Sleepwalking.

Since I’ve already alluded to how jetlag affected me during and after this move, it’s pointless to write a full entry about it. I don’t want to drive people away from this blog because of complete boredom. :-| I’ll post article excerpts on jetlag here instead, in the hopes that it’ll help someone in their future travels and/or move(s).
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(Source)

(HealthDay News) — Jet lag is the term for disrupted sleep when you travel between time zones, and your body doesn’t adjust to sleeping on a new schedule.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers these suggestions to minimize jet lag:

* Stick to a good bed time and sleep schedule before departing. Don’t miss out on sleep in an attempt to beat jet lag.
* Adjust your bed time by a few hours before you leave, depending on which time zone to which you’ll be traveling.
* If you’re only traveling for a few days, don’t worry about adjusting to a new time zone.
* Don’t sleep on the flight, unless the flight includes your usual bed time.
* Don’t consume alcohol or caffeine, but do drink plenty of fluids.
* Keep up with your exercise routine, just not too close to bed time.

– Diana Kohnle
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What is jet lag?

Jet lag, also called desynchronosis, is a temporary disorder that causes fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms as a result of air travel across time zones.

What are other symptoms of jet lag?

Besides fatigue and insomnia, a jet lag sufferer may experience anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, sweating, coordination problems, and even memory loss. Some individuals report additional symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities and increased susceptibility to illness.

(Source – longer version)

Take-off and landing.

Since my original flight with Icelandair got canceled, I booked my new flight with Aer Lingus, an Irish airline. Have you ever heard “when Irish eyes are smiling” (or something to that effect)? Well, Irish eyes must have frowned when it finished building that airline. :-|

At first I was happy because like many introverts (and possibly extroverts) would be in my situation, it was great to have a 2-seater row to myself. I’d be able to lie down, maybe enjoy a TV show or movie, stretch out without worrying about another person sitting next to or behind me. That’s what I appreciate about flying to other countries – more often than not, having extra space is the rule and not the exception. This would be a great flight!

Or so I thought.

The row I sat in was the last row in my airplane section. That would’ve been great if it weren’t for the fact that there was a wall behind me, so I couldn’t lean my seat back like I wanted to. This placed more pressure on my already-bad back, something I’ve lived with for years, and my neck. In addition, the armrest that divided the 2 seats wouldn’t raise up the way it would on most normal airlines, so I couldn’t lie down properly and go to sleep. I love sleep. I value sleep. I missed sleep. Needless to say, I was mad. :-| I can’t remember how many hours of sleep I got, but it couldn’t have been more than 2 hours. Considering that I had a layover in Shannon, Ireland, that wasn’t a good thing.

I woke up from my “nap” right before landing in Shannon. What I most remember is seeing nothing but a sea of green fields and pastures under the fog & gloom, weather which is quite customary for the United Kingdom. Although I was cranky & annoyed, that made me feel a bit warm & fuzzy inside. It’s been said that Ireland is the Emerald Isle; based on what I saw in the air, it’s a beautiful island worthy of the name. (It just needs to ground that god-forsaken airline.) I plan to visit, as my acquaintance is there and would welcome me with open arms. I’ve been interested in learning the history & geography of it. Yes, I’m a nerd. Deal with it.

My flight landing was an hour late, but so was my flight to my destination so it evened out in the end. As I went through to customs, an advertisement caught my eye. It showed an underaged girl who was asking for help to get home. She’d been trafficked into Ireland, presumably for sex or slave labor. I’m unsure if the girl in the advertisement was a trafficking victim or a model for the ad, but I didn’t know that human trafficking was a challenge in the United Kingdom. I’d later learn that it’s more common than most people think. (I’ll also discuss it at a later date.)

Going through customs is a real pain in the ass. It’s bad enough that I went through months of waiting for my paperwork approvals and spent possibly thousands on this move, including USD $446.00 on my visa/work permit. Now I had to wait for clearance through bullshit customs? I wasn’t a happy camper. Thanks a lot, September 11th. :-| Thank goodness my visa got sponsored by my new employer because I got through a bit easier than some of the people on the flight. I dragged my tired ass to the next gate to catch my last flight when I realized….. I dropped my favorite ring on the plane. It was a silver ring that I bought in Arkansas a few years ago whilst visiting my father. I couldn’t go back to the plane of course, so I had no choice but to let it go.

