Who moves where? My wife and I discussed who would pick up their life and move across the pond. Emily is a teacher from Louisville. I’m a designer from East Grinstead England. “I can work anywhere,” I thought to myself, taking in the warm autumn night as I visited the States. The girl I love, not to mention the weather, were reason enough to move here. Louisville offered so much. Plus, it felt like the perfect marriage of a small town and a big-city lifestyle. I knew I wanted to live in this city. If only moving countries was as cute as chick-flicks like Notting Hill make it out to be. Surprisingly, the story of the star-crossed lover who travels across the world was a lot more… drab. As if Nicholas Sparks wrote chapters on standing in line for hours at the social security office, only to be told you still don’t qualify for paperwork.
I arrived in Louisville on the international holiday, April 20th 2016, ready to start my adventure (after receiving my entry visa). Leaving the bustle of London behind, I ventured into the slow charm of the derby city. The thought of not seeing England for a year creeped into my head, reminding me how much I would miss my friends and family. The city sung to me in ways I had never originally considered. For one, becoming a part of a new and welcoming American family. Then there were the cultural changes that would take time to get used to, like the many times I’ve asked for a glass of Worr-tah, only to receive a confused expression from my waiter. Or the under abundance of English Breakfast Tea at every single hipster coffee joint in America. No! Cambodian mint-coconut infusion is not English Breakfast Tea.
I’ve never been afraid of culture shock. I leapt right into gulping down IPAs, an important part of my initiation ritual. Two years later, I wouldn’t dare drink a beer that doesn’t give a kick to your throat. But the milder European lagers of England will never leave my pallet. As I adjusted to the new foods, drinks, traditions and sports of Louisville—I jumped through the hoops of the immigration system. The archaic process left me without a way to support myself, obtain a bank account or even get a driver’s license. Being left without a job makes you ponder what defines you as a person. Conversations with new acquaintances would eventually land with, “so what do you do?” My awkward response seemed to always spew out as, “I’m a designer… well not right now.” I started to question what defined me, wondering if my job title makes me who I am. In retrospect, being unemployed didn’t strip my identity, but it sure made me feel bland. My TV blared news of Brexit. My social media was a political war-zone. I distanced myself from the toxicity. The American election renewed feelings of political isolation, with every conversation leading to the topic of immigration, I felt like I was at the center of it all.
After months of waiting on immigration papers, phone calls and countless interviews, my work permit arrived in late February 2017. This was the first step to regaining that feeling of belonging. At Fieldtrip, I found myself plunged into the frey of design. Working for a smaller agency was exciting as I found a new take on work ethic I hadn’t experienced in the concrete jungle of London. A considerably shorter commute, more flexible hours and a sense of community all caught me on the back foot when I arrived. Fieldtrip’s ability to stay competitive showed me that small businesses in America can thrive, whereas in London, similar sized companies don’t stand up as well. A British friend of mine, who visited my new home, told me how amazed he was by Market street’s row of independent businesses. Before moving here, I just brushed the “American Dream” off as a lackluster quote and overused Instagram bio. Now, I finally understand what it meant to so many immigrants before me, making their way in America. Being part of Fieldtrip and helping businesses grow is a great thing to be a part of. There’s a certain camaraderie that exists in this city. We work together, despite our different agencies, sectors of expertise and walks of life to share technique and insights.
Today, my green card sits firmly in my hands allowing me to live and work here like every other American. During this two-year whirlwind, I’ve managed to visit 10 of 50 states, attended three Kentucky Derbies, placed one order of biscuits and gravy (and was disgusted by it), and watched an array of American sports played. I even discovered that a tailgate isn’t just the back end of a car. For the brits reading—it’s getting drunk in a stadium’s car park. To the Americans that I’ve met along the way, you have been nothing but supportive. And to my close friends and family back in good ol’ blighty, cheers for being top geezers.