I didn’t always dream of moving outside of the US on any kind of long-term basis, or see any particular need to. I grew up in a small city in southern US without much international exposure. My family didn’t have the extra money for international travel and so it wasn’t really on my radar growing up. However, I really loved studying French in high school, and in college I got the chance to study abroad in Grenoble, France for an academic year.
Studying abroad planted the seed
These 8 months changed absolutely everything for me.
I loved the challenge and the novelty of navigating every day situations in a foreign language and in a completely new environment. I traveled to all the surrounding countries that year including Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. I made friends from all over the world and felt the most free I had ever felt in my life. And I realised that there is a much, much bigger world out there for me – and that it is actually accessible.
The reality of coming back to my small college town to finish my last year of undergrad was a bitter pill to swallow at the time, and I remember having tears in my eyes the entire journey home. I was terrified that this was it, and that I’d never be able to get this feeling of freedom and excitement back. In hindsight, I was thinking very short-term . Of course, I got over the reverse culture shock within a few months, finished my last year of college, and put my international dreams aside to take whatever decent job I could find in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis. (I did attempt to get a job abroad by applying to various positions located in Europe, but none were successful). My first career steps took me to DC, where I spent an amazing four years. But it still didn’t feel like enough, and I was seriously thinking about going to grad school to further advance my career and interests. At the same time, I had just let go of an unsuccessful long-term relationship. It was the perfect storm of newly found freedom and the need to make a move, and so one September day, while walking my dog, it all clicked – graduate school in the UK.
Grad school abroad was the springboard
Within a few weeks I had researched the graduate programmes available to me and started putting together applications. By Thanksgiving I had my very first acceptance. I was thrilled! In January 2013 I got news that I was accepted to my first choice school and that I had gotten a scholarship, and that’s when my fate was sealed.
Using grad school networks to secure a job abroad
Of course the 12 months abroad while doing my Master’s didn’t feel like enough for me, and towards the end of my degree I started actively applying for jobs in the UK and more widely in Europe. However, visa sponsorship, I found, was a major barrier. Most employers didn’t even accept applications from non-EU citizens, which was EXTRA, EXTRA frustrating, on top of the usual frustration of trying to find a good job to begin with.
Without knowing it at the time, I made a very smart move, however. I took on a 3-month internship after my course ended. In the UK, student visas have a 4-month period after the program ends which allows you to take on short-term work. I really loved the internship, hit it off with my company, and because those months essentially served as a very long job interview, they were willing to take the risk to sponsor my visa so I could stay for 3 years.
And voila! Now I almost feel like a Londoner!
Of course, dreams evolve and hopefully I will not stay a Londoner forever! My next goal is to save enough money to travel through Southeast Asia for a year in 2018 with my new husband. I’m documenting my progress here.