The delay was over and my flight was finally ready for take-off. It took about an hour so it made no sense to go to sleep. I landed in London, United Kingdom a little after 10:00 a.m. GMT. I’ve visited London twice before, but this was different….. now I’d be living here for at least the next few years. What the hell had I gotten myself into? :-| That question, and many others filled with doubt, are part of the process. If you’ve ever lived abroad for a long time, I’m sure you’ve had those doubts cross your mind at least once – thinking that you’re crazy for doing this, wondering if it was the right decision, wondering if it’s worth it, etc.

But here’s the thing – I’d arrived. The physical aspect of the move – leaving one’s home country – is one of the biggest parts to overcome. Vomit or not, like it or not, my hard-earned money, blood, sweat and tears brought me here. There was no turning back.

I went to baggage claim, got a trolley and lugged all of my baggage (which cost an extra USD $250 to bring on the plane, by the way) on it. No one offered to help me, an obvious solo traveler, because why would anyone offer to help? Chivalry & kindness are dead. :-| I came outside, where car service (thank goodness!) was waiting for me to take me to my gracious friend’s house.

As an aside, I was lucky to have such a gracious friend. I didn’t even ask if I could stay with her; she offered for me to stay with her until I got on my feet. I hate being a burden to people and would’ve (stupidly) spent money that I didn’t have, to stay in a hotel or hostel had she not offered her home. I’m grateful for her friendship and, even though she never asked me for money, gave her a little money for the time I stayed with her. I mention this because most of my American colleagues had to stay in hotels, which is very expensive, until they found places to live. Many expatriates don’t have the luxury of having friends in the countries to which they move, so often the only choice is to stay in expensive accommodation until finding a house/apartment/flat. Another option is a house share, where you rent out a room in a house shared with other people; some people like it and stay sharing, where others, like me, prefer to live alone. The good thing about house shares is that it’s often cheaper than living alone, what with shared rent that often includes other bills, and it’s an option until one can find his/her own place if one so chooses. The bad thing about it is that not everyone should live together.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming…..

Car service was waiting for me and took me straight to my friend’s house, where she was waiting for me. She knew what I’d gone through over the past few days, so she allowed me to leave my luggage downstairs until I got some rest. And rest I did. I remember talking with her for a bit, then my eyes got heavy and that’s all she wrote. :-|

I slept for a while and, upon waking up, figured that I should let my family know that I arrived in one piece. My friend’s laptop was out of commission, so she offered to walk me to an internet cafe to e-mail a few people back home. I was still tired, but it wasn’t far away so off we went. She left the cafe before I did and I told her I’d meet her back at her place. Getting back to her house was very straightforward despite the fact that I landed only less than 12 hours before.

As I walked back to my friend’s house, I walked past a man who was proselytizing – handing out church pamphlets for some crusade/concert something or other. Now, just to let you know, I’m a former Christian turned agnostic humanist, for lack of better words. The pamphlets he was handing out caught my eye because they were colorful and laminated. Anyway, I took a look at the pamphlet and, upon realizing what it was, politely said “no thanks”. Why did I say that? :-| He began giving me a mini-sermon, trying to convert me in the middle of the street. He even asked me “What’s a pretty girl like you doing out of church?” and a few other priceless gems that seem exist in every proselytizing handbook worldwide:

“What happened to you?”
“Who did something to you to leave the church?”
“You can’t live without Jesus.”

and whatever other questions are in that worldwide proselytizing handbook. You know, kinda like the worldwide parenting manual. :-|

As he tried to save my soul, he was also trying to become more than friends. I’d landed less than 12 hours ago, I was jet lagged, and I looked like shit. He offered to give me some church books, as well as a mobile phone to keep in touch with me. I declined both. I was too tired to get New York City nasty towards him, so I told him that I had to go. He tried being slick and ask for my address, but that wasn’t gonna happen.

As an aside, the men here are very polite overall. They don’t really approach women on the streets, unlike the men back home who will approach a woman any time, any place. The men here are a bit bolder in social settings and even then, they’re not as aggressive as the ones back home. This cuts across all cultural backgrounds & ethnicities. So it threw me off a bit that this guy was so persistent. And by the way, even if he wasn’t trying to convert me, I wouldn’t talk to him any further because he smelled like he hadn’t bathed in a week. :-|

I escaped the mini-sermon and took my weary, heavy-laden self back to the house. The new job didn’t begin for 1 week, so I had the luxury of sleeping the jet lag off. It took longer than that to get fully adjusted to the time difference, but sleepy or not, my job was calling.

