrossthepond.blogspot.co.uk/ Twitter: @HeyTayK
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