Two Months An Expat

Two months ago I moved to Boston, MA to live with my wife and I feel like I’m starting to get to know the city. Like every city of a certain size Boston has it’s advantages and disadvantages as a home. I like Boston and the things that irritate me are not enough to make me want to relocate. The rusting and dented subway trains with their hard metal seats, rusting exteriors and frequent breakdowns that make me feel like the city purchased them as a job lot from a former Communist country in eastern Europe without obtaining the manuals are irritating. The same goes for Boston drivers who appear to be a special brand of asshole that has one hand on their mobile phone and the other poised on the horn, ready to sound their outrage at any moment. The other day I was sat on a bus when the bus driver and another driver were involved in a heated argument through the window that would have made a chat show host proud. None of the other passengers batted an eyelid although as with public transport everywhere it would take a 40mph crash to draw peoples attention away from their phones.

One of the things that I really like about Boston is that the city is an attractive blend of old and new that somehow just works. Mostly. There is some hideous architecture like the Government Center that has the aesthetic appeal of a goats rear end but every city has buildings it would rather forget. Boston’s lively enough that there’s always something happening and not dangerous enough for that something to be a stabbing or a shooting.The tourists can be irritating but that’s the price you pay for living in a nice place with lots of history, even if a most of that history is anti British. A fellow Brit was telling me the other day how weird it was to hear the anti British parts of the Boston Tea Party Experience and I agree, it is a little weird but I’m sure I’ll get used to all the Revolutionary War references eventually. I’m sure I’ll also get used to buying alcohol in liquor stores because you can’t get it in supermarkets in puritan Massachusetts which is a bit of a pain when you are used to buying beer and cheese in one transaction.

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I like the way the old and the new combine to make an interesting cityscape

Another thing that I like about the city is the weather, there are a lot more sunny days than I was used to in the UK and summer days are warmer. When it is too hot the buses and trains have air conditioning (something the UK would benefit from!) and although sometimes just walking from our house to the station makes me want to volunteer myself for the ice bucket challenge those days are not too frequent. Ice cream and soda are both very cheap here and help to make summer a lot more bearable. I have to admit that I’m dreading winter as it will be much colder and icier than I’m used to but I have about 40 layers of clothing in my wardrobe and I’m willing to use them all if required. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the famous autumn colours of New England although I will not be referring to seeing the trees change colours as “leaf peeping” like New Englanders do. That just sounds creepy and weird.

A few years ago when I visited Boston for the first time, the city was stuck in that unloved time of year when the grip of winter has yet to surrender to the warmth of spring. Tired after over a month of travel across the US I sat on a damp park bench on Boston Common and wished that I didn’t have to return to England because I felt that I had so much left to do here. I never could have imagined that less than three years after that day I would be a resident of that very city. This evening I returned to the same park bench and reflected on what’s happened since then. There are a lot of cities I liked in the US; New Orleans, San Antonio, Portland ME and even New York, but I feel pretty lucky that I ended up in Boston.

A State of Surprise

This weekend I continued my exploration of Massachusetts with my wife and discovered that there are a lot of surprises on offer in the state. On Saturday, we headed to Battleship Cove in the south of the state where as the name would suggest there is a huge WW2 battleship on display (the Massachusetts) but also a number of other warships. There’s a destroyer, a submarine, some patrol boats and even a Cold War era Soviet Ship, the Hiddensee, once of the East German Navy and obtained by the US Navy after the break up of the USSR. Even more surprising than finding a Soviet ship flying US colours was the fact that admission for this site was a mere $17, which is considerably less than it costs to visit just one WW2 warship, the Belfast, in London! It was a fascinating place and great value for money and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the state.

A wealth of warships. From front to back the Lionfish, Hiddensee and the mighty Massachusetts
A wealth of warships. From front to back the Lionfish, Hiddensee and the mighty Massachusetts

On Sunday we decided to go on the free dinner cruise which we were given as an anniversary gift by the company that operates the boat we had our wedding reception on. A dinner cruise ticket on this boat costs $75 per person so it was a pretty generous freebie! We went out on Sunday morning to purchase a belt for my formal trousers among other things. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my demographic in men’s sizes does not appear to exist in most US clothes stores. I have a 28″ waist (slim for a guy I know) but in all the department stores the sizes went from 32″ to 56″. Yes 56″ you read that correctly! My wife wrapped this round me as a joke and of course it amusingly went round me twice, but it’s disturbing to think that these stores cater for people with a waist the size of Belgium but not me. Luckily we found a few smaller stores that stocked 30″ belts and I was able to attend the dinner cruise without a tie holding my trousers up!

