How time flies…

Change is a funny old thing; one minute you’re doing one thing, and the next something completely different! I welcome and embrace change as much as I can, because the opportunity may never present itself again. 

I read this on someone’s journal today and it struck a chord.

Tomorrow, I’ll have been here for an entire year. I made it.

It might not sound like much to you, but to make it through my first year of life as an ‘Expat’ or a ‘travelling wife’ as we’re sometimes known, is a milestone, especially since I’ve come out the other end with a smile on my face.

My brothers Rory and Rob with me during one of their visits!

If you’d asked me during the pre-move process and the run up to our leaving home, would I have made it through the year, I’d have probably guffawed obnoxiously at you, ‘Of course I’ll make it!’ I’d have said.

I grew up with two big brothers who travelled; they made travelling sound like a fantastic adventure and always, without fail, brought us trinkets back from the wonderful places they’d been. It sparked a childhood curiosity that has made me want to travel since I knew there were other places in the world to see.

Tours, France. Me with my fellow exchange student Guillaume and his siblings.

Having the travelling bug like my dad and older siblings and having been to the US a number of times before I had even met Colin, it made my decision a lot easier when he said to me (on pretty much our first date) that at some stage in the future there would likely be a transfer to another country.

He told me that it’d be the US and I told him that I’ve wanted to live in the US for as long as I remember. In fact, it was only recently that I added an old friend from school on to my Facebook, who said, ‘So, you did it. You moved to the States like you always wanted to’.

I told him that it’s not the transfer he need worry about, it’s the day he finds out he’s not being transferred and having to tell me that he’s not making my dream come true! Haha! (Yes, I played very hard to get for the first few months but he persisted all the same!)

No one can prepare you for living in a different country, you convince yourself that it’s no big deal, you’ll stay in touch with your friends and family on a regular basis, people will come and visit, it won’t be problem free, but everything will be fine. The company puts their best foot forward, if it’s your first move, your other half takes over and you just follow his lead. In my case, I didn’t do a thing, he did everything – he’d moved out here before so I just put my trust in him that he’d take care of me (and he does this very well as most of you already know, so it was pretty easy!).

You read the material (ok, so you read some of the material, they save the hurricane preparedness leaflets until you’ve signed the contract already!) and everybody is saying how great this opportunity is, so you get swept up in the hurricane of moving 5000 miles to a new place, with new people, new food and a whole new way of life.

You foolishly think that because you’ve visited a place a couple times that you can ‘take it’, that you know what it’s like there and you’re geared up for success.

Atlanta, GA 1999. My first trip to the states to see my big bro Rob.

Then you get off the plane. You unpack whatever possessions you’ve managed to cram into your suitcases (which probably makes you homesick cause they’re the personal and sentimental things that you can’t live without while waiting on your shipment of other worldly possessions) and for the first few days things might be good. You have your husband at home for a day or two trying to get things organised and help you settle in.

Then comes your first day home alone.

During all the pre-move preparation, what you aren’t prepared for is the debilitating loneliness, for the overwhelming sense of boredom and worthlessness that bites you in the ass at the worst times, or the time zone difference that makes calling your friends or family difficult, for having a phone (that’s free for people to call) and sitting willing it to ring just so you could have some human contact in the day, for the weather being so hot that you can barely face stepping outside the house and when you do, even for a short few minutes feeling your skin starting to sizzle.

There is so much I was unprepared for – and the worst bit is, even if someone had prepared me for all of these things, inevitably something else would have happened or cropped up that I wasn’t prepared for. For me it was immigration and health insurance woes, I started our transfer on the wrong foot and I was mad and all I wanted was to go home.

Queens Graduate – at long last. It’s been a bumpy road, but I did it!

One thing that people really don’t understand about our moving process, is that I gave up any potential career I’d planned to undertake to move out here. I had just graduated – so, unlike a lot of the spouses I’d met, I was lucky. I didn’t have to ‘up sticks’ and leave a high paying job like so many of them have had to. We didn’t have to get accustomed to the 2 salaries reduced to 1 salary, but I did sacrifice. I agreed to put my career – whatever it may have been, or continuing education on hold in order to support Colin in his career. To me that’s self sacrificing, to others it’s laziness.

