Sometimes the expat life finds you early. That’s what happened to Addie Gray, when the American found herself applying to universities across the pond. Starting out in London and currently living in St. Andrews, here’s a bit about her experience in the UK.
What initiated your move out of the USA? Where were you living at the time and what was the catalyst for moving abroad?
I moved from the US to the UK to attend university. I had lived in the same small town in Illinois for all my life and was determined to go as far from home as possible – and the UK was definitely far from home! That, combined with the fact that university tuition fees are cheaper there than in the US made it the perfect fit.
What made you pick the UK?
I picked the UK largely because my dad did business there and went to London every six weeks. He was the one who originally encouraged me to look into schools across the pond, and him coming over so often meant that I would still have a little slice of home to hold on to even though I was halfway across the world.
What were your first impressions of the country? Was it what you expected it to be?
I don’t really remember what my first impressions of the country were when I first went (I was 10 years old then), but when I went there the next time to visit universities I remember feeling like it was definitely the place I wanted to spend the next couple of years – even though it’s cold and rainy most of the time! For the most part, it’s been the same as I expected it to be.
Did you experience any culture shock? If yes, can you give an example.
I think the biggest culture shock that I experienced was the drinking culture. Even though college students in the US definitely drink, you can legally drink at 18 in the UK, so the drinking culture at universities here is much more pronounced.
You went for a second round in the region, focusing on Scotland this time. What brought you back to the UK and why did you pick Scotland?
I originally left London because I was suffering from a pretty terrible case of depression. But a friend of mine from the US who was attending the University of St. Andrews came to visit me in January of that year and the way she described it made it sound like the perfect place for me. Before I flew back to the US, I visited it and fell in love with the place. I sent in my application almost immediately and that September I was back in the UK!
What is your favourite thing about the UK? Least favourite?
My favourite thing has to be its proximity to mainland Europe (and all of the cheap flights there!). Living in the US, traveling abroad was always a big ordeal. Now I can hop over to another country for the weekend!
My least favourite thing would definitely have to be the rain and how dark it gets in the winter.
What are your favourite hangouts? Activities? Weekend getaways? Food?
My favourite hangout has to be The Old Union Coffee Shop. It’s located right next to the Quad, where I have a lot of my classes, and the vibe (and coffee!) is awesome. I also love Janetta’s Gelateria – they have like a million different flavors and they’re all delicious! Weekend getaways for me can range from exploring a bit more of my new adopted country (visiting Loch Ness was a top experience this year!) or ticking a new country off my list by hopping on a cheap flight.
What do you miss most about the USA? Least?
I definitely miss the food the most. Even in a small town you can find all sorts of different kinds of food. In the UK, there’s a lot less variety and a lot less flavor. I miss the politics the least!
What do your friends and family think of your decision to live in the UK?
My friends and family are all super supportive! My mom in particular doesn’t love that I live so far away, but that’s just because she misses me so much. She actually came to visit me this past spring and we had so much fun!
How is the political situation in the country? Do you see the effects of it in your day to day life?
The political situation is super up in the air right now, what with the Brexit vote last year and the recent snap election which resulted in a hung parliament. Funnily enough, I was actually out of the country for both votes (not that I could have voted if I was), so I wasn’t able to see the immediate reactions aside from Facebook. I’m in the country on my Swiss passport (I have dual citizenship with the US and Switzerland). For the time being, my right to live in the UK won’t be affected, but this could change once they officially leave the EU (but probably not).
Describe a typical day for you in the UK
My typical day involves getting up, making some breakfast, and then walking to class. I usually have a couple of hours in between classes where I’ll go to my favourite coffee shop to get some work done. In the evening, I’m usually at rehearsal for one play or another – St. Andrews has a huge student theatre scene (several shows even go to the Edinburgh Fringe every year)!
How different were the two cities you lived in London and St. Andrews?
London and St. Andrews are extremely different. London is, obviously, a huge, multicultural city, while St. Andrews is a tiny town in Scotland. St. Andrews is surprisingly multicultural though. About 1/3 of the student population is from overseas. St. Andrews is also extremely removed from the rest of the world, while London is a huge transportation crossroads. It’s about an hour and a half to get to Edinburgh, the nearest airport. We call it ‘The Bubble’ for a reason!
How long do you foresee staying in the UK? Any plans for living the expat life in another country?
I’ll definitely be staying in the UK for the next few years while I finish my degree. After that, I’m not really sure! I’ve thought about maybe teaching English abroad somewhere in southeast Asia after I graduate, and I know I’d definitely like to live in Zurich (where my Grandmother is from) for a little while. But as of now I don’t have any concrete plans.