The dinner cruise had some nice touches
The dinner cruise had some nice touches

The dinner cruise that evening was lovely, my wife and I both dressed up (no jeans or t-shirt on this boat) and had a great evening. Despite the fact that our cruise was a freebie, because it was our anniversary they gave us a window table, sprinkled the table with rose petals and gave us a themed dessert- see above. It was a really pleasant surprise as we were definitely not expecting it. The friendly waitress even arranged for us to be served the dessert on the top deck so we didn’t lose any sightseeing time. Boston Harbour with it’s islands and great views of the city skyline is a beautiful place to be in the evening. As usual I was struck by how friendly and attentive customer service can be in the US compared to grumpy Europe. When Americans get it right they get it very right. The cruise was a great end to a lovely weekend.

The Boston skyline looks great from the harbor.
The Boston skyline looks great from the harbour.

I’m also happy to announce that the saga over transferring my money to the US which I referred to in my previous two posts has finally been resolved. Maybe Monday’s aren’t that bad after all!

 

 

Exploring Boston

It’s a Friday, I’m sitting outside in the shade of a 19th century fort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and it’s fair to say I’m content at the moment. Boston has some really nice parks and public spaces and It’s been good to explore them. I’m even getting used to public transit and learning my way around. The fact that the fort is only open for tours at the weekend is irrelevant. It’s sunny and I’m by the sea.

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The view I have as I write

I got lost this morning, very lost. I wandered into a dodgy looking area alongside a five lane highway and my phone decided to lose its internet connection. Nobody walks on the pavement (sidewalk) outside city centres and main streets in America so there wasn’t a soul to ask for directions. Drivers looked at me like I was mad and angry dog’s barked from their gardens. 30 minutes later and having mercifully not been bitten, robbed or run over (drivers don’t like stopping in Boston) I found the station I’d been looking for. The spirit of adventure!

Although I’m enjoying this period of exploring the city and getting to know my new home, I’m hoping my social security number gets posted soon so I can start applying for jobs. I’m also discovering that problems back in England are hard to fix with a big time difference and poor customer service. Expat problems I guess! If I’ve not had any luck by Monday I’ll begin naming and shaming…

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The boat my wife and I had our wedding reception on just sailed past!

It’s so nice to be finally living with my wife after over a year of waiting but I haven’t forgotten how painful it was for both of us. I see other couples we’ve met along the way still waiting and my frustration at the system resurfaces. Did you know that if a US citizen marries a foreign spouse and decides to follow the process legally they still get fucked over by the system? Plus political representatives don’t care. I won’t forget Obama!

Ranting over for now, have a good weekend everyone.

Settling In Nicely

I’ve been in the US for nearly a week now and I’m starting to feel at home thanks in no small part to the efforts of my wife. I’m getting used to sitting on the other side of the car and looking the other way when crossing the road. Some things have not gone as planned such as transferring my money to the US (still sorting that out now thanks to a grade A cock up) and anything to do with my mobile phone but everything is starting to fall into place. Hopefully by this time next week I’ll only have job searching and passing my Massachusetts driving test on my to do list.  

This weekend I went to Plymouth MA with my wife, my sister in law and her family on a rather warm day. It was great to see them as I hadn’t seen them since March and their baby, Evan, was much larger. It was strange for me because a week before that I’d been in Plymouth, England where the Mayflower sailed from and now I found myself where the Mayflower landed. What do the two places have in common? Not much besides the name, a location on the coast and an underwhelming spot to mark the occasion. Plymouth UK, has a sad set of steps on the harbour wall and Plymouth MA has a rather small rock that you can’t even touch. It’s a nice little town though and we had a good day out, there was even a British export shop where my wife bought me a bar of British chocolate.

Yesterday my wife and I visited a beach in the town of Hull (much nicer than the British Hull) and had a swim in the sea. From my experiences so far, US beach towns are often similar to their English counterparts, with a sandy beach along the coast, competition for parking and a lot of unhealthy food on sale. Hull could easily have been Exmouth, England although the air temperature was considerably warmer and the sea temperature rather colder! I’m ashamed to admit that my wife swam before I did although very few people on the beach were actually more than waist deep, so it can’t have been just me that found the water too frigid. The post swim ice cream was delicious, needless to say.

The warm New England summers lend themselves to beach days.
The warm New England summers lend themselves to beach days.

