Thursday, 29 September 2011

No more gasping for a breath

Breathe in; breathe out.
To the left, you see a copy of the chest X-ray I had during my visa medical. The nice people at the Knightsbridge Doctors send it back to you via the visa interview so that you have it for your medical records in the States, and during musings this week, it gave me an idea for a theme for this post. I was thinking last night about how hard it is to say goodbye, but this time in the context of Ben. The wrenching pain that comes over me when I try to remember farewells at Charlotte and Birmingham is a bit hard to bear, especially when trying to force the full technicolour version to write this properly. But I wanted to remember in written form why I am doing this, leaving, and saying goodbye to so many other things in order that I don't have to say goodbye to my husband-to-be again.

I'll start with leaving Charlotte. I have never, ever cried the way I cried then. I was in public, having to take three flights (CLT-ATL, ATL-DUB, DUB-LCY), and unable to control the way the tears coursed down my cheeks. I cried every time we took off, and every time we landed. Every single flight. I could barely find my way around the airport at Charlotte, and in Atlanta was unable to read my texts due to the unshed tears clouding my eyes. It was the most ridiculous thing I think I've ever experienced, and I didn't care. I was bereft, missing my heart, unable to cope with the reality of five months without Ben.

This may seem like a soppy exaggeration, or perhaps a sad indictment of a clearly soft-hearted person's inability to deal with the inevitable, or with reality. But the thing is, I'm actually quite "male" when it comes to emotion, normally! Ben is the exception to my usually forward-thinking, Filofax-brained cognition. I do not question me and Ben, we just are. This flies in the face of my neuroscience and evolution based education and beliefs. There isn't "the one" person for everyone, that just isn't possible. We mate to continue the species (and because we are therefore biologically rewarded for doing so), and marriage exists because of social convention, variances of which can be explained by cultural differences. But I am in love with a man who is the one for me, and I want to marry him because I want to be his wife. I am a human being, and I feel able to exist in this total contradiction of beliefs and actions - in fact, not just able, but more human because of this.

In Birmingham, saying goodbye after months of summer together and the night prior to Ben's flight spent trying to stay awake, eking out every last moment we had, was equally awful, though with a few extra fun things: we didn't know how long it would take for my visa to process (and so how long it would be until we were together again), had had so much time together we had become even closer, and I had to drive the 80 minute journey home alone, having just said goodbye to my love for goodness knew how long. I think the post I wrote just after Ben left pretty much covers the rest of how I felt, but I simply wanted to collapse. I felt winded, sick, and lost. I just wanted it to not be real.

This post is not meant to be an effort to convince myself of why I am going (and I don't think it comes across that way), but more so that I don't forget the intense difficulty of being apart from the one man to whom I am so inexorably connected. I am aware that we're two people, and the fact that love is a subjective thing. But I don't actually really care about that so much any more. You see, Ben is more than just a boy I fell in love with. He changed the world for me, and made it into something I had always wished for but never truly believed in. I can't explain what not being with him does to me. I will never be able to thank him enough, love him enough, have words enough to express just how magical life is with him in it.

Below is an excerpt from the speech I gave at our engagement party (yes, it was a bloody long speech! 9 minutes, if I remember rightly). This is the closest I've ever been to summing it up - sort of - as it's too hard to really explain, especially as a reformed cynic.

"Leah [our best 'man'] affectionately refers to you as "Harry", because of your likeness to the famous wizard of J.K. Rowling's imagination. Notwithstanding jokes about wands (or robes and hats, for that matter), I have to agree with your magical associations. You make me see the world anew, as though there is a light on it now that wasn't there before. It's not clearer, not warmer, even; I just know you're there – where the light is.

You once said to me that love is music. You’re right – and you are music... that's the best way I can describe how I feel about you. You're there, underlying, fundamental. You are there, exciting, exhilarating, evolving. There's a surge of joy, of understanding, of being that only comes from being with you, being in your presence and being yours. I have always been the sort of person for whom every occasion has a song. As it turns out, there is one song for every occasion in my life. The song is you. Your music illustrates, illuminates, adds to and makes life as it should be.

Put simply: I have never smiled the way I do when I am with you. I am so lucky, so excited, and so alive knowing that I get to spend my life with you. It will be really living. I can't even begin to start thanking you."


I'm also pretty sure that, on the day, it came out nothing like these carefully penned words; I was pretty emotional and - despite years of classroom teaching - unable to hold it together well enough to make my voice stop shaking and my eyes welling up. But this is what I meant to say. Being with Ben, being his, is as easy and as necessary as breathing to me.

I love you; take a right.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Visa's here!

I think the title of this post is pretty self-explanatory: my visa arrived this morning! I received the following text message yesterday afternoon:


So, I've been up since about 7AM today, as the booked slot was between 6AM and 10AM (I didn't really believe that 6AM would happen), and sure enough, at 0820, this arrived:



Excuse the terrible edit to remove all the personal details. But there it is! A visa in my passport and a packet of papers to hand over when I arrive in Charlotte. And all processed and sent within three working days after my interview. Fantastic. Really have to get on with packing now!

I'm floored by your sound

My brilliant man has started a blog. It has nothing to do with the emigration process but a lot to do with American society, government, politics and culture, so I thought I would share the link here, as I think people will enjoy it. Click on the Philosoraptor image below to check it out.


Monday, 26 September 2011

We walked in the garden; we planted a tree

Today I had the horror of saying goodbye to my friend Vicky. A combination of her silly wonderfulness and the reality of leaving everyone made this the hardest farewell yet, and I am now sat on the train home (again), intermittently crying a bit and then trying to pull myself together. Repeat for 90 minutes and you pretty much have my journey.

We had the best weekend. After the celebration lunch with Dad and Wren, and a much needed power-nap, I headed over to London Bridge to meet Vicky. We had general silliness around Sainsbury’s, had a quick pasta dinner and then got a reasonably early night as Vicky had a roller derby bout in the morning (plus I was dead on my feet; falling asleep before 1AM is unusual for me, but I was gone by around midnight).