Every experience is different; every person deals with this lifestyle in a different way. For me, I got bitter and resentful, I got angry and I got sad and cried. My boyfriend (as he was at the time) had the car all the time. Not that I’d have driven here at that stage, but that’s beside the point, the fact that I didn’t have the choice to nip to the shops if I needed something – was a crippling blow that you can’t prepare yourself for in advance.

You feel helpless, like you need your other half to do so much more for you than you ever thought you would be comfortable with – and that’s just it, you’re not comfortable with it. He had the job, the interaction with people on a daily bases, the work to keep him occupied, he worked all day in the office and never knew what he was coming home to.

It’s all about who you’re with, I have no doubt I’d not have made it if I was with anyone else than Col.

Some night’s he’d come home and I’d be fine, I’d have found something to do during the day to keep me busy, some night’s he’d come home to me drowning in puddles of my tears and other night’s I’d scream and yell at him from the minute he got home from work to the minute we went to bed – over everything and over nothing.

Me with all my fellow newcomers to Houston

For me, I felt like I had no purpose, I felt worthless, like I wasn’t contributing to anything, that I was wasting whatever talents I’d worked on over the last number of years and most of all the degree I’d worked so hard to finally achieve. I needed to do something, anything, but couldn’t work as I didn’t have the right visa and we weren’t married.

I couldn’t even volunteer. Yes, you read that right. Last time Col lived here, he was prevented from volunteering with the Red Cross.

 It’s insanity, but it’s the way it is. When the Schlumberger Spouses Association position came up, the immigration lawyers even recommended that I pass on it. It’s better if I didn’t even volunteer for Colin’s company’s spouses association – essentially the people who brought us here.

Getting to know other spouses at a coffee morning

I couldn’t do it, I was desperate for some kind of outlet and I took it in spite of advice to the contrary and I became the Welcome Coordinator for the Houston area.

One of the reasons I wanted to take the position was because being a fresh newcomer, I knew what problems I had had with my move, the red tape, the personal issues and I decided I wanted to help people in my position as best I could with their issues and moving troubles.

What I wasn’t prepared to discover was, that even after 10 or 15 moves (or more) people still have ‘troubles’, it’s not just a first timer thing.

At my first ever social last year when Norma (the Houston Chapter Coordinator) asked for a volunteer to take the position I raised a shaky hand. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for but like I say, I needed something to do to stop me from the dark depression that had begun to seep in.

Deb and I at the Social after having accepted our new board positions!

When I first started into the position my job description was this,

• Tabulate the bi-monthly Newcomers’ data received from Weichert Relocations and procures any additional details from the Newcomers’ spouses if necessary

• Keeps accurate records of each transferee for future reference.

• Initiates contact with Newcomer via mail, e-mail or phone.

• Meets and welcomes Newcomers at Newcomers’ Coffees.

• Welcomes Newcomers and all other SSA members at their arrival to the SSA General Meetings/Socials held throughout the year.

• Attends Area Coffees and lectures as often as possible.

• Attends Board meetings and submits reports as required.

• Maintains files to hand over to successor.

But I didn’t really feel like that was quite enough. Don’t get me wrong, the work was plenty, I meant enough for the newcomer. Again, going by my own experiences I felt like we could do more to make it easier for newbies to the area.

Feb 2010, My first Newcomers Coffee as Welcome Coordinator. Pictured with newcomers, other Board members and members of my Welcome Committee.

So, I set up a Welcome Committee, currently a group of about 13 people scattered across Houston. Compiled of volunteers, some with kids, some without, a variety of ages, races and locations whose job it is to ‘buddy up’ with a newcomer, call them to say hi, welcome them to the area, perhaps take them to their first SSA event and be there for any questions or queries the newcomer might have.

I have put together a great bunch of ladies who don’t hesitate to step forward and help the newcomers to the area transition a little easier.

It soon became apparent that probably my biggest loss of newcomers (because not everyone who transfers here either a) knows about us or b) wishes to join up) was the people who don’t speak English. Man, can you imagine how hard that would be? All of the challenges of moving to a new country and not speaking the language as well?