Today my wife returned to work after taking a long weekend to be with me when I arrived here. It’s strange being here alone but I have plenty to keep me occupied, writing my first US resume, searching for jobs and writing to people back in England. I have a friendly cat called Sammy to keep me company too. I’m going to look into doing some volunteering and joining some clubs to make new friends (it’s strange being in a new country and having none). My wife has found me a really nice park by the water so I can run to keep in shape and I’m starting to think about driving over here. Everything is new and slightly different and I’m looking forward to the challenge. 

Arrival!

This is my first entry as an American resident! Needless to say being an immigrant wasn’t as evocative as it is in the movies, there was no walking off a boat to be registered at Ellis Island. I was processed in a quiet sterile side room at Dublin Airport (you can pre clear US immigration there). I sat and quietly waited as an official processed my documents and then stamped my Visa and sent me on my way. No fanfare, just lots of typing and stapling punctured by the excitement of people moaning about missing luggage. All done! Next step is to receive my social security number in the post so I can begin working.

I’d spent the day clutching my US Visa paperwork nervously as I travelled,  it was a large white envelope with “United States of America, Official Business” in large letters on the side. It made me feel a bit like a nob carrying it but  it had to be carried in person and it was too large to fit in my hand baggage.  It contained all of the documents relating to my Visa so losing or damaging it was not an option! Handing it over to the guy at border control was definitely a relief.

I’m pleased to report that all of my possessions made it to the US undamaged which was a relief. I’ve unpacked all of my stuff already and had my first American shopping trip to buy some new clothes that suit the warm weather.  It’s a lot warmer than it was in England here so air conditioning and shorts are vital. I’m hoping it doesn’t take me long to adapt to the weather as sweating just by breathing soon loses it’s charm.

Today was my first Independence Day, although the weather was bad and we didn’t go out (my wife called it a hurricane although as a Brit it was definitely just a bit of rain). There are still some people gamely setting off fireworks in the rain as I write this, good luck to them. We had cheeseburgers for lunch and I wore a Captain America t shirt to match the theme of the day. We’ll make an American of me yet! Happy 4th of July everyone.

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Getting into the spirit...

Packing Blankets

I’ve just informed all of my Facebook friends that it’s now less than a week until I leave England so of course it’s now official. My flight is at 8 in the morning from Bristol next Wednesday and I’m going via Dublin so I can go through US immigration there and not have to face the mess that is Boston. The only seats left when I booked were in the middle of four so I just know that I’ll be sat next to someone who craves extra territory like Russia and creeps into my personal space but the flight is only seven hours so I’ll survive. Long distance flights seem to attract those with little regard for others and a marked lack of a personal hygiene routine but next time I’ll fly I’ll have my wife beside me so it’ll be a much better experience.

    It’s rather strange to think that it’s less than a week until I’m living in the USA, I would never have imagined this happening a few years ago. A land where a tap is a faucet (why?) and where they call a sport where you carry the ball football and actual football soccer. I’m excited about it though, it’s a challenge and an opportunity and something completely different. As long as I can import British chocolate and marmite, I think I’ll cope pretty well. I’ve found this blog to be a good way to air my feelings on the Visa process and the long delays and no doubt it will help me cope with adjusting in America too. Writing is really helpful to me.

    I’m learning new things all the time at the moment. Yesterdays lesson was that sunburn on the feet is really fucking painful. Today’s lesson is that trying to cram your entire life into two suitcases is not remotely feasible, even when I’ve already got rid of half of my clothing, books and DVD’S (If you visit a charity shop in Exeter you may just find the worlds biggest collection of stripy jumpers on sale). I’ve also learnt that some people are a lot nicer when they realise they don’t have to see you any more! Such is life. Today marks three whole months until I last saw my wife so I’m more excited than ever about getting to live together and I know that it will make all of the stress and hardship of the last year completely worthwhile. 🙂

  

 

Here Comes the Sun

Well it’s only ten days now until I leave England for America and time is moving pretty fast! I thought these last weeķs would be difficult anď emotional but they’ve actually been pretty good. The British weather has surprised me to the point that I’m sat outside in the warm sunshine writing this with a beer by my side. The last few weeks have been really warm and between working, packing and sorting things out for my move I’ve made the most of them. The only downside is that now have awful sock tan lines on my legs that make it look like I’m wearing white trainers but never mind!

