March 31, 2014

LINK-UP: THE EXPAT EXPERIENCE

THE PROCESS OF MOVING ABROAD


I realize I haven't elaborated on the whole visa process that happened before my move or the actual moving itself. As a European who had never left Europe before I was definitely unprepared for the stacks of paperwork and I had well... never thought I'd have to go through all of that just to be with the person I love. Maybe the whole thing left me traumatized or I've wanted to put it all behind me, but for some reason it never ended up on here. And then I stumbled upon this cool link-up hosted by Molly from The Move to America and it got me thinking. The whole process of moving here was long and tiring, but I absolutely don't want to forget about it or pretend it was easy. So here it goes and I can't promise this will be a short story...


The Move to America

We applied for a K-1 fiancee visa, which basically means you are granted permission to enter the US to get married and move there. It is different from a spousal visa in that once you get married you still have to apply for a permanent resident card. One thing is for sure: we were very naive... we thought the whole visa process would take 4 to 5 months and we'd be able to get married by December (and have a wonderful Christmas wedding). That obviously didn't happen. 

The Visa Process
I know it's highly subjective so say this, especially since there are always people who have to wait even longer, but our visa application took a long time. A K-1 visa supposedly has a faster processing time than a spousal visa since part of the paperwork is done after your move (or so we had read). We applied in September 2012 and got our confirmation but Christmas came and went and we still hadn't heard anything back (three months and counting). Nick had moved back to the US before Christmas to find a job already and I was trying to stay busy sane by doing temporary jobs since that's basically all I could do. When we applied the approval rate had been around 4.5 months and by January it had gone up to 5 and then to 7. We were right in assuming a wedding around Easter wouldn't be possible. It was basically nerve-wrecking.

Our NOA2 (approval) came by the end of April, exactly seven months after we had applied and after that I had more control over the process again. I was able to send the package with additional information to the embassy by the end of May and my interview was scheduled on the 25th of June. I can't believe it's been less than a year since I took a train to Brussels and waited outside the embassy in the rain for my interview. So much has happened.

The Move

Even though they tell you not to make any travel plans before you have your visa in hand I really couldn't wait any longer. I hadn't seen Nick in three months and the only time my parents and sister would be able to fly over for the wedding was in August which gave us a very small window. Add the planning and settling in... I needed to be there at least a month ahead of that time. Thank god I had my dress already!

So I left a week after my visa came and packed up my whole life in two weeks. I didn't have the money to ship all my belongings to the US and I probably didn't have enough stuff to make it worth it so I crammed everything I thought I needed into two suitcases and one carry-on and cleaned up my room at home by putting everything in boxes. I don't think my family was prepared for this part of the process and actually I wasn't either. It seemed very abrupt and definitive even though I had been waiting for that document a whole year. I had been so focused on it that I hadn't even thought about what it would feel like to leave my parents and sister behind at the airport. It was heartbreaking and honestly at that point a part of me just wanted to turn around and not get on that plane (considering what a hell of a flight it would turn out to be that might have been a good idea in hind sight). It was the scariest thing I've ever had to do in my life.



Mulan, my parents' incredibly cute but stubborn puppy 
The New Life
The last 10 (say what?) months have been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. I've had to plan a wedding in under a month, leave my family and friends behind (not to mention our incredibly cute puppy) and start from scratch again in the sun. I was really homesick in the beginning, afraid of everything but we were together at last and I was grateful for that. And settling in? It's an ongoing process, but I'm getting better at it. I'm trying to meet more people more, got really lucky and landed a great job and right now we're looking for our own apartment. Life is good!

Thinking of moving abroad?

Accept that you'll never be (emotionally) prepared
You should definitely do your research about the new place your moving to, but know that becoming an expat is a very emotionally unpredictable process. I never struggled with homesickness before, but expat life is intense. You start missing people you thought you'd never miss, start liking things about your home country that annoyed you in everyday life and it's a tricky thing. Worst part? You just don't know what to expect until you do it.