Saturday arrived and we ran around getting stuff set up for ‘The Violence of the Jams’. This was a two bout event; men's roller derby first and then the women's (Croydon vs. Bedford). Vicky had been super-awesome and got me a photographer’s role there, which was so much fun. I’ve not done much sports photography before (just cricket, actually – ha!) and roller derby is a fast sport, played in fluorescent-lit, large sports halls, so it’s quite a challenge just to get things in focus and with enough lighting, never mind actually getting a good shot. And then there are the rules of roller derby. I suggest you check out the WFTDA website if you want to be thoroughly confused by how many possible fouls there are – amongst other things – but if you want to understand how it works, and have a fantastic day thrown into the bargain, I couldn't recommend going to see a bout strongly enough. It’s an addictive sport with a great community feel, and I will definitely be looking up Carolina’s team when I get over to the States. I got some good shots (though SO many bad ones!), so they will be on MOL shortly, but for now, one of my favourite edits is just below. Also, not only was it a great photographic learning curve, but I also met two other photographers, Neal and Tim, who were such a pleasure to shoot with. Their websites are linked on their names, so please do check them out. I also owe massive thanks to Neal, who lent me one of his lenses! Lovely, lovely people.


Once the bout was done and cleared up, we went to the after-party at The Scream Lounge, where there was food, drink, much frivolity, awards (best blockers, jammers and penalty kings/queens), a raffle, and the hilarious Elliot Mason, who performed a short set of his brilliant comedic music. It was a bloody great night and I was really happy to meet a lot of new, fun people (the Croydon community are a welcoming, close-knit bunch; everyone seems to know everyone, and you get introduced to so many people!). I also caught up with a mutual friend of me and Vicky’s, Conor, which was a great surprise. I spent some time chatting with the lovely Ketishia about love, emigrating, customer service and all sorts! My favourite line of the entire night, though, was Vicky’s friend Brian exclaiming, “You’re Eve, right? Eve from Facebook!”. That’s right, everyone, I am Eve from Facebook: my home town, my domain, my online county. 

This is the thing I really love: Vicky and I only know each other because of a random set of online coincidences involving Facebook (hence that being what I’m associated with, I suppose), Jeremy Kyle, Conor, photography and filth. She is one of the people in my life I truly treasure, and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to meet her at all, and then having been able to spend proper time with her over the past two years (our two year IRL friend-i-versary was a couple of weeks ago). We’ve done road trips, pie trips, movie nights, walks, photo wanders, gigs, and she even sang at me and Ben’s engagement party. She is an amazing friend, a brilliant bundle of a human being (musician/monster keeper/photographer/roller derby gal, to name but a few of the things she does), and to top it all off, from a selfish point of view, my world is significantly bloody better with her in it.

Sunday was spent with other people from Facebook (after a lazy morning of online jabbering and photo sharing) on London’s South Bank. Conor, who is responsible for starting all of this online love, joined me, Vicky, Lou, Lou’s partner Carlos, their kids and friends at Nando’s, where we munched and drank and chatted. I was really glad to see them all, as we had the nicest afternoon, plus I really thought I wouldn’t get to see them again before I left. It was such a lovely day, made even better by a massive pie waiting for us that evening, courtesy of Vicky’s man Jon, and watching ‘Talladega Nights’ before crashing out. Fantastic.  

None of this is real.
So, now I am half way back to my home town (in Gloucestershire, not Facebook), and starting to think about packing and all the last-minute stuff I've been avoiding doing until I knew I definitely could go. I keep getting a sudden buzz of exhilaration at remembering that I really am allowed to leave (TWO WEEKS TOMORROW! Eeeee!), and then – admittedly less frequently – some semblance of panic and/or sadness at the prospect of goodbyes and whether or not I will forget anything, or have enough room for all I want to take on the plane. I ordered two new, large suitcases yesterday, so they will be here on Wednesday. For now, it’s time to clear out the stuff I know I won’t wear, bin anything I won’t use, give away/sell any random potentially useful bits I find, and then pack for the last time...

Friday, 23 September 2011

The visa interview

This is the longer post that I wrote while sat in the US Embassy during the visa interview process. Obviously I've added to it and edited it a bit, but essentially this is the way the K-1 interview works. I'll do a summary of the process at the bottom too, as I have a feeling I will ramble (not unusual for me, but I am extra happy today because they said yes, so there's a risk of extra rambling, too). 

Taken on my explore 2 weeks ago
I figure that now is about as good a time as any to write a blog post... albeit writing it by hand, as I am currently sat in the US Embassy's visa application room, patiently (ha!) waiting (surprisingly) for ticket I914 to be called to one of the 25 windows used for processing documents and interviewing applicants. I have been here for what seems like ages already, but it has only been about half an hour. According to my ticket, it was issued at 08:09, so it really hasn't been that long at all, although there's no clock in here and I'm not wearing my watch, so I can't be sure. A combination of nerves and waiting have combined to make me feel quite sick; I think it's the actually, really being almost there and seeing others going through the process all around me. It's a matter of hours now, not months or weeks.

Breakfast!
So, I guess I should start at the beginning. I got up at the sound of the first of four alarms I had set, which started at 05:25. Funnily enough, I was wide awake. After a shower and general preening, I had some breakfast and a chat with Ben on Skype, as he was still awake. My family - well, parents, anyway - were also up which was, in part, due to my accidentally setting off the fire alarm with the combined heat and steam from my shower. Smooth! (Sorry, folks. Love you!) Mum made me the aforementioned cuppa and some toast and then, after a last-minute check of ALL THE THINGS, Dad walked me to Grosvenor Square. There are two queues outside: one for visas and one for general business. You are asked to present your letter of appointment and your passport here. After an airport-style security check in a booth at the entrance, I was on the other side of the fence, walking around to the right of the building and up the steps through the doors. At reception, I presented my letter again and was issued with a sticker with an appointment number on it (I914! Not as ominous as first thought, though.) and directed upstairs where the waiting begins.

You are then faced with basically what would happen if Argos and the Post Office had babies: a massive waiting room with tons of chairs, a bank of screens in the centre announcing visually and verbally every time a new ticket number is called, and a load of booths to one side which are used for the interviews.

An aerial view of the Embassy
From my understanding, there were three types of tickets: N, I or E prefixed the number given, and it seemed that the Ns went zooming through the process. I don't know, but perhaps they are simpler visas, or require a shorter initial check than a K visa does. I got chatting to a couple of people sat behind me, both having N numbers on their tickets and both had already been seen once despite arriving at the same time or just after me. They were on a work and tourist visa respectively, and were absolutely lovely to chat to - not to mention the fact that they also probably kept me sane!