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Warm sunshine and Devon scenery could cheer anyone up

The other thing that has added to my good mood is how friends and family have been since my interview. It could be they are just happy to get rid of me but a lot of people have made an effort to spend time with me and I really appreciate that. I was sitting on the Cathedral Green in Exeter having an ice cream with a good friend the other day in the warm sunshine and I realised that I’m much happier than I was a few months ago when  I started this blog when I was pretty miserable and living with my wife seemed so far away. I’ll miss my friends and family a lot but I’ll stay in touch and I’m ready to embrace this new chapter in my life.

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Come join me for ice cream

I now have very little time left to sort through what I’m going to take and get rid of the rest but I’m pretty well prepared. Definitely more prepared than the England team were for the World Cup but the less said about that the better! I have a tan that means I won’t be the palest person in Boston anymore and I’m feeling in good shape physically. If anyone reading this has ever uprooted to another country then I’d definitely appreciate any last minute tips and tricks. Not long to go now!

The Art of Procrastination

Remember when you were at University and you had a major assignment due for your course and you went and got drunk instead? Or you spent the time on Reddit, or one of the newly founded social networks? It turns out that procrastination is a talent that you never lose and I’ve got even better at it lately. Despite having at least 28 things to do on my to do list in the three weeks before I leave for the US, I find myself procrastinating like a pro, anything is better than attacking the massive to do list, whether it’s losing to my wife on Words With Friends (she’s an English graduate that’s my excuse) or rearranging the contents of my sock drawer. I’m hoping that when it gets dangerously late I’ll get the rush of adrenaline I got while writing last minute essays at University and get all my packing and preparation done in a remarkably short time. Here’s hoping!

    Of course, the best kind of procrastination is being with friends so you can pretend that the thing (or 28 things) you must do no longer exists. If you are out of the house and ‘busy’ then it doesn’t count as procrastination and you can officially not feel guilty. In my opinion anyway. I was fortunate enough to spend time with friends all weekend, in fact I was hardly at home at all. On Saturday I met up with two good friends from my University days and despite the dire weather forecast the weather was actually pretty nice. We walked along the canal to one of my favourite pubs in the city, the Double Locks and enjoyed a few pints of cider. I’ll miss this kind of pub (and this kind of cider!) because it simply doesn’t exist anywhere outside of the UK. I met up with another friend in the evening and had pizza and watched a film so all in all a pretty good start to the weekend.

 

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No better place to spend a sunny weekend

 

    On Sunday I met up with another friend and headed up to Exmoor National Park. It’s not that far to the north of me but I must admit I’ve always neglected it in favour of Dartmoor as it’s not as easy to get to from where I live. My friend was able to show me what I’d missed though, and the place is beautiful. We had a nice coastal walk in woods dropping steeply to the sea and hardly saw any other walkers. Having rested myself a little for the previous couple of weeks (chest infection) the walk wore my legs out but the views made that very worthwhile. Naturally we rewarded ourselves for the effort with a fairly decent cream tea at a small cafe. So it was a pretty busy weekend avoiding packing and everything else I need to do and I’m very glad I did it.

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Exmoor is great for walking

    Hopefully now that I’ve written this post (another sneaky way to procrastinate!) I can go and get things done.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Today marks just four weeks until I fly to start my new life in the USA and I’m starting to realise what a whirlpool of emotions that invokes. I’m happy, sad, excited, nervous, apprehensive and intrigued all at once. It’s going to be strange leaving the UK, if we had different levels of citizenship that ranked us on how British we were then I’d probably come out as baptised in the waters of the Thames and delivered at birth by a bulldog. I couldn’t be anything other than British so it’s strange to think of me living in a country where there isn’t an obsession with the weather, moaning about the NHS but loving it at the same time and an irrational fear of penalty shootouts. How will I fit in? I refuse to be the type of expat who moans all the time about their new country and only buys things that they would have eaten at home. I want to buy a ridiculously large hot dog at the baseball and bay for blood at the ice hockey. I refuse to buy a truck and adopt dubious political views though! That’s the stereotyping dealt with for this post I promise.

    I’m at the stage now where I’ve done the scary parts of the interview and the medical and I just have to wind down everything in the UK. I’m very excited about finally getting to live with my wife, it was sad being apart for our first anniversary this week and I hate the system that made us spend so long apart but it’s nearly over now. Plus she’s promised to have a Reese’s ice cream cake in the freezer when I arrive and what could be better than that?  It’s been a difficult time living apart and we’ve both suffered at times but now we get to reap the rewards. Starting again in another country is scary of course but I’m lucky to have a loving supportive partner who will make it as easy as she can for me and I know that with her beside me it’s going to be just fine. I really can’t wait to be there and to make a start.

