10 Things That Happened When I Emigrated To America

Growing up, I was obsessed with American culture. People sometimes assume that means I watched “The O.C.” and wanted to live at the beach or something, but my interest went beyond pop culture. I wanted to really understand Americans, and the aspects of their lives that visitors would not notice on vacation.

And yet, I never truly planned to emigrate there. I did a year abroad in North Carolina from 2010-2011, and I figured that would be it. Sure, I might come back to visit, but I had no reason to believe I would permanently move away from England. But then I got into graduate school in the U.S., got engaged to my American boyfriend, and this past March I was granted a green card.

It’s been a crazy ride so far! I could probably write a really long list of what’s gone on since I moved, but for now, here are 10 things that happened when I emigrated to America.


1. Having To Explain The Difference Between Citizenship and Residency


I understand the hysteria around immigration more now, because I’ve come to realize just how little Americans really know about immigration law. (This isn’t a dig. I’m not an expert on EU/UK immigration laws either.) Most people assume I filled in some forms and BAM, instant American citizenship.

Nope. I am a permanent resident. I can live, work and drive here, but I can’t vote, apply for benefits or stay here if I commit a crime. (Then it’s deportation!) If I leave for a long period of time, I would potentially have to apply all over again.

There are various paths to citizenship, but mine would be a minimum of 7 years of being here then more paperwork and… probably reciting the pledge of allegiance or something? I actually don’t know. Anyway, I’m good with being a British/Irish citizen for the rest of my life. However, telling Americans this is exactly like telling people that I’m going to keep my maiden name when I get married; they don’t have a real argument against it but are vaguely offended all the same.


2. Dealing With Paperwork Like A Boss


Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve written my name, date of birth and social security number at this point. Also, if you are planning to apply for a green card, maybe don’t move house as much as I did… You WILL have to write all your addresses down and maybe go through old Amazon orders to recover one or two from four/five years ago.


3. Dispelling Myths Of The Green Card Interview


No, it really was not like “The Proposal.”

I prepared like a madwoman for my interview, making my fiancé test me and testing him back with sample questions we found online. What color are our bedroom curtains? Do you know what kind of underwear I’m wearing today? Do we actually agree on when our first date was?!

But really it was just about paperwork.


4. Questioning My Identity


I am British, no doubt about it. I love tea and Monty Python and discussing the weather. But I moved to America at the age of 21, so there’s a clear line between my childhood in Britain and my adulthood in America. I haven’t actually experienced Britain all that much as an adult—and I’m aware that, the more time I spend abroad, the more I idealize my home country.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m losing my Britishness, but I’ll never truly be an American, either. My unusual identity makes me lonely at times, but it’s also given me a reason to think more carefully about who I am and who I want to be, regardless of cultural norms and pressures.

5. Always Stressing About A Fictional Character’s Visa Status


Americans love to cast British or French people in their TV shows—usually as villains—and I can’t concentrate when they’re on screen because I’m wondering about their visa status. Are they here as a tourist? Do they qualify for a STEM position? Visa lottery winner? Did they do a green card marriage?

Speaking of which, I almost lost my mind during an episode of “Brothers and Sisters” when a French character is going to stay in the U.S. via green card marriage, and they’re all like, “It’s not hard, you just go down to city hall.” Da fuq, Walker family? What about the interviews and financial requirements? What about the waiting around without a job or a driving license? WHAT ABOUT THE PAPERWORK?


6. Everyone Has An Opinion About My Accent


I don’t really understand why people are so excited by foreign accents, but it is by far the number one thing people ask me about. Most people I meet are sure I either a) Sound completely American, or b) Sound extremely, extremely British to the point that they can barely understand me.

Because I am around 100% of the time that I speak, I think I have the best authority on this. I have a mild but distinguishable English accent with some Southern pronunciations. When I go home, my fellow Brits seem to think I’ve lost my original accent and laugh at me for saying “y’all.” As for the Americans, newsflash, you “have an accent” too!


7. People Spell My Name Wrong, Even On Facebook And In Emails

It’s JodiE Foster.

I have so much sympathy for immigrants with names that are unusual in their adopted countries, because people regularly spell my name wrong and it’s not even hard. Emails, Facebook, official work documents… I’ve had it happen repeatedly in multiple places.

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America, stop trying to make “Jodi” happen. It’s not going to happen.


8. I’ve Become More Adamant About Home Traditions


You’re goddamn right we’re going to celebrate St. George’s Day, Shrove Tuesday, Guy Fawkes and Boxing Day! Wait, wait, can I somehow argue that I deserve a day off work for these things?

Americans, please get in on these holidays. They are all about pancakes, bonfires, fireworks and watching the BBC—perfect for y’all, amirite?


9. The Story Of How I Came Here Is Down To An Elevator Pitch


I don’t mind when people ask how I came to be here, because how many Brits do you really come across in South Carolina? (Although, we Brits do get everywhere. I have met 12-15 SC Britons in the last year!) Anyway, I am a pro at telling people how I got here in as short a time as possible.

I could tell you about a lifetime of loving American culture, my visits to the east and west coasts as a child and how I read Faulkner in college… Or, “school and my Southern gentleman” is usually good too.


10. I Feel So Lucky To Be Able To Experience Two Cultures

Fun fact: My code name at work is John Smith.

I can’t even explain how amazing it is to experience a foreign culture every day. I remember how, back when I first moved the States, everything was a big surprise for me. Now, I have a pretty impressive knowledge of American language, geography and culture, most of which was not learned in a classroom.

Still, it will probably never feel completely normal to me here. And that means the adventure never has to end.


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