Jan 2010 Southwest Coffee Morning – these ladies are some of my closest friends here in Houston (Cindy, Janet and Ann)

I got a spouse who contacted me who didn’t speak anything but Arabic, so I sent out an email to our Yahoo group and within an hour I had 5 people come forward to volunteer to translate for me – it was seriously impressive and sure enough the spouse was a member shortly after.

A few weeks ago it happened again, Spanish this time – and the response was fast and overwhelming.

Common sense kicked in, and I figured it would be a good idea to put out a call to arms for linguists to compile a list to have on hand for future reference. Ladies who have transferred to Houston from other countries and who are fluent in their native tongue and who could help me out when I received a newcomer who didn’t speak English. I’ve now got a list of approaching 15 people covering a various range of languages on hand for when a newcomer transfers to the area and can’t speak English.

This Spring marked the end of Norma’s 2 year term in office as Chapter Coordinator, the ambitious side of me almost stepped forward to take over from her. But my instinctive urge to help people shot down my ambition and told me to stay put.

Feb 2010 Southwest Coffee Morning (Including some more of my closest friends here, Sharon, Julie and Lori!)

I’m doing good work here, I’m helping people, and it’s not a thankless job as spouses regularly send me thank you emails for my help in making their transition easier.

At the activities I go to or coffee mornings I see these newcomers who might have spent their first few months ‘hiding’ at home alone because they didn’t know anyone, they are now active, meeting people, making friends and they thank me for that.

I can’t take credit cause I think it’s up to the newcomer to do all the hard work, I just open the door a little, they’ve got to walk through it, which can be very, very hard to do.

Feb 2010 – Some of the Lunch bunch group.

But what they don’t realise is that when they are thanking me for helping them; it should be me thanking them as it also helps me. Because I’m meeting countless spouses and new friends through this position, so it’s also fun and rewarding.


It takes a while. For me, it took around 6 months. Long after I joined the Schlumberger Spouses Association, long after I’d undertaken my volunteer position and met a wonderful group of ladies to socialise with and a smaller group of ladies to become friends with and a long time after you’re feeling like you’re losing your mind and yourself in the depths of the Texas sunshine.

No one really understands. People would say, ‘I’d love to have your weather’, or ‘I’d love to live in America’, or ‘You don’t have to work? I’d love not having to work, it’d be fantastic’ and no matter how much you try to explain your situation to people, no one gets it. To them, you’re living the dream, you’re loaded (apparently people think this for the sole reason that we’ve moved to the States), you’re a lady of leisure who sits on her butt and does nothing but go to luncheons and coffee mornings all day – what could possibly be wrong with any of that.

Sarah, Paula, Suzanne and Kathy all out for a drink after a Giants game. I miss my crew. A lot.

A friend of mine had said that it would take for me to go home once to settle in here in Houston. She said I’d discover that I actually miss it, that I’d want to come back and perhaps even start to call it home. I laughed at her, I told her she was crazy, that I’d probably never call Houston home and the only thing that would happen when I went home was that I’d be tempted to stay. She should have put money on it!

More hockey antics in the bar post game!

Our trip home over Christmas after 6 months of living away was a reality check; the niche I’d made for myself at home wasn’t there anymore. It was like trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole. It just wasn’t the same; people had moved on, life had carried on without us. We travelled 5000 miles to go home to be within a half hour driving distance of almost everyone we knew – yet, we had no one come by, no one even saw our Christmas tree. It was hard. Really hard.

Leaving my family once again broke my heart, I cried a lot and Col admitted to me that it never gets easier. Its why, when he lived here before, he used to leave in the middle of the night without saying goodbye, because he couldn’t face having to leave his family. I was a mess after the first time, but I thought the second time I’d handle it a little better. I was wrong.

Moments after I arrived in Houston and I switched my phone on, I was inundated with texts and ‘Welcome Home’ messages and within a day or two; my social calendar was booked solid for 3 weeks – that’s no lie.  I remember cause my mother in law couldn’t get hold of me for love nor money for our usual weekly chats.  People here know how hard it is to say G’bye to home and rally around.

The nice ‘before’ picture

Something clicked, life got a lot easier for both of us and I started to regain and reassert my independence.

I booked a trip to Iowa on my own – something I’d not have considered doing previously, time without Colin? Ha! Even to visit my best friend. But something inside me changed.