    The most difficult thing at present is thinking about the goodbyes, obviously I’m going to miss my family and friends and I’m not going to see them very much after I emigrate. That’s a thought that lurks uncomfortably at the back of my mind every time I see someone, whether it’s the last time I see them before I go. It’s when you realise that you won’t see someone any more that you appreciate how much they mean to you. Now that I’m at the four week stage I will be seeing people for the last time and it’s going to be quite emotional I think. I’ve decided that I’m going to try and see as many people as I can before I go and just focus on having a good time with them so that I don’t regret it once I’m in America. I’m also thinking of all the things that I want to do before I go, things like having a BBQ at the beach (if the weather ever improves) and getting a few hikes in on Dartmoor. I’m determined not to waste any of the time that I have left.

   My preparations are coming along well so far, except that I have way too much stuff still so I need to get busy with selling, giving things away and throwing out the rest. Reducing my life into two suitcases is going to be an interesting way to find out what I view as important. Hopefully I’ll be logical or I’ll end up in the US with a suitcase full of Morrissey CD’s and books and no clothes to speak of. I’m going to scrap my car in the next few weeks, I’d sell it but it’s 14 years old and I wouldn’t wish that heap of French crap on my worst enemy! It’s so bad that I park it on a hill so I can bump start it every morning. I’m already getting fed up of having to phone companies to cancel direct debits and speaking to people who try and persuade me to stay with their company even though I’m emigrating. Hopefully by the time I next post I’ll have a lot more sorted and can post something a bit lighter 🙂

 

5 Things I’ve Learnt About the US Immigration Process

I picked up my visa from the courier now so I’m ready to book my flight! Now that I’ve been through the US immigration system and I’ve been approved I thought I’d write a post about some of the things I’ve learnt during the process.

 

It’s Expensive

The Visa process is not cheap, and that’s before you even factor in the costs of a long distance relationship. There are filing fees; $420 for the I130, $88 for Adjustment of Status, $230 for the IV phase and $165 for ELIS. Then there’s the other costs, £240 to prove your gentleman vegetable isn’t riddled with syphilis at the medical and £40 for the “Police Certificate”- a piece of paper that says you are not a criminal (unless of course you are).  Fiancé Visas cost even more. I understand why these things cost money of course and it’s admirable that USCIS is largely user funded but I’m willing to bet if the system was more efficient then the costs wouldn’t need to be as high.

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It’s Extremely Frustrating

You know the scene, you’re in the car and the right hand lane is closed for roadworks so everyone queues in the left hand lane. There’s always one (99% of the time an asshole in a BMW or Audi) who just has to drive in the closed lane until the end and push in front of the queue. That’s how the Visa process often feels. Someone who files three months after you gets approved before you or the USCIS ignores spousal visas while fast tracking the petitions of children of illegal immigrants. It’s immensely frustrating but the frustration is with the agency not with your fellow filers and it’s something that you have to get used to or the process will seem very long indeed. The best way to not get frustrated is to use the wait productively, whether preparing for the next stage of the Visa process or putting pressure on USCIS over its latest backlog.

It’s Bad News For Trees

Although some parts of the process are done online, there is an awful lot of paper being used for the Visa application. When you see the folder they open with your file inside at your interview you can’t help but notice how thick it is.  There’s the initial I-130 submission which is a lot of paper and then copies and photocopies of original documents. Added to this, things have a habit of getting lost during the process so a lot of people print everything in duplicate or triplicate just in case.  Hopefully in the future everything can be done online and people will have digital copies of everything they’ve filed rather than printouts.

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It’s Stressful

The desire to be with your loved one is so strong that the Visa process turns normally rational people into nervous wrecks. I’ve seen people read about some of the medical issues they check for at the medical and convince themselves that they have it. Although some of the questions for the medical are silly, like “have you ever had leprosy?” Damn I was going to hide it but when my fingers came off when we shook hands it gave the game away! When it came to my interview date I must have checked that I had everything 50 times and I left so early that I got to the Embassy before 7AM. There’s also the fear of being denied at the interview and you convince yourself that your case has more red flags than the minefield between the two Korea’s when actually your relationship is genuine and you have huge amounts of proof. As soon as you have finished the interview it’s a huge anti-climax after such a long process.

It Was All Worth It

I had my interview earlier this week and in a month I’m emigrating to the US to live with my wife. It’s been a long, stressful and emotional 11 months but now we can be together it’s definitely worth it. Luckily we won’t have to go through this again, unless we ever decide to relocate to the UK!