08 September 2015

cheers, i live in England now.

It is a true thing that the English say "cheers." 

All.

The.

Time.

Hi = cheers. Bye = cheers. Thanks = cheers. Um = cheers. Cheers = cheers. 

Drew and I decided it's so universally English that it wouldn't be fair to say until I can officially claim my temporary English status. 

It has been a long, hard week. The longest, hardest week. I have had a few long, hard weeks in the last few years and this absolutely tops the list. As moving tends to do, the mop-up-clean-up of moving out of my apartment in Provo and getting packed up to fly across the world proved to be a more lengthy process than I had hoped. By Tuesday afternoon I just adopted an attitude of "who cares, throw it away" rather than try to pack up the ends of things, whether to take with me or to put in storage. I'm amazed by how much stuff I have parted with in the last 18-months and yet more seems to accumulate. It has inspired me to try not to accumulate more stuff in the next two years because dealing with stuff is so frustrating and obnoxious. And wasteful. But I digress... 

Tuesday night my parents and Drew helped me pack and repack and repack and repack and repack my luggage. I was aiming to bring 2 checked bags and a carry-on plus a backpack and two cats in their kennels. I ended up bringing 4 checked bags and a carry-on plus a backpack and two cats in their kennels and also a corner of Drew's carry-on. 

It's fine...

But I brought with me a whole black wardrobe to wear as a terribly serious acting student and winter clothes and all sorts of things that I'm trying quite hard not to need to buy in the UK, and as shipping is so much more expensive, coughing out a few extra hundred dollars for a few extra bags for two years of my life I guess is a pretty good deal. 

The biggest thing I have learned this week is that it pays BIG TIME to DO YOUR HOMEWORK. I will probably write a more in-depth post about this another time, but I spent months and months researching and reading and comparing checklists and I'm so incredibly glad I did. I am so grateful for my mom, who is the best planner I know and from whom I learned anything about traveling. I did a lot of groundwork in ensuring my kitties would be able to travel with me and that all their paperwork was in order before we dropped them off at cargo for their flight. They had to go on their own flight through Houston so they could travel together. It terrified me out of my mind for all of the reasons, not the least of which is how legendarily difficult it is to migrate animals to the UK. In practice however, it was so easy. Like, we dropped them off and paid for cargo/customs fees ("Expensive cats," the cargo rep said to me snidely as I paid. Take my money and shut up, I thought to myself.) , and the United Airlines cargo people took them back to the holding area, and it was done. An hour later we watched them get loaded onto their plane at the gate next to ours and I nearly cried (ok I definitely did) when i saw little Lucille 2's ears perking up in the windows of her kennel. 

Then we got on our plane and flew to Chicago. We had Chili's express for my last meal in the USA and then I got a manicure while Drew had a chair massage. Then we flew to London which was, in spite of the fact that we were in the middle of the plane and couldn't see out the windows, so easy. We arrived at Heathrow at 5:55AM and getting through customs was EASY. The chap checking my paperwork made jokes and was so cheerful. We collected all the bags easily-- they came rolling along almost all together, in fact. Tossed them onto a trolly and got on a shuttle to rent a car. That part was a little less easy, but to be fair, the actual car rental part of the trip was the part we did the least amount of research about. And also in fairness, we had a reservation and we also knew exactly what paperwork we'd need (USA passport and current driver's license), it was just a bit overwhelming to avoid all the up-selling at 7AM. But we got the car, we got it packed PERFECTLY, and we got on the road with GPS and drove straight to Stonehenge. 

STONEHENGE. 

Off the plane and straight to Stonehenge

Drew did so amazingly well driving, especially all things considered (the early hour, having never been to the UK/Europe before, not knowing what to expect with the roads and driving culture, and without any experience on my part). We stopped at a McDonald's (obviously...) and were greeted by the Stonehenge cows and sheep, and then changed clothes, and then wandered about gd Stonehenge.

Welcome to the UK, Drew!!

We also popped into Salisbury for a moment and I fell in love. Salisbury Cathedral is the first giant, ancient, European cathedral Drew has ever seen, but even with my experience, it was overwhelming and inspiring and a wonderful way to being my adventure in this country. 

We popped back to collect the cats from the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre. I've read amazing things about the centre but again, I just kind of didn't know what to expect. The internet and people's experiences make it seem like such a relatively strenuous experience, and being a worrier, I just wanted everything to be fine.

So we arrived (for anyone stopping by the Centre in the future, it is TINY and the carpark is TINY and it all requires some clever driving/parking) and stopped in where a lovely girl came out to greet us. I started to say, "I'm Emily, I'm here to collect...." and she finished my sentence, "Two cats, Lucille and Jenner? Yeah, they're all ready, they just need to be loaded back in their kennels." I guess they were just fine and were let out for a good stretch, and they ate (all of) their food I had packed for them, and they passed their health inspections with flying colors. I signed the sign-in sheet, the staff brought them out, we had a minute to reunite in the lobby, and then we left.

IT WAS SO EASY.