My nerves had abated a little by this point, although butterflies were doing an interesting dance somewhere in the region of my diaphragm throughout the whole experience. Talking to people helped, as did writing, as both seemed to normalise the process, making it less scary. It seems, in fact, very routine and at least, at this point, not very intimidating (and this stayed the same for the three hours I was there; the whole thing was very friendly and not at all threatening). Apart from the slight RSI I was getting from snapping my head up to look at the ticket screens every five seconds, I actually felt pretty much fine.

In the visa dress!
09:50 now and I'd still not been seen at all. Boat tourist (visa interview friend #1) had already been seen twice and approved, and geologist (visa interview friend #2) was in her interview. The sickness did start to come back but, oddly, I also felt hungry. Clearly nerves munch your energy. I913 got seen around now. Surely it would be me next?!

The room itself is pretty standard, as I said. A waiting room filled with chairs, the visa courier service desks at one end (by the door as you come in), a few vending machines with food and drinks at the other, screens in the middle and booths down one side. The booths go further back than you think (there are 25 in total) and as you walk around to booths 12 to 25, there's a cash point and some toilets. All very normal.

Wore my bracelet gift from 4 lovely friends for luck
Nothing happened for a while after this but then, finally, I got seen! It was around 10:15 when I914 got called to window 14. Here, my documents were checked (the file was embarrassingly huge; apparently Ben and I had been a little too enthusiastic when it came to "supporting our relationship"); unnecessary documents were given back; travel plans were discussed (had I booked a flight yet); my passport was taken; my fingerprints were electronically recorded; a photograph of my passport was recorded before it got put into a plastic wallet for it and the accompanying documents; the I-134 was checked and filed; and I was given a CD with my chest X-ray images on it for my medical records. The gentleman in the booth (which opens out behind into a HUGE office) was friendly and happy, and made jokes about how much stuff we'd sent in. In the end, they only needed a photocopy of my birth certificate and police certificate (and to see the originals, but they were returned) and the affidavit of support. Lovely! I was then given a pink sheet of paper, with instructions for the courier service (should the visa application be successful) and an explanation of what would happen next. Essentially it tells you that you need to go and wait again until your number is called for your interview and that you must listen out carefully for your number, as they don't tend to go in numerical order. If you're an I number, your interview will be at one of booths 14-16, as these seem to be the only three used for spouse visa applications, or at least they were today.

This is as far as I got with the section written in the waiting room, as I then - about five minutes after I'd sat down again! - got called for the interview. So, now we're back to writing in the now:

Old skool hand-written blog
The interview itself happened at window 15, and as it was so soon after the first encounter at window 14, I barely had time to get my stuff together, never mind make notes for QE.

*pause while I go off for celebratory lunch with Dad and sister-in-law*

So, I was then called up to window 15 for the second part of the visa interview. I was greeted by a smiling American lady, with another lady behind her who didn't speak. First they took my fingerprints again, presumably to check I was still the same person from window 14 five minutes earlier. Then I had to swear that the information and answers I was giving were truthful to the best of my knowledge (hand up and everything) and sign a document saying that I would marry Ben within 90 days of my arrival in the USA. Finally, the lady behind the desk asked me a few questions about me and Ben: how we met (some giggles about this; she actually made a joke about how a grammar forum was better than WoW! I liked her!); what course he's doing at UNCC; what I want to do for work when I am allowed a paid job in the States; and when the wedding is planned for. She said she came from NC, so sort of knew where we were having the wedding, it seemed. Neat! And that was it. She said, "So, I'm going to approve this visa. Good luck with everything!". All done, other than getting the courier sorted to get my passport and shiny new visa back to me.
Delivery slip for visa courier

So, I walked back into the waiting room and joined a final queue to book my courier delivery. There are several options, ranging from any time before 6PM on the day the visa is ready (7 working days from now) to guaranteed before 8AM. I went for the option of between 6AM and 10AM, so that I know by 10AM on each day that if it hasn't arrived, it won't arrive that day. I won't have to wait in then (as you have to be the one present to sign for it, unless you nominate another person to take it for you), and I won't spend all day, every day, fretting until it arrives. Apparently the company do text you, but it doesn't always get through. Who knows! In any case, a week on Wednesday (5th October) should be the latest date for it to arrive. It will come in my passport with a sealed envelope of documents that I'm not allowed to open - it's to give to the customs officer in NC and no one else. And then I can leave! I can ship my stuff, pack my suitcases, tie up lose ends, have a real leaving party, and GO! I feel such release, so much happiness, so much peace, right now. It's not "relief" exactly, but security and contentedness in the knowledge that I have been accepted and that our relationship has been rubber-stamped, too. I can't quite put it into words.

When I got back in, I spoke to Mum and Dad and my brother Sam first, as they were in, and then called Ben. I hadn't realised, but Ben had stayed up until 5:30AM with nerves (or at least nervous energy), so he was a little confused when my phone call woke him up! Poor baby. But he was, of course, rather happy. Having just spoken to him again now (16:00), we're both very tired but delirious with joy at what it means for us. Before speaking to Ben again, Dad took me and my sister-in-law out for lunch (Sam and Mum couldn't make it) to celebrate and generally relax a bit. That's a whole other blog post, but suffice to say it involved Champagne and some damn good grub! And now I think I am going to collapse for a nap before I venture onwards for the weekend's festivities. Before I do though, here is that summary list I mentioned:


The K-1 Interview in 10 "Easy" Steps


1) Arrive at US Embassy. Present letter and passport at podium outside entrance.
2) Security. Airport-type scanner for body and bags.
3) Reception: get ticket number stuck on to your appointment letter.
4) Go to waiting room. Wait for ticket number to be called.
5) Ticket number called. Go to numbered window. Present passport, police certificate, birth certificate, affidavit(s) of support. Have fingerprints taken. Paperwork checked generally. Given pink form.
6) Take pink form from first window back to waiting room. Fill in one side for courier details. Read other side for information about what happens next. Wait for ticket number to be called again.
7) Ticket number called again. Go to numbered window. Fingerprints checked. Swear to tell the truth. Sign document pertaining to upcoming marriage to US citizen fiancé(e). Answer questions about relationship and plans for your life Stateside. Get visa approval!
8) Take pink form to courier desk in waiting room. Double check address details with person at desk. Pay for chosen delivery service required.
9) Leave the Embassy via the same route you came in.
10) Jump up and down and celebrate!

And then it's 7 working days to wait, and you're done! So, after 9 months of paperwork, waiting, more paperwork, fees, waiting, and worrying/wondering/wishing, we're done until we get married in NC in December. I think I've earned a nap.


