Advice from an Expat - My Family Travels

The BBC has four channels. Add ITV and Channel 5 for a grand total of six lousy viewing options on the ‘telly.’ Pub grub is not as bad as previously thought. A cup of tea solves everything. Always take a brolly if it is spitting. Football is life and cricket is a gentleman’s sport. Harrods is for tourists; Harvey Nicks is for locals. 

I impart this knowledge as an expatriate. I do not like the term ‘home schooled.’ It is so ordinary, and what I did for the past year was anything but. I did not have a conventional classroom.

Instead, I haunted the likes of the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the VA, and other nooks of knowledge. I left behind a spacious house to live with my dad, mum, and older sister in a 600-square-foot flat. It was cozy, to say the least.

While my sister slowly adopted a posh Chelsea accent, I somehow found myself more on par with Eliza Doolittle. I bid goodbye to my china plates (that is Cockney Rhyming Slang for ‘mates’), and moved from the great state of Texas to an island one-fourth its size. Chicken fried steak with fried okra was exchanged for fish and chips, and Southern accents were traded for girls who sounded more like the Beatles.

Understandably, I was reluctant to drop everything and move over 5,000 miles away. I had never lived anywhere other than Austin, Texas, and the idea of living in one of the world’s largest cities was daunting. Other than my family, I did not know a single person, and because I was not attending a school, I found it difficult to meet people my own age.

The concept was exciting in that it seemed like a long vacation, but the reality became apparent from the moment our plane hit the tarmac at Gatwick. Our many bags and boxes, sixteen total, had to be crammed into two traditional London cabs; we were the epitome of the American stereotype: everything in excess. As the months followed and we began to settle in, I knew I was a becoming a local when my sister’s British friend referred to me as a ‘Sloane Ranger,’ a term named after the girls who frequent Sloane Square in Chelsea and dress in the best British fashions.

Transitioning from a Southern Belle to a Sloanie is not often accomplished by many expats, therefore I accepted the appellation with great pride. On the day I failed to giggle at the tube conductor’s daily announcement of ‘This train is for Cockfosters,’ I realized that like the train, I had arrived. Taking the tube and walking everywhere became second nature to me, which was quite a change from a lifetime of riding in the passenger seat everywhere I went.

A cup of tea on a rainy day was the ultimate comfort, and popping into a museum to hang out with a Dali or Degas was like going to visit a friend. Taking trips to Italy to browse the Uffizzi and admire the architecture of the Vatican was the equivalent of taking a weekend trip to Houston. The quaint seaside towns of the British coast were easily accessible by train, and daytrips into the country were a regular occurrence. Taking the monumental risk of being self-taught in a foreign country has transformed me into a more confident, independent woman. I no longer rely on my friends for my identity; I have been shaped by my experiences. Although my mixed accent has worn off and I have rejoined my peers for my senior year of high school, I still carry London in my heart. I escaped the notorious ‘Westlake Bubble’ of my high school, and went out on a limb, all to see if I could be a more well-rounded person. While I achieved what I set out to do, I sacrificed my position on the dance team, my class rank, and my social status. It was worth it. The prospect of going away to college is a lot less daunting, because I now know I am an intelligent woman who can handle herself and take calculated risks. I know I will succeed.

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