Things I wish I knew before we emigrated

Things I wish I knew before we emigrated from South Africa to the USA

I am finally in a really good place. I mean that literally and figuratively, it seems. After some rough months, I’ve been feeling more and more settled. I didn’t realize just how settled I was until Dean’s parents came to visit and I was able to confidently show them around… and even feel disrupted by sharing space (in the best possible way). That’s gotta be proof that we had a routine and were used to our space if I actually felt like things were different from normal, right? I mean, just to have a “normal” is awesome after having emigrated and changed our whole lives.

I am happy and things are going well. It still isn’t even a year since we moved, so I figure we’re on a good trajectory. I’m sure there will be hard days again, and even better days, but for now, I’m pleased with how things are going. We still need to meet people and make friends, but that always takes time. It will come. There are some things I wish I knew before we emigrated, though.

Credit is important and doesn’t transfer

This has seriously been one of our biggest hurdles with the move. We had no credit rating in the US. Not bad credit or anything, just NOTHING. For all intents and purposes, we could have appeared from outer space.

In theory, that shouldn’t be so bad. But in reality, it was such a headache for us. We needed to buy a car, and while we were eventually successful, it meant leaving a way bigger down payment than we imagined, and our car payments are significantly higher than they should be. We should be able to refinance or trade in after 12-18 months and bring our payments down, but that eats up a LOT more of our monthly paycheck than we’d anticipated with our original budget planning.

And thus we own a new car! 🚘

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It also made all other activities more complicated. Renting our place was only possible after three months in the country. We were lucky to be able to stay with my mom during that time, but if you’re planning on moving to another country without the ability to crash with friends or family for a bit, you may need to budget some extra funds to put down a first and last month’s rent as deposit, or have enough savings to stay in a long-term hotel.

It will feel like a step back at times

Part of our plan to move was that we had to feel like an upgrade. Our home, our car, our lifestyle… I wanted all of it to feel BETTER than what we had before. But there are times and ways when it does feel like a step back.

We simply aren’t as established here. We don’t own property (unless you count our aforementioned car with the car loan), we don’t have the same savings we used to – we don’t even have the huge array of spices and marinades in our pantry that we used to thanks to years of accumulating all the random kitchen stuff. There are moments when it can feel like a step back, and that’s okay. It’s like making room for a running leap.

Moving has made me more career driven

Maybe it’s the absolute terror about making sure that we have enough money for that upgraded lifestyle I mentioned above. Or maybe it’s just realizing the opportunity and scale here. Either way, I have moved from being happily stagnant in a dream job in gaming to pushing myself to work harder and harder in my freelance life, plus feeling driven to do more with my blog.

It’s sorta funny because we had the impetus to move because of worry about Harley’s education and future, moving to make sure she had more opportunities. And yet, I’m already benefitting from the improved opportunities here, and I have lots of plans for things to come.

Moving is always stressful, but emigrating is even more of a test of a marriage

Before I had Harley, I never really thought much about people who choose to have a kid before they get married. Whatever the reason, it just wasn’t something I considered, and I certainly didn’t agree with the old way of thinking that you HAD to get married when you get pregnant – I still don’t. But once Harley came, I understood why people said that. Babies are hard. They are stressful. I was so grateful that Dean really knew me, so when I lost my mind with the pregnancy he didn’t think that was who I really was. So glad that we were solid together so that with the stress of the birth experience and early days with Harley, and even now into toddler life, we are calm in our relationship no matter how tumultuous life gets.

Marriage is even more important when you're emigrating

Emigrating is like that, but even harder in some ways. With emigrating, I don’t have friends to go drink wine with after a tough day. I don’t have mom buddies with kids to meet up with for breakfast and watch our kids play together. I’m able to chat with and visit my mom, but on a day to day basis, Dean is my go-to for pretty much everything. We have to rely on each other for most everything. It works for us, but it’s not for everyone or every time in one’s life.

Yes, I am foreign everywhere

I laughed at the idea of moving back to the States after being in SA for so long. I wondered if I’d always be foreign anywhere I went in the world. Well, the answer is yes. People ask where I’m from. All. The. Time. Apparently, I have a funny accent. In SA, people said I sounded SO American. Well, clearly, they don’t know real Americans, because everyone here asks if I’m from the UK or Australia.

I speak differently, I think differently, and even my measurements in the kitchen are in a constant flux between pounds and kilos, Celsius and Fahrenheit. I am homesick for things I haven’t had in years, even some of the Dutch stuff from my university years. I miss the incredible sandwiches I used to eat in Maastricht, and dinners with three languages being effortlessly used around a single table. I miss biltong from South Africa and rusks. I miss all our amazing friends who seem to spread to more and more countries around the world each day.

But that’s okay

Sometimes, constant othering is hard. It’s hard not to feel like you belong. But I know that I DO belong. This is our home, and it will feel more and more like home every day. I made Holland my home. I made South Africa my home. And now I will make America my home again. And when all those friends from cities all over the world come to this side of the planet, they know that they will have a place in my home, too.

Things I wish I knew before we emigrated


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