Me & Wren (S-I-L) with celebration waffle and cocktails



DISCLAIMER: I have had 4 hours' sleep in the last 24, so my spelling, grammar and general sense-making may not be up to scratch. Any errors pointed out will be gratefully received, but probably not changed for a few hours now due to aforementioned snooze.

A short post...

...because the longer one will take a while to write out in full. That will come later.

Today, I had my interview at the US Embassy in London for my K-1 visa. This visa would allow me to go to the States, marry the love of my life, and not be separated from him again (provided we keep up-to-date with all subsequent paperwork). It was the last stage in a 9 month process.

They said yes.


Because even really awesome things are better when there's pie, too. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

And breathe...

My friend Cassie made this meme for me earlier on this week, presumably in anticipation of my mental state today.




I am trying, Cas. I really am. TOMORROW!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

We already won

A particularly smushy photo from our engagement party.

I have cleaned all the things, packed all the things, checked all the things. I leave for London tomorrow. I have chewed my fingers to bits, tried on my interview outfit (the blue dress is perfect), emptied the bins, hoovered, paced, called my Dad, checked my train time, checked my bus time, done the washing, checked my paperwork, checked the courier prices, contemplated food, ignored food, tidied some more... Argh!

Then something occurred to me. While I don't want to - and won't - get ahead of myself by being super-positive about the outcome of the interview, I can be reassured by one thing I know for sure: I have the most wonderful, perfect man for me, and we have an incredible relationship that will survive whatever happens. I was suddenly calm then, knowing how lucky we are already, and how we will deal with whatever gets thrown at us. And of course, this made me think of a song: Paramore's 'Where the Lines Overlap'.

Call me over, and tell me how,
Well, you got so far,
And never making a single sound.
I'm not used to it, but I can learn.
There's nothing to it:
I've never been happier;
I've never been happier.

No one is as lucky as us.
We're not at the end but, oh, we already won.





We're going to be more than fine.


Disclaimer: Any vomit or sickness-related responses to this post are not the responsibility of the blog owner. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Jibber jabber

Ben and I often have long discussions about all sorts of things. We really connect (not necessarily agree) and talk in a similar way. There is something magical about how we seem so basically, deeply and necessarily linked. Today, though, has been one of those days where we've been on Skype for hours, but we've bantered about a multitude of absolute ridiculousness. Still connected but with our sillier hats on. Topics covered during the day's chats have included, but not been limited to:

  • Ear fleas
  • Scientists being sued for not predicting earthquakes
  • A baby monkey riding backwards on a pig
  • Tea
  • Spinning around on the spot
  • Mr. T
  • The UK hurricane of 1987
  • Eggs
  • 3 weeks to go!
  • PostSecret
  • The importance of good spelling
  • Noisy things
  • Sex before marriage 
  • Strange noises coming from my computer
  • Shoe size and inches 
  • Chicken broth
  • Back scratchers
  • Penis valuation (directly linked to back scratchers) (my imaginary one is worth $5629)
  • Comparing times of my departure for and arrival in NC on our respective computer's countdowns
  • Complexity of prairie dog communication
  • Nose rings
  • Mutual friends' goings on
  • The National Wedding Show
  • Weekend plans
  • Visa interview; questions that might be asked
  • How Facebook fails 
  • A woman who was born with no vagina managing to get pregnant
  • Use of parentheses and the word "inexhaustive" 
  • This blog post
  • How pie is awesome (this was more a statement than a discussion)



I love my man stupid amounts. 

Monday, 19 September 2011

Just say "yes"

So, according to my countdown, it's three weeks until I (may/hopefully/should) leave to be with my man again, and therefore three DAYS until my visa interview at the US Embassy in London. I am starting to get nervous. I'm not nervous because the interview itself sounds scary; on the contrary, the interview is not too tough from what I hear from other ex-pats who've gone through the K-1 process. I'm not nervous because we've got anything to worry about: we're in a genuine relationship, we have all our wedding plans already in place, and I am sure that our sincerity will be obvious from meeting me and from the evidence I bring (and have already sent, twice). I'm also not worried by the documents we've had to assemble for me to take along. They've been done for months and checked, re-checked, and then checked another 20 or so times. And I also know that the success rate of K-1 applications is extremely high: 95% go through first time, and half of those that don't are successfully appealed. I know that it is very unlikely that we will get turned down.

But we might. 

It's ridiculous, isn't it? That's what's scaring me. But seeing as that is the case, at least I've been scared into checking the documents yet again (I've already done that twice today alone), and that's what made me decide to write a quick photo blog about that bit of the interview preparation. So, here we go. We start with the folders:


In the blue folder are the documents required by the US Embassy on the day of the interview. These will be highlighted by red text and in bold below, to make a sort of colour-coded list (yay!).

The purple folder is full of (a small amount of the) documents pertaining to proving our relationship . There are letters, cards, emails, phone records, Skype chats, a wedding invite, booking forms for the wedding, text message logs, proof of meeting (boarding passes, hotel reservations, plane tickets etc.), photographs and screen shots (from FB and blogs) in there. The letter doesn't actually say that any of this is necessary but in the spirit of "what if...?" and "just in case" and "I will have ALL THE DOCUMENTS you might ever require", I'm taking 'em.


This (above) is the letter that gives you your appointment time and directs you to the forms website. When you receive your appointment letter, you are told to visit this website, and then to click the relevant link(s) for your visa application type to find out what documents you need to bring. My visa application is a K-1, so that takes me to this page. The documents needed are listed there, and are in the blue folder in pretty much the same order as on the website. I've also included the appointment letter (which just seems sensible) and the MRV receipt for my interview fee payment, without which you will be refused entry to the US Embassy.


The MRV receipt proves you have already paid for your interview, which now has to be done in advance, and so must be taken with you to the interview. It is sent as a .pdf file via email after you have made a payment of $350 over the telephone. The payment is made after the US citizen has received the I-797 (NOA2) and the beneficiary - non-US fiancé(e) - gets a letter to say they will be contacted again after the medical and next set of documents have been sent to the relevant US Embassy in their home country. It has to be made then, as the application won't proceed any further without it and you won't get an appointment. It is, of course, non-refundable, even in the event of rejection of your visa application.


You need three passport photographs that meet US Department of State specifications. In order to make sure I didn't get this wrong, I got mine done at my local Snappy Snaps. They're a bit pricier than your average passport photos, but I did get an extra set and a digital copy, too, which was mainly what pushed the total cost up.