My next stop – delving into the wonderful world of social services in a foreign land.

The Move (part II).

On June 22, 2010, I was ready to go (in the physical sense, at least). My barrels were already on the way to their destination, and my suitcases ready to go. My aunt already wished me farewell, as difficult as it was, and my uncle did the same. I’d seen most of the people who mattered to me the most, having been thrown a going-away shindig and an intimate dinner for a select few. All I needed to do was bring in my car for sale before my flight. A few hours before my flight, I drove to the dealership that said it’d buy my car.

Prior to bringing the car in, I’d been in contact with the dealership, Car Cash, since February, when my stepfather saw a huge advertisement for it. I went online and researched it through the Better Business Bureau, which gave it a grade of A+. I was comfortable with the rating and made contact with Car Cash from there, saving e-mails and making phone calls to it, speaking with different representatives to make sure that this was legit. I confirmed that I could bring in the car at any time and have it purchased by Car Cash. I considered selling to private buyers, but the few who first showed interest later reneged, and it’s usually more clear-cut to sell to a dealership.

I brought the car to Car Cash on my day of reckoning. This would be the last, and major, burden that I’d have to deal with. I already knew that I’d have other bills to deal with from home whilst overseas (thanks a lot Sallie Mae, you’re the best!), but getting rid of this car would be a huge relief. No more insurance, car note, gas, toll, etc. I was glad to get this off my back.

I got to Car Cash and showed the dealership manager all my paperwork, including the e-mails I’d exchanged during the past 3-4 months. All of a sudden, the conversation stopped. I figured something was up when he said “I gotta talk to my manager”, walked into another office, and started whispering behind closed doors. He returned and told me that I’d only get less than 1/2 of what was due on the car, plus I’d have to pay him what was due on the car.

Oh really now. :-|

Now let’s get something straight. I’m not a mechanic, but I know when someone is trying to jerk me around & play me for a fool. I don’t like having my intelligence insulted. Based on the conversations I had over those past few months, and based on the car being 2006 make/model, this deal turned out to be shady. So as the manager spouted his bullshit about what he’d offer me for the car, why I had the nerve to think that I’d get a better deal than what he was offering, and what I had to pay him, I floated into the Twilight Zone. In essence, this shady ass car sales rep was telling me that he’d give me a certain amount, and then I’d have to basically give him the money back to pay whatever I owed on the car note.

Yeah. He must have seen Sarah Palin written on my forehead.

I politely asked for my paperwork back, said “thank you”, and walked out. This left me with a car that I had to leave in the United States with no plans about what to do with it next. Because my flight was only a few hours away, I did what was best: I missed the flight.

I called my stepfather, who would’ve been my chauffeur, and told him what happened. He got mad and so did my father, who was even more pissed. I told both what the plan was, not having much of a choice, and drove back to where my stepfather would’ve gotten me to drive to the airport. I called my aunt & uncle, who were happy that I’d be home for a few extra days, and headed back to their house. I e-mailed my recruiter and sent him my new itinerary.

I contacted Expedia and the original airline that I would’ve flown with and after over an hour, I was able to cancel the original flight with the option to use said flight for up to a year, and booked a new flight with a new airline for close to double the price. This was driving me deeper into the poor house, but it’s not like I was ever rich anyway. Besides, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving the car with no plans for what would happen to it next.

So instead of leaving on June 22, my new flight was on the evening of June 27. It was probably for the best that I delayed my departure for a few days because the weather was terrible; on the very night that I was supposed to leave, some unexpected heavy rains and thunderstorms complete with lightning occurred, which delayed/canceled many flights out of my home airport. Maybe it should have happened like this, who knows. I was able to get some much-needed sleep, something that I’d lacked since the week before. (Moving is not for the faint of heart, mind or soul.) In addition, the 5 extra days gave me extra time to handle some extra business, including arrangements for my car. They weren’t perfect arrangements, but the plans were better than no plans at all. I also got to spend some more time with a few friends and, most important of all, my aunt & uncle.

