I’m writing this from the place I spend most Sunday mornings, a very multicultural launderette in Brooklyn, and, before you ask, there is no Levi’s guy. How did a British woman from Swindon find herself in such a glamorous location? Well I took a very deep breathe and said YES, what came next has been an incredible adventure.
YES, (together with a little bit of courage) is the word that has changed my life.
Five years ago, back in The UK, I was at a stage in my life where it felt like both my career and my personal life were stagnating. A lot of my friends had moved out of London, others had left the UK. Those around me seemed to be doing exciting things and taking action. I work as a visual effects artist in commercials. It’s an all-encompassing job and, having spent over 10 years working for the same company in the UK, I decided it was time for some action too. So I decided to do what I felt a man in my industry would do in this situation: I asked for a meeting with my boss. Then I did what I think to be the best move of my career: I asked for an international opportunity. A few days later I was offered a job in New York! Single and childfree, I jumped at the chance.
The first few weeks were a whirlwind of getting lost on the subway and learning that New York cocktails are strong.
Soon my next YES moment arrived, when a colleague from London was visiting. She introduced me to a British girl who told me she met up with other Brits in our industry for regular drinks and invited me along. My first thought was, I’ve relocated to New York, why would I want to hang out with other Brits? Well, as I would find out, having friends who understand your food tastes and humour is the first step to surviving being so far away from home.
You don’t even think about how to make friends when you’re young, you just hang out and suddenly you are friends. Making new friends in your thirties is so much harder, especially when you’re single and can’t lean on your partner for safety; you have to force yourself to go out and be sociable. What is interesting is most of the men I’ve met who have relocated have done it with girlfriends/wives. Where as most of the women who are relocating for work do so alone. As a single woman in a foreign country, the time you put into the social aspect of your life is as crucial as your day job.
When going to meet prospective friends, you have the same feelings as you do when you go on a date: what should I wear, will we have anything in common, will they like me?
In New York I had to approach many new situations and environments solo; I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked into a bar on my own to meet strangers when I lived in the UK. Luckily that night, I met amazing people who have supported me through a crazy few years. The same people also started an online network that connects Brits working in television in the USA. It’s a great feeling to use what we’ve learnt to support others just starting out here.
Fast-forward 12 months and although I was enjoying my life, my career wasn’t going as well as I hoped: my contract wasn’t renewed. I was devastated to learn I had to leave New York.
When I returned to London, I was strangely unhappy. Not wanting to be in the city that you have loved for years is hard to come to terms with. A friend bought me the book ‘Tired of London, Tired of life’ to try and help me fall back in love with the city but something just didn’t feel right.
During this time a friend in Shanghai contacted me: a couple of skype calls later, another deep breath and a YES, and I was on a flight. I would help set up the beauty department of the visual effect team at Technicolor, Shanghai.
I’d travelled the world quite a lot but I never truly experienced culture shock until I moved to China. You go through a rollercoaster of emotions. The honeymoon period in China is replaced by shock and awe, a lot of, “What am I doing here?” followed by adjustment and finally acceptance. Most of what I knew of Shanghai was from the movie ‘Skyfall’. That part of Shanghai exists but it’s across the Huangpu River. There, the tree-lined streets are spotless and the views are breathtaking, but it’s not the everyday reality for most Chinese locals and expats.
There were many courageous moments during that year in China. Luckily, I found some wonderful British friends mainly because I took one of my deep breaths and started a conversation with a man in Starbucks, after having accidentally thrown a tomato at him. Remember when I said how important it was to have friends who understand your British quirks, never has that been more important than when I was living alone in China.
I found my home in the French concession area of Shanghai; a 5-minute cycle from work, that took me past a park with locals exercising in the mornings and ladies dancing in the evenings, and a wet market selling some interesting foods. During my time, I experienced odd special moments of familiarity which combat the loneliness one inevitably feels living so far away from home, including finding an elusive can of good old real Heinz baked beans.
After a crazy year in Shanghai, which included riding a slide down the Great Wall of China, the company I had always wanted to work for approached me about a job in New York. I loved my time in China: everyday was an adventure. I don’t miss the air pollution, but I do miss learning something new everyday, the overwhelming feeling of achievement when a local understood my Mandarin and the kindness of the friends I made there, but it was time to leave.
So I packed up all my shoes again and retuned to Brooklyn. I’ve been back almost two years and although some of the friends I had made the first time around are no longer part of my day-to-day life, because I still try to say YES as much a possible, I have made new ones.
I love living in New York, it’s a city where people really enjoy life and live every day fully. They will go out on a Monday or Tuesday, if something fun is happening: not just save nights out for the weekend. New York is a melting pot of people from all over the World. There are so many single people here, young and old, men & women, you are not judged for your life choices as much as I felt I was living in the UK.
As a woman on your own it is inevitable that you will feel lonely sometimes and miss your family and friends but, be brave and say yes to invitations, you will find new friends that will make you laugh and cry like those you left behind. Relocating is an amazing experience, which will make you understand and appreciate your own strength and courage. I’m thankful to my friends and family still in the UK who give me the love and strength to continue my adventure.
My advice to anyone who gets offered a chance to work abroad, take a deep breath and say YES!
Anne has worked on a range of prominent projects throughout her career. You can hear her talk about her work as a female Flame artist in the short film ‘Perspective’ (below) or read more about her amazing role at The Mill here.