You need your original, full birth certificate and one photocopy of your original, full birth certificate.


You need your passport and one photocopy of the photo page of your passport.


You need your original police certificate and one photocopy of your police certificate.


You need an original, signed I-134 form, completed by your US fiancé(e). This will be accompanied by supporting documentation, which must all be submitted in duplicate. The form and instructions can be found here. The supporting documentation can be things like:

bank statements (showing regular payments from employment etc.). 

tax returns (last three years);

details of fiancé(e)'s current/past employment;



 And that is it! So, a summary of the required documents for me would be:
  1. Appointment letter
  2. MRV receipt
  3. 3 x passport photographs fitting DoS specifications
  4. Birth certificate + one photocopy
  5. Passport + one photocopy
  6. Police certificate + one photocopy
  7. I-134 form and supporting evidence in duplicate

I've also included:
  1. Proof of relationship
  2. My own bank statements
  3. Affidavits of support from family
  4. Copies of my medical examination results and vaccination record (although they will have these)

You will also NEED:
  1. A method of payment (card) to pay for the courier service to return your passport and visa, if you get approved.

You MUST NOT bring:
  1. Anything electronic: all cameras, phones, iPods etc. have to be left at home. 



Done. As that makes it about the 25th time I've checked over the paperwork, I am hoping it's all exactly as it should be, and that Friday goes smoothly. Then we can move on to Stage 14. Eek!





Note about other application requirements
Obviously, every K-1 application is different. Depending on your specific case, you might also be required to bring:
  1. All the same identity documents for any children accompanying you to the US
  2. Adoption certificate
  3. Proof of why you use a name different to that on your birth certificate
  4. Marriage certificates
  5. Evidence of termination of prior marriages
  6. Military records
  7. Court and prison records
You may also need to have documents translated to English and/or apply to the US Embassy for a translator to accompany you for the interview. If you want your fiancé(e) to accompany you, you would also have to apply to the US Embassy so that they can grant permission for them to enter the building.

Some eloquent graffiti like: "we'll meet again..."

Me and Joy
There's no two ways about it: this weekend was emotional! And that exclamation mark is clearly being used to try to tone it down, as it was this weekend that finally broke me in terms of really feeling like I'm leaving, and being allowed to be sad about it (no matter how happy I am about why I'm leaving). Saturday was spent doing mostly photo editing for My Other Limb (autumn and burlesque shoot photos - what a combination!) and avoiding feeling pants, as I was really sensing my "in limbo" status that day. I'd had the loveliest evening with an old friend, Laura the night before, but - or perhaps and - was starting to be more conscious of how torn between two places I am at the moment. I'm so frustrated with waiting to go, not because of the general irritation it causes (faffing about with packing, paperwork, wedding dates and so on) but because of how, simultaneously, goodbyes are prolonged and how my being out of Ben's life in NC is extended. I feel like I don't belong anywhere right now, like I'm not allowed to be sad about leaving the UK because I'm happy about the reason for my departure and like I don't fit in with my friends here or there, in spite of the good times I continue to have with the British contingent, and the love and support shown by those on the US side while I wait to get over there.
Gift from Joy

Sunday was what did it, though. I had to say goodbye to my best friend, Joy, until goodness knows when. Although she is my maid of honour, she's not able to make it to the wedding because of the flight expense (she's just got a new place with her man, Nigel, and has been away for a month over summer, touring California, so money for flights just isn't available), so it's probably going to be 2013 (!) by the time we manage to get money together to come back to the UK (or they come to visit us). I was absolutely fine, and we had a lovely lunch and afternoon together, until I was walking off from saying goodbye, and then had a bit of a cry. Only a bit at that point, though, as I went straight to my local for some (more) goodbye shenanigans/drinks with my friend Meg. As she was a bit late, I had the time to compose myself and look at the lovely going away gift Joy gave me (above right): a bag of charms for love, hope, health, safety, and the future. I will make sure I take those with me in my hand luggage. Me and Meg then had a few hours of chats and silliness, including lots of MacBook PhotoBooth fun, followed by me staying after she left for the evening, as my work friends arrived for the pub quiz. Unfortunately, 'The Tit Pyramid' came fourth, although we had some excellent conversations about double-sided chinchilla fur thongs for men. I do love that lot.

And that was probably the final straw. I got home at about 11, made a cup of tea, thought about my lovely day with wonderful people, and cried my eyes out to the tune of Iron & Wine's 'The Trapeze Swinger' (see what I mean about my need for sad music when sad? And that is one exquisitely sorrowful, regretful song).

Weirdly, I now feel much better. I think I've been waiting to do that for a while.



Friday, 16 September 2011

Interview preparation

The documents have been prepared. For weeks (read: months). The file has been checked, re-checked and checked again at least three times a week since the documents have been prepared. It is now one week until the interview. Oh. Dear. God. I'm not too nervous, I don't think, but as per a couple of chats I've had with the lovely Shermeen via her emigration blog (Sherms in the Middle), I don't want to count my chickens. I know that, by the time you get to this stage, the interview is mainly a formality and that it is rare to be turned down unless something is seriously wrong. I am also aware that the K-1 visa specifically is known for its high success rate (according to the stats from USDoS, 95% of K-1 visas were approved in 2009). So, I am not absolutely bricking it. But I am a little... apprehensive. The US Embassy is an imposing building; the process of the interview, while known in theory from their website and anecdotal accounts from online friends, is an unknown; and the outcome of the interview determines whether or not our dreams can come true.

And then there's the outfit. Boohoo.com is a favourite online store of mine that I have used for years, but recently have not been buying from (for obvious reasons!). So, I recently received an email from them to that effect, offering a 20% discount to entice me out of my clothes-buying abstinence. It worked. I bought the following two dresses as possible interview outfits:



Neither has arrived yet (I expect them tomorrow or Monday) and I am going to have to make a choice and send one back, both because I need to not spend too much money and because of the "must not buy new things as I will have to ship them" logic. At the moment I am leaning towards the second dress, because of colour and style. It's a good length, especially when teamed with some more formal shoes and a smart coat, and the neckline is high, which makes me feel less concerned about flashing the consular officer some cleavage! The advice I've read about how to dress for the interview is to look smart, but not too formal, and to make sure you don't overdo the USA patriotism (one website even advises against wearing US flag ties/socks etc. - do people actually do that?!). From reading some posts about outfit choice in ex-pat forums, a lot of people seem to go for dress/formal trousers and a shirt, but as the advice is to dress smartly but in a way that makes you comfortable, I am pretty sure I would feel too over-dressed or not like me, and that wouldn't help me to feel confident. I really love wearing dresses, so it makes sense to me to choose something like the above. We shall see when I get them though - I might not suit either, so then it'll be back to the drawing board!