I even started to need some ‘me’ time instead of hating and fearing being on my own.

The messy, ‘after’ shot…we might have had a drink…or two….or, eh, a few…

Col could start to work later in the office than he had been doing, or at least not fear the wrath of the scorned woman awaiting him with a verbal baseball bat when he got home.

Whatever clicked for me and whatever made it click, made both Col and I a lot happier and content. He’s not afraid or guilty to leave me in the mornings and I’m not waiting at the porch for him to come home and drive me somewhere to escape my cabin fever.

 Looking back to how I was a year ago versus the ‘me’ I have become, I can honestly say I can see some changes in myself – some more subtle than others, but there all the same and I think they’re all good.

That’s not to say I don’t miss home, my family or my friends, or wonder what life we’d be living had we stayed at home in sunny Norn Iron. I do, greatly, but it’s gotten easier, I’ve just tried to make the most of the path we’ve chosen to walk down and try to look forward to the next time I get to see my family.  If nothing else this move has made my relationship stronger.

I’d often heard that transferring, or life as an expat, took its toll on relationships and I can definitely now understand and relate. Out here, you’re all each other have. When you don’t have kids, friends or family nearby, you’re it. If either or both are unhappy, it can be difficult, there can be fighting, bickering, resentment and the only person you can talk to about it, or direct it at, is the person you ‘blame’ for bringing you here so far from everything.

It’s not a constant thing, at least it wasn’t for us, ‘just’ every now and then, but it definitely made us stronger as a couple and certainly me as an individual – which I guess is a lucky thing, because for some people, their relationships don’t survive such change.

Col and I at ‘Oasis’ in Austin for dinner

I can honestly say that I have no regrets, I don’t regret moving to Houston, I don’t regret my difficult transition or wish that I’d had it different and I don’t regret not pursuing my own career. I’m young, only 25, one of the youngest, if not, the youngest spouse I’ve met out here, there’s plenty of time for me to get a career started in the future should I chose to. I’ve not lost my ambition, in fact, these last couple weeks I’ve discovered that I am pretty ambitious to do things and my list is getting longer.

I’m concentrating on things I can work on, things I can change, make better or undertake as a challenge, getting back on the road driving being my priority – as last Fall (I like this word better than Autumn!) I missed out on a lot of activities I wanted to do within the SSA (languages, knitting, more scrapbooking classes than the ones I host in my house!) that I didn’t because I didn’t want to be a burden to Col and have him go in late to work just cause he had to ferry me around. This year I want to drop him off at work and go to these things on my own.

Col outside the State Capitol – Austin

I’m also going to rediscover my love for languages, I did A-Level French and although I couldn’t write it very well, I was pretty damn good at understanding and speaking it. I’ve not used my French in about 6 years, it’s rusty and needs work – I’m going to work at it. It’s such a waste to put the time and effort into something so useful and not use it.

A new spouse to Houston is going to be offering Portuguese lessons after the summer, she’s a fully qualified Portuguese teacher and I told her I’d be her first student and I also want to learn Spanish – whether through Rosetta Stone or a class.

This summer Col and I are also going to be learning to ice skate – something I’ve wanted to do since the first time I ever saw the Mighty Ducks as a child. We both have skates, they are even sharpened and baked and we just need to sign up and go.

Jan 2010 Dallas, TX for Cols birthday

Of course I have my weight loss goals and wedding planning to keep me occupied and an upcoming visit from my lil bro to keep me occupied and with any luck, before long Col and I will be starting our own family and I will be fortunate enough to raise our children myself at home, instead of having them raised by strangers in day care – something I’ve always wanted to do, especially given how insane the world is becoming.

As it turns out, life’s not all bad here in Houston, sure the sun is blistering hot to the point of migraines and 3rd degree burns but even just looking outside into the sunshine instead of the dull, rainy climate of Northern Ireland has had a positive effect on me, making me want to get up earlier and do things on the weekends instead of staying inside.

Instead of the curse I once thought it was, my time here is turning out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to me as I’m not only getting more comfortable with myself and to know myself more, but I’m also the luckiest girl alive that I’m doing it with the best man I’ve ever met standing right by my side.

Picture Courtesy of Sarah Jane Photography