Finally, June 27th came and it was time to go. I felt like vomiting again, but I had to go. My aunt couldn’t even watch me leave the house, it was too much for her. My uncle was sad but proud of and for me. My stepfather picked me up and we had lunch near the airport. Afterwards, he drove me to the airport, gave me hugs & kisses, and left. I became weepy & called a close friend of mine, asking him to tell me that I wasn’t doing something I’d regret for the rest of my life. It didn’t help much, but he said I was doing the right thing. Besides, all my shit was en route in someone’s huge freight ship, so there wasn’t much of a choice. :-|

At 6:00 p.m., my flight began boarding. I called a few friends and gave them my love. My flight got delayed a bit for some reason, but after about 90 minutes my flight took off.

Farewell, America (click here for more).

The Move (part I)

(drafted 7.12.2010)

Finally. It’s happening. After all the bureaucracy, familial crises, personal crises, and overall bullshit that got in the way… I’m on my way. It all started over 10 months ago…..

It was time for a change. My job, while providing me with excellent experience as a social worker in my hometown concrete jungle, was becoming unsatisfying and a burden. It took up most of my time at the cost of my inner peace. I’d already been looking into working in public or private schools as a social worker. I figured that it’d give me the break that I needed – a slower pace, so to speak. Unfortunately due to the economic climate, being hired by anyone is as likely as hell freezing over.

I had my resume’ on a particular website and I saw a posting for a position in England. To be clear, British agencies tried to recruit me in the past but I’d always turn them down, whether by ignoring calls & e-mails or flat out expressing my disinterest. Looking back now with more clarity, I know that I wasn’t ready to make the move – physically, mentally, emotionallly or otherwise. But for some reason, this time around I decided to send my resume’ as a response to this company. I didn’t take it serious at all, to be honest. The next day I received an e-mail from a recruiter; he stated that he reviewed my resume’, loved it, and wanted me to fly to Miami, Florida for interviews to take place on July 17, 2009. I didn’t have the money and turned it down. He responded by saying that plane tickets are reimbursed up to $250.00. You can’t beat that. I took out Old Faithful – the credit card – and charged it to the game.

2 weeks later I flew to Miami and had a almost-3-hour interview, part of which was written and the rest of which was oral. The questions were difficult and I was unsure about the outcome. Despite that, I was satisfied that at least I gave it a try.

A little over 2 weeks later I received an e-mail stating that the England team was reviewing candidate eligibility and would have responses for each person within 2 weeks or less. A week after that, I received a phone call from England while driving into work. All I remember hearing is “we’d like to offer you the position”, then being excited and saying “yes”. I figured that 4-5 months would be adequate time to get all required paperwork completed, pack and leave.

Not so fast.

Almost 2 months after being hired, my (estranged) mother was in a nasty car accident. In addition, that good old institution called bureaucracy made sure that all required paperwork took as long as possible to be approved. And last but not least due to other family & personal emergencies, it took me longer than normal to complete some of the paperwork. But as my recruiter said to me throughout the process, “These things are here to try us.” His words rang, and still ring, quite true.

Fast forward to April 2010, and things begin moving a bit faster. I took passport/visa photos, made my appointment for my visa application & paid shitloads of money for it, and finally received it in the mail in the beginning of May. I handed in my resignation to my now-former employer and became more focused on the move. My father came to see me for Memorial Day weekend and helped me get a lot of packing done; he couldn’t see me on the official date, but his help more than made up for it. My last day of work was June 8th at my full-time job; my last day was June 16th at my part-time job. Despite challenges at my jobs, it was bittersweet to leave. It was time to focus on myself and my personal & professional growth, however, so I felt the fear and did it anyway.

My one-way plane ticket was booked. June 22, 2010 was the day of reckoning. I woke up that morning and was so anxious that I almost vomited. I sent a mass text message to my friends at 5 a.m. (sorry if I woke y’all) asking them “What the hell did I get myself into?” A few of them wrote back and reassured me that I was courageous, doing the right thing for myself. Vomit or not, onward I was going.

Or so I thought. To be continued…

Hello world!

This blog entry’s title is literal and figurative.  Why, you ask?

My love for seeing the world began as a child.  When adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, one of the things that I said was “a tourist”.  I read an atlas, had pen pals in Europe, Africa and South America, and thought about living abroad.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d be “a tourist” when I grew up.  I’ve not only visited those continents, I was crazy enough to pack up and move to one of those continents.  Job opportunity and personal growth – what more can one ask for?

You’ll have answers to that question, and many others, as you follow my journey from American dreamer to expatriate extraordinaire.  Hello world! indeed.

On Twitter? Follow @spinstercompass for updates.