Zzz...
All of this "almost there" stuff is making me very tired, and not because I am so busy so much as I'm just not finding it easy to allow myself to sleep. I think it's a combination of the feeling of time slipping away ridiculously fast now (it's 25 days until I leave - that's just over three weeks!) and so sleeping seems like allowing it to happen even faster. Add to that the fact that, when I do try to sleep, I either get so anxious my heart starts seemingly missing beats, or I have such horrid dreams that I wake up feeling upset and worried. Last night I dreamt about two people close to me dying, and - in the same dream - that I was being chased by a gang of kids through a river (yes, a river). This seems to be the general theme: people leaving me (which I guess has pretty obvious latent content) and me being in danger (what the manifest content here means, though, I'm not sure). Being a bit of a cynic when it comes to Freudian, psychodynamic interpretations of dreams (preferring neuropsychological explanations), I am putting this all down to basic anxiety: the psychosomatic tachycardia and the concern about being alone, scared or even not around if bad things happen to people I love are clearly linked to it being so nearly time for me to leave. It doesn't seem like there is much I can do about it, though: not sleeping will not do me any good, as it makes me so lazy during the day (not to mention more emotional and ratty), and I think I just have to suck it up when it comes to bad dreams. I have a feeling that the busy weekend coming up will help and, if not, then at least I'll probably sleep well once I get to the States!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The trigger of a telephone

Image from b3ta.com
 As anybody who has ever been in a (not necessarily full-time) LDR (long distance relationship), or just separated from their partner for a while, the ability to keep in touch with each other via whatever means possible is pretty much essential. Regardless of whether you're the couple that will regularly speak for several hours each day (*cough*), or the pair that check in every so often to let the other one know you're okay and you miss them, it's important to have confidence in the reliability of services that help you to communicate.

Yeah.

The main methods Ben and I use to stay connected are mobile (cell) phones (quite pricey, obviously, but with the introduction of Android, iPhone and Smartphones, a lot of mobiles now have applications that allow you to send international texts for free using your internet package); Skype; Facebook/email/shared blogs/Twitter; and physical post - written letters, parcels of goodies and, of course, essential original visa documents being sent between the two of us.

So Ben and I have had our fair share of interesting postal dramas, the most recent of which was trying to ensure that the affidavit of support (I-134) and accompanying IRS tax returns from Ben reached me in time for my interview.* Suffice to say the transatlantic post service's proclaimed "guaranteed arrival date" (for which we pay an extra fee) did not fill us with confidence that the package would get to me by that day. Fortunately we have learned from our previous experiences, and so ensured that the documents were sent just over three weeks before they were needed. This is usually just about enough time, provided that you also pay more for special postage to speed the process up. The most interesting of our mail mishaps to date, to use a totally inadequate and rather too polite adjective, was when we were trying to get my letter of intent to him, as the USCIS need an original signed copy to accompany all the I-129F documentation. It did get to Ben, but this time the fact it took longer than we'd expected wasn't our biggest problem:

I think Ben's face says it all
Obviously a letter in this condition is not suitable to send as part of a visa petition. So, off we went again. I printed out and signed another letter, and this time sent it in a protective jiffy bag, rather than a standard A4 envelope. Honestly, I have no idea what happened to the one above - it's like someone went at it with scissors and all the precision of a toddler doing his first collage.

You can't see from the photo, but that letter is dated 7th January 2011. Had that arrived in one piece, we would have been able to send off the initial I-129F visa forms at the end of January and I could possibly have been in the US by now (not that I am complaining too much; I miss Ben like crazy and I can't wait to be there, but I am grateful for the time I am getting at home with my parents, brother and sister-in-law and friends, as I have said in several previous posts). This is why our visa journey timeline shows the start date as being from the end of February: by the time the re-sent covering letter had reached Ben, it was already the beginning of the next month and, what with a couple of other admin-related hitches, the documents weren't marked as officially received and accepted as ready to process until the 2nd March 2011. Still, although there is pretty much no excuse for the state of the above letter (can you imagine delivering that in person?!), if all goes well and I get to the States as planned in October, it will still only have been 6 months between the USCIS receiving our petition and the US Embassy in the UK granting our visa. Obviously the faffing about with the mail added two months on to that, so in total it's 8 months, but that doesn't reflect on the actual visa processing time, which is really positive.

Image from b3ta.com
I spend a lot of time on Skype...
It would be all too easy to rant about the regular instances of Skype's uselessness... so I probably will. I'd like to make the point that Skype is an incredibly useful program, and a free program at that, that allows real-time text message and video chat (computer to computer) and discounted international calling to landlines. It has recently introduced video conference calls, which is what allowed me and Ben (in the USA), Sam and Wren (in Australia) and Mum and Dad (in the UK) to all speak together at the same time on Christmas Day 2010, which obviously meant so much to all of us. Hmm, now I feel bad for having a go at this totally free, rather awesome service. Okay, when it does work, it's brilliant. Ben and I leave it on pretty much all the time, however, so we have a far greater probability than most of seeing how often it can go wrong. Admittedly there is the added complication of my living in an area renowned for its poor internet speeds and intermittent connectivity, so I don't want to lay all the blame at Skype's door. The essential problem is this: seemingly whenever there is an important point of communication (a hello, a goodbye, a conversation after a long absence, a pressed amount of time in which you can just have the briefest of chats before your respective time zones pull you back to your own latitude again), Skype suddenly experiences a problem. The call is dropped. There's too much echo or background noise to understand what is going on. The video freezes, or turns your beloved into a 32-bit character worthy of a Pac-Man game. The entire program needs restarting. These kinds of bugs and errors make me do this:
*except for Ben
I do feel sorry for Ben at these moments, as a combination of my deeply-felt need to be connected to him and my infamous inability to cope with inanimate objects not doing as they're "supposed" to (I tend to take it personally, especially with tangled jewellery/wires and anything to do with a computer) means that I lose all sense of decorum when technology prevents us from speaking. He then has to witness the hissy fit of the century (albeit intermittently, if Skype continues to not work) until everything is up and running again, and then has the delightful task of calming his fuming wife-to-be down. Honestly, I think I've been more stressed over the postal service and Skype than I have been about any of our wedding preparations!

