When an opportunity comes, you better grab it. This is exactly what Swapna from the United States and her family did several months ago when they moved to Surrey, England. Nowadays, they all enjoy a new lifestyle that may not resemble what they were used to back home but teaches them a whole lot about the world and themselves. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to understand who you are and what matters to you in life.
I am a writer, mother, pharmacist and an excited ex-pat from Lexington MA. I like to write about everyday things, events, issues related to children and parenting and food.
Hi Swapna, where are you from and what brought you to England?
I am Swapna Chakrabarti, a mother, writer, pharmacist, and food lover who moved with my husband and two children from Lexington Mass, USA to Weybridge, Surrey. Before we decided to pack up and move across the pond to England, I was working as a consultant pharmacist and medical writer. Thanks to secure and high speed Internet, I am still able to work, part-time, as a consultant pharmacist while I work frantically to finish the first draft for my debut historical fiction novel. I also write about my everyday life and wonders on my blog My Taki.
Actually, England chose us; rather my husband. We moved here when he was presented with an exciting opportunity at his work. With my oldest still two years away from high school, this was our last chance to move as a family and experience a different culture and country.
As a US expat, what were the procedures you had to follow to move to the UK?
The big step was getting the British resident permit. My husband’s employer helped us with all the other minutiae involved with relocating a family — school, house hunting, and the final move.
What has attracted you to Weybridge?
Proximity to the kids’ school, the train station with fast trains to central London where my husband works, and definitely the greenery/suburb lifestyle.
What has surprised you the most about England?
How small this country is! Everything is so close together. Also, the weather in Britain is notorious for being unpredictable, and I was expecting it to be cold, rainy, and depressing all the time. Fingers crossed, mother Nature has been very kind to us, so far.
Was it difficult to find accommodation in Surrey? What are the most popular types of accommodation in the area?
My husband came for a house hunting trip one month before the family's move. We were in touch with a local real estate agent who showed us all the accommodation options available. We looked at independent houses, semi detached homes, flats and serviced apartments. We really liked a fully furnished flat in Weybridge and that is what we finally decided to go with.
What are the local labor market's features?
I have not looked at the labor market here yet. As a pharmacist, I know that I have to get the local practicing license. Also, I know that the market for medical writer and medical communications jobs is hotter here than in the States.
How do you find the English lifestyle?
I have not had a first hand experience of the English lifestyle yet. However, I have noticed that the people enjoy being outdoors, and I can totally understand why. Weekends are spent with friends and family, and people don't worry too much about work-related problems, as they usually do in the US.
Have you been able to adapt to the British society?
I am constantly learning things about the country and its people. Although I have been here not long enough, I have made a few acquaintances, and people generally seem to be helpful.
Was it difficult for your children to adapt to their new environment?
It was difficult for the children to settle in to their new surroundings. They had to make new friends and get used to the way things are done here. The saving grace was they didn't have to learn a new language. They go to an international school, which follows a modified American curriculum and where most of the pupils are expats. It's important to have teachers who understand the mental state of such kids. This has made the transition easier. However, they still miss their friends back home, and are eager to go visit them soon.
What does your every day life in Weybridge look like?
After the kids leave for school in the morning, I go to a local gym, two days a week. I have also joined a hiking group that takes me out in to the beautiful outdoors in Surrey. I spend my mornings exploring Weybridge and the neighboring towns before the rest of the family comes back home in the evening. I also like cooking and reading books by English authors.
Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?
Exploring London and hiking in Surrey has been the highlight of the past two months. I have met nice people and made some new friends. We have enjoyed our family trips to the Cotswolds, Isle of Wight and Scotland.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Weybridge?
Weybridge is expensive. In fact, cost of living in general is higher here than in the States. Sometimes I wonder how the locals make it work. I have heard reports that in Surrey housing accounts for 40% of the resident’s paychecks. Another news item mentioned that the cost of commuting from Surrey is somewhere close to 40%.
What are your favorite local dishes?
I am partial to the Victoria sponge cake as well as to fish and chips,Yorkshire pudding, and elderflower presse.
What do you like the most about England?
The natural beauty. Also the stewardship of history. The British people appreciate their natural surroundings as well as their past, and have found ways of working with both of them in the 21st century. At the same time, I have found this society to be at the leading edge of using technology to their advantage like contactless payment, parking apps, and online grocery shopping.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
The wide roads, easy traffic, drive through cafes, easy parking conditions, and the variety of restaurants and grocery stores even in the suburbs.
What has motivated you to write your blog “My Taki”?
My Taki is my journal, a place where I can chronicle my experience as an expat. Life presents you with a new scenario every day, and My Taki gives me a chance to reflect and recount these experiences. It is easy to get lost in the everyday life and lose track of the bigger picture. When I write, it helps me think through my experiences, learn from them, and share them with a wider audience.
Would you like to give an advice to soon-to-be expatriates in England?
Enjoy this unique experience! Not many people get to do this, and if given a chance, everybody should experience a new country and culture. Living in a new country will teach you a lot, even about yourself. It opens your mind and makes you appreciate this world in which we live. Do not try to recreate your life back home, as that will surely make you miserable. Embrace the life here — eat what the locals eat, celebrate what they celebrate, watch the TV shows they watch. The English are reserved and take time to open up but once they do, you will have friends for life.
What are your plans for the future?
For now, we are enjoying the present. Taking each day as it comes. The plan is to travel throughout the country, experience the different regions and enjoy the seasons. The only concrete plans for the next year are: watch tennis matches at Wimbledon, cricket matches at Lords, and sip Pimm's at the Ascott Races!