Research the paperwork
We were both naive and new to this whole process and definitely didn't do enough research up front to have a realistic view on how long the process would take or what would be our best option. Maybe it's normal to learn along the way, but it can never hurt to make sure you know what to expect!


Savor your last moments
Depending on how far your moving... home probably won't be just a train stop away. And visiting friends and family might become quite expensive. So enjoy those last moments at home to the fullest: have a goodbye party, take a video tour around your hometown or have silly pictures taken with your friends. At least you'll have some great memories to put on the wall of your brand new home in your brand new country!

How did you experience moving abroad? Any tips? 


PS: sorry for that wall of text... guess I had to get some things off my chest!

11 comments :

  1. Wow! This is so very similar in many respects to my own experience!

    I had an incredibly long, drawn out wait for my spousal visa, and simialr issues with my belongings (and a cute puppy I had to leave belonging to my Mum). I was also so focused on getting to be with my husband, that I had not thought beyond that and how leaving the UK would feel etc.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and for joining my link up!

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    1. Wow, I can't believe your visa process took even longer! You must have both been very strong and patient :) I'm so sorry you had to leave your puppy behind too! Although I think for my mom it has helped to fill that space I left :) That dog is spoiled rotten now haha

      Thank you for organizing the link-up, I wish I would have known about it sooner!

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  2. I loved reading your story, Nathalie! I'm always amazed at how difficult it is to move to the US (I already knew Molly's story so I knew how long it could last but still!)
    I totally agree with you about the emotional side of being an expat. It is not always easy and unfortunately bouts of homesickness are totally unpredictable. And just like you I was very naive when moving to Switzerland with my boyfriend. I came and stayed as a tourist thinking it would be easy to find a job and get the necessary permits but alas it wasn't the case and we may have to go the distance again.

    Heel fijne week gewenst! x

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    1. Thanks Irene! I can imagine it must be tough to find a job, let alone a job you would actually enjoy, in Switzerland. You're very brave to keep on trying and stay positive, I'm crossing my fingers it will work out for you and your boyfriend! Eventhough I have good memories of our long distance relationship... I definitely wouldn't want to go back to it!

      Kom gewoon terug naar Belgie ;)

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  3. Yes, that's a great tip! You will never be emotionally prepared. The things I thought I would miss haven't even crossed my mind and things that annoyed the hell out of me at home have me so home sick! It's crazy

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    1. It's crazy how that works right? I used to complain about public transportation all the time... take it away from me and all of a sudden I'm a fanatic :)

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  4. Fantastic advice, I've been an expat for 3 years this July and didn't come up with such wisdom in my tips. I am in awe! #ExpatLinkUp

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  5. This was a very interesting post. I had seen Molly's IR1 visa story and you have the flipside with a fiance visa. All these stories make me glad I was not going to Baku permanently, and that I only had myself to worry about when I went.

    The one thing I am taking away from each of our #ExpatLinkUp posts and shares, is that no matter how much information we have, if we get anxious about being together or getting somewhere fast, it always seems to compound the culture shock issues. I don't know how we slow down and relax, but it sure seems like pressure is no friend!

    Glad you're making it work, or at least ok for now! Thanks for sharing! And welcome... ;)

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    1. Yes, pressure is definitely counterproductive. I wish I could have taken it slower and I was even thinking that at the time... my mind just basically couldn't :) I might not have always been great company but I'm glad I was able to spend those last months at home! And I'm glad to be here now ;) Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. I wish I had had such great advice before I left Belgium in 2001. I was emotionally VERY unprepared, I had no clue how complicated the paperwork would get and I regret almost every day that I did not take the time to savor my last moments in Belgium more.
    To make the paperwork more complicated, I came in March 2001, and while I was waiting to hear from the INS, 9/11 happened... the INS got dissolved into the DHS (later into the USCIS) long and arduous battle to get my visa... three years and vast sums of money later, I finally got my greencard in 2004.
    The crazy things we do for love...

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