I don't want to have a go at Skype overall though. Really! My levels of fury are entirely to do with impatience and bad discipline (and though I know this, I do little to stop it!). Skype itself is a fantastic service and without it, it's very likely that me and Ben wouldn't have a) been able to get to know each other as well as we did before we met and b) been in touch anywhere near as often during the time we've had to spend apart once we had become a couple.

So, despite the start of this post being written with every intention of having a good old (English) moan about things I'm actually very lucky to have, - although I still won't budge on that ridiculously mauled letter - I will finish up in a similar way to my last post by saying how lucky me and Ben (and so many others) are to live in countries and a world where international communication is now pretty simple. Here's to freedom of speech. And video.

Skype having a "moment". Ben is not looking quite right.

But we love it really. 


*The I-134 documents actually arrived three days earlier than their guaranteed arrival date, but unfortunately this was spoiled by the delivery person not letting me know they'd tried to deliver them (they didn't leave a calling card), so Ben had to call the mail service on his side of things and find out where they were. The delivery person had left them at my local PO (apparently on the assumption that I would realise this psychically in the absence of a delivery attempt note) so, even though there was a bit of hassle, they're all safe and sound and ready to be presented at the interview. Phew!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Metablog

It has occurred to me that writing a blog is a little... well, narcissistic. I mean, it's not like I'm alone in it, so perhaps it isn't quite so bad if you're writing to connect with others rather than just be read in a one-way sort of fashion (or perhaps we're all having a collective delusion of doing that, who knows?), but it is still something I have thought about a little. There is no doubt that I am enjoying writing more and more, and it is good to have a place to reflect on things, speak to others in a similar situation (or totally different but who just pop by and say hello, which is also lovely), and make links to others' experiences of emigration. But a comment from a Facebook friend today gave me fresh food for thought:

Another blog, why am I not surprised :P x

Now, the emoticon and the kiss shows she is mocking me in a friendly way, so this is in no way meant to suggest I feel criticised or like this is an unfair remark. I have had three other blogs before QE: one when I was at university back in 2005, when personal blogs were relatively new to me (this is now archived and no longer live); one from a few years back that I wrote to try to keep myself sane while my partner at the time was fighting a serious illness (also removed from Blogger now, and only referenced vaguely here for privacy reasons; for those concerned about the brevity of that description, he recovered and is healthy and happy); and my photography blog that I have been keeping since the end of 2008, and that will hopefully see me through working towards becoming a professional, full-time (I can hope!) photographer. So, I have two live blogs. I honestly didn't think it was that many! But perhaps the idea of spilling one's guts, even with some restrictions, just seems a little excessive to some people. Or perhaps I just like to talk too much, so it's never much of a surprise that if another outlet becomes available, I make use of it. I actually think I'm quite a private person in general (friendly, yes, but I hate talking about bad/sad/deep stuff too much with people due to not wanting to bring them down) and I certainly find that the knowledge that blogging is public helps me to keep my writing upbeat and, hopefully, free of the deeper levels of neurosis to which I can sink. But I am enjoying it so much to the point that I want to write more, and seem to be happy to write about anything. This is what gave me a moment's pause, and what my friend's comment highlighted today: what actually makes a worthwhile blog?

Of course, there is no right answer. Surely, if you are sending out random chatter into the ether, it is entirely possible that no one is reading it. On the one hand, you might then question the point of writing at all; on the other, you may thus think that whatever you write is fine, seeing as it goes unseen. It is just an outlet, after all. But if the latter is true, why write what is essentially a journal on a forum to which pretty much the entire world has access? So it must be, at least in part, because of the potential for an audience. If I genuinely didn't want people to read QE - or wasn't bothered whether people do - I wouldn't publish it. Even if I still used the computer to write it, I could either use a Word file, or just keep a private page on Blogger. But I don't. And yes, I did start writing with just the intention of focusing on the emigration and visa process - keeping it reasonably impersonal in theory - and therefore perhaps helping others see and understand the practical and emotional journey of applying for a K1. I also thought that, once I arrived in the States, I could write about my experiences as an expat and the differences I observe between the US and the UK, again with the intention of potentially helping others to feel solidarity when in the same position, or just as an example of what might happen when one moves countries. I also wanted to document these things for myself, as I am sure after a while I will start to notice the differences less and less, and may forget parts of the process of adaptation. Finally, there was and is the hope that friends and family back home may feel more involved in the whole move and my life in the States will be recorded for them to connect with, at their leisure, too. Recently, though, I find I am writing about all sorts: books, movies, where I've been at the weekend, my photography, my folks, train journeys, random thoughts - in short, nothing to do with the visa, in any direct way!

Lunch was lovely.
This became particularly apparent when I was thinking about what to write in my next post, and realised I was happy to simply write about my day. It hasn't been a particularly interesting day for anyone to read about: I have lolled about in PJs; updated this page's and MOL's layout (with the help of the lovely ExPat Bride when it came to HTML issues - thank you!); made an awesome caprese salad; opened a coconut with a hammer; spoken to Ben; done a bit of online shopping; watched The Guild; written a few emails; watched TrueBlood; had a beer; made dinner plans for the weekend; had ill-advised evening coffee accompanied by leftover engagement party cake... the list could go on.

Cake was also nice.
Here is what it comes down to: I like writing in a public forum. I believe my writing is improving through doing this blog, that my mind is enriched and soothed by detailing what has been going on and recording my day-to-day musings, and that actually some of the things I have to say will, at the very least, be fun to look back on. I'm also able to read others' blogs and exchange messages with them about their writing and their lives. Sure, I'm really rich on the time side of things right now, so perhaps that might change a little once things start getting busy again, but for now I feel very lucky to live in an era and a country so technologically able that chatting to people all over the world and the resulting sense of connectedness are pretty easy to access.