The rest of our week hasn't been quite so easy, and I guess it's to be expected. I had three real goals to accomplish while Drew was here with me, namely: 1. get a local mobile phone. 2. open a UK bank account. 3. let a property. I had really hoped, in my American ignorance, that we'd be able to work quickly in getting it done....

Which is where it stopped being easy.

Friday and Saturday were basically wasted, aside from learning experiences, I guess. In spite of my (extensive) preparation, problems have really stemmed from a lack of proof of UK address. I'm staying with the loveliest friends in the world the Cartwrights (even though they're in Utah at the moment) until I find a place of my own, but I sadly underestimated my need to have their address on any of my paperwork. It was on my visa application, but I can't collect my permanent visa from school until my specifically assigned "enrolment" day, and the rest of my paperwork has my permanent UT address all over it. Don't worry-- the cats immigration paperwork has the Cartwright's address but apparently the UK government doesn't accept pet immigration papers as proof of address for an international student.... Go figure.... Just kidding, I totally get it, even though I also don't get it at all. 

Another challenge has been that UK banks require an appointment to open accounts. There's nothing really like just walking into a bank and opening an account, especially not in the middle of a giant city, especially not a month before school starts and there are one million new students milling around. We basically couldn't find a bank branch with an available appointment within less than three or four WEEKS. This does not appeal to our American sense of efficiency. 

And finally, the go-around is maddening. Essentially I couldn't get a bank account without proof of address, but most branches are incredibly specific about proof of address, meaning they want a utility bill or a letting contract, which means I'd need a house to let, but a lot of letting agencies (which represent a very large majority of available rental properties) require bank information as part of their referencing process. And in both cases, it's needful for banks and agencies to have a UK phone number on file, and a contract requires bank information (but no proof of address-- since by having a bank account, your address has been confirmed-- so at least there's that............. oh brother). We ended up getting SIM cards for our iPhones, which was incredibly helpful and solved at least part of the problem, but felt like really only half a solution to goal #1. 

By Saturday night, I was pretty done. We came back to the Cartwrights and I snuggled the kitties. The only true constant positive of my adventure so far has been how well Jenna and Lucille 2 have adjusted. They are so happy here. I don't know if it's the air, or if it's the fact that they survived a harrowing travel experience only to have solid confirmation that I will never abandon them, or if they just understand that they need to be good, or all of the above, but they are so content. They're eating better than they have in months, really. And even that-- I got a small bag of food to try for them, assuming I'd have to try a few before we found something they'd like since they're used to their food from home, but the first flavor of the first brand we tried has been a HIT. They LOVE it and I think they've even gained a little bit of weight, which doesn't hurt either of them. I'm so so so so so so so happy they're here. Drew has been so supportive and smart this whole trip, but there's just something about their little happy faces that has made me feel like everything truly will work out, even if it's just not as quickly as I had hoped or anticipated. 

Sunday we took a mental and urban break by heading to the Belfry for Drew to play golf on their PGA course. It was really nice to get out and just breathe and enjoy more of the countryside. And it helped us make a game plan for the rest of the week, since we have plans to head to London on Thursday before Drew flies to Utah on Sunday. 

Our motto yesterday and today has been "ALL I DO IS WIN (win win), NO MATTER WHAT (what): earn the right to say cheers." 

Using our American-ness to our advantage, we have managed since Sunday night to:
  • Find a bank account appointment 56 minutes away in Stafford for this morning at a Barclays, which was in my top two preferences for UK banking. 
  • Secure a special letter of admission from my admissions counselor which, while it doesn't say I've enroled yet (because I haven't till September 25, which is non-negotiable), it does say I will be enroled, and lists my local address on BCU letterhead. 
  • Email one million local listings on airbnb (Drew's idea, since letting agencies have turned up not much in the months I've been trying to communicate with them) with a terrific introduction to me as a person to see if anyone would be interested in long-term bookings. 
  • Visit a number of agencies in person to register my information and view a few properties in my preferred neighborhoods and within my preferred budget. 
  • Ramble around campus and Drew got a free Red Bull from the door guy while we waited to meet with a rep from the international student office. 
  • Get a visitor pass to use the computer lab on campus, even though I don't have my student ID yet. 
  • Meet the lady who responded quite positively to our inquiry on airbnb, see the house, and FELL IN LOVE, leaving with a solid meeting sign paperwork and a loose outline of when I can move in to my very own house in a very gorgeous/clean/safe neighborhood with a cat door (if I want to use it) and a bathtub and no additional pet deposit!!!
  • Eat Five Guys in front of a giant church.
  • Experience our first true grey and foggy English day (beautiful, but sinus headache-inducing). 
  • Attend my bank appointment where they took my shiny new admissions letter as sufficient proof and granted me an account! 
  • Made a deposit into my shiny new bank account. 
  • Visit the largest Elizabethan timber home in England. 
  • Get a new phone. 
  • Get a permanent SIM card and phone plan (with unlimited data and texting). 
  • Determine when my house will be available to move in. 
  • Eat a caramel and shortbread flapjack, and drink a pint of Diet Coke. 
  • Have a bunch of English people be just enchanted with our American accents.
I'm missing a whole lot of details in here which I'm sure I'll come back to at some point, but to conclude for now--

Good night, blogland. CHEERS!