We are Americans and were expats in the United Kingdom. It was truly a life changing experience. We so thoroughly enjoyed it that the 2 year assignment we extended for almost 20 years with 3 different companies! At the time of our assignment, we were empty nesters so we experienced it as a couple not a family.
One of the advantages of going to the UK is that there is no language barrier to overcome. An English speaking country speeds up the adjustment since you can read all the signs for travel and verbally communicate with everyone. However, we did find the need to retrain ourselves in spelling as many of the words sounded the same but were spelt differently. The biggest adjustment by far though, was driving on the left with a right side steering wheel. We also found that driving was not always the best way to get to places, as short distances could be long travel times due to the congestion and infrastructure. Alternative modes of travel were quickly embraced especially train travel.
Our best experiences were related to culture and travel. The British social calendar is fun and being able to attend the Ascot Races, Wimbledon, The Windsor Horse Show and a wide range of cultural and historic festivals was awesome. If you like history, art, architecture, antiques, the UK has more of that per square mile than anywhere in the world. Membership in the National Trust or English Heritage gives you inexpensive access to these throughout the year. With trains, ferries, and Heathrow airport, you can easily reach all the great European destinations for weekend getaways or holidays as well.
Some of our most humorous experiences revolved around words. While many of them sound the same in the US and UK they can mean something different. For example, we had a colleague arrive in the UK from the southern US. He was tired and decided to order a snack from room service. He saw hot tea and biscuits. Thinking about those fluffy biscuits in Georgia with honey, he promptly ordered up some tea with biscuits and honey. Shortly he received at his door a plate of cookies, hot tea and honey. Not what he expected. In the UK, biscuits are cookies.
Before you travel to the UK, we would recommend you familiarize yourself with the country in relation to your work assignment. If you will be traveling either domestically or internationally you will want to be living and working close to your work place and/or near the transportation you will be using, whether it’s the airport, trains, or motorways. Knowing the lay of the land so to speak will help you make these decisions.
We found our expat experience so beneficial to us personally, financially and professionally. Growth occurred in each of those areas and our tolerance for change and differences were permanently modified.