Vampires aren't so big on caprese salad. Or cake.
Most of all though, I think I feel a little bit like a fraud for preferring to write a public blog; my brain is frequently asking, "Why are you even bothering?! No one cares!". Which is genuinely how I feel, - in a non-self-pitying way I might add - and how I imagine a lot of other people who write blogs feel too. It's so exciting when I see that people are reading QE (from the Blogger stats page) and really sweet when people take the time to leave comments. It's making links with people, making the planet smaller - the PostSecret phenomenon, if you will - and celebrating the loveliness that does exist in the world that excites me. So I think I will keep on with my inane ramblings for now and, seeing as I just managed this super-long blog about blogging, I should be fine for material for the foreseeable future.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Return journey

Sat somewhere between Taunton and Cheltenham on the 09:25 cross country service, I have again been inspired/bored into the need to write a blog post. This will, as far as I know, be my penultimate train-based post, as I only have one train trip to London left to go before I leave, unless some last minute plans are made before October. I have been editing a few photos from my trip to Plymouth for my “primary” blog, MOL, and am now rocking some emotional tunes on my iPod, considering my feelings on returning home for next to the last time - locally, anyway.

I think that this may explain the choice of music – all emotive, sad stuff that’s either loud and painful or quiet and reflective. However, while I am certainly preoccupied, I am not sad. Not really. And today I realised this because of the music, more than anything. Although I am prone to listen to music that matches my mood (I’m not one of those people who can listen to a cheery song to try to shake a downer; if I’m in a grump, I will need grumpy aural accompaniment to flesh it out until it goes), there’s actually a rather lovely new phenomenon going on right now: the sadness of the songs juxtaposes how I feel in such a way that I sort of get the sense of listening to well-known songs as though new to me, with a simultaneous sense of comforting familiarity. I remember listening to these playlists when sad, so listening to them now, when happy, tells me how far I’ve come. Oh goodness, is this turning into an emo blog?! Oh well, one step up from hipster, I suppose. (But I did hear all of these songs before you did. On limited edition vinyl.)

There isn’t really much more to say: I am soothed by the associations I have with today’s choice of music, not because I am sad but because I can see that, while I am a little bit in need of an audio embrace, I no am no longer listening to it because it helps to verbalise a deeper melancholy. I am truly happy.


'Dark Side' - Tim Minchin. 
Accompanying my emo aspirations... 

Friday, 9 September 2011

The size of a small country

What is 38 inches high, has removable legs, and only turns in one direction? I am (not really very) sorry to say that I will not be able to answer this question with any certainty, as the conversation that inspired said query has now been blocked out by the welcome noise of my iPod. I’m on a train (again!) for another hello/goodbye journey and, much as I love people watching, there is a limit to how much noisy Brummie chatter I can cope with when I’m trying to read. So, writing and loud music is my solution.

Not, I hasten to add, that I do not enjoy a spot of eavesdropping now and again – in fact, I am known for being unable to cope with more than two audio sources at a time (and sometimes not even two; just a snippet of a song on the radio can throw me off any conversational path I might be on), and so often I will daydream off into whatever the people around me are discussing and not seem to be engaged at all with whatever activity it is I’m supposed to be doing. Even listening to my iPod now, I have to keep stopping when a particular lyric is about to be sung, as otherwise I risk writing it into this blog post by mistake. This is why trying to read with loud conversation in the vicinity is pretty much impossible for me: too many voices.

This does lead me to want to assure you that I actually love the diversity of our in-public culture here in the UK, and I am in no way suggesting these ladies should be quieter about their be-legged, 3ft, mono-turning item of mystery. In between songs, I hear snippets of verbal exchanges: a mention of the “naughty step” to a wailing child; a moan about the fact that the train has stopped again, apparently with no reason (I am sure that speculation about reasons for the pause occurred after the next song started; the British do love to enjoy their minor failures at being unable to do even the simplest of things without complications); a hushed conversation on a mobile phone about an upcoming meeting that might be problematic to get started on time now that the train is late. I love this. I love people. I enjoy observing interactions, wondering how each individual might interpret the same --

*distracted by Barenaked Ladies*

-- event with a slightly different nuance. I wonder what the quieter people might be thinking, where pretty much everyone here is going, why they might be going there. I also like to entertain myself by wondering what they might be thinking of me. Not in an arrogant way, you understand: I am well aware that people are essentially egocentric and that my presence is unlikely to have even registered on their radar. Like several of my friends, I think I take a greater interest than the average person in individuals around me that I don’t know personally. Having said that, the fact that a grinning blonde girl sat alone on a train is typing furiously, looking around now and again as though to check on something, and intermittently stops everything to bob her head and/or clap along to what isn’t really quiet music on her headphones hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed. I love knowing that there is so little they know about me, and thus there is so much that I correspondingly do not know about them. That’s what I really enjoy about these kinds of thoughts. It makes me rejoice in the diversity of the human race and it makes me feel quite happy and contented.

*hums along to The Mavericks* *dances in seat*

Inevitably, my thoughts then turn to how this will all change when I move to the USA. Initially, I imagine that it won’t: I am always going to be interested in how others around me behave and interact with one another. But while that might stay the same, the significance of any gestures, looks, tones and so on will potentially be very different. I won’t have to learn a new language as such but I will have to learn how behaviour and verbal exchanges are interpreted. The cultural differences may be subtle, they may be glaring, they may be somewhere in between, but they won’t be ingrained in my brain in the way my understanding of British norms is. Because of this potential obstacle, or at least steep learning curve, I have started reading a book on American culture which, when I am a decent way through it, I will no doubt blog about. I hope it helps, at least a little bit, but I am sure that living there is the only real way to come to a true understanding of the culture.

*grins happily at guy watching me bob in my seat* *grins more when he looks away quickly*

In my last job as a teacher of Psychology, I taught a module to GCSE students about the importance of non-verbal communication. One really fascinating thing for both me and the students was the different interpretations of the same gesture. Eye contact, for example, can be seen as a way to express respectfully paying attention to someone speaking to you (US/UK/Europe) or as a rude, even aggressive focus on a person, especially if that person is of a higher status than you (more Eastern cultures).

*pauses for "What’s up with Will and Grace? I don’t get drum and bass – the future freaks me out!”*

That was quite a conveniently timed line, actually. When I am in America, although it is likely that I will get along just fine (speaking roughly the same language, the US and UK both being Western powers, and having our “special relationship” should be a buffer between me, and a help to my learning, the differences), I have a feeling that I will be more restrained while I am familiarising myself with cultural norms. For one, I doubt I will be found on a train, bobbing up and down in my seat and cheerfully mouthing words to cheesy songs for some time after settling in NC. I am aware that I might look a little strange to my fellow Brits, but I also know that they won’t, in general approach me about it, or be too worried as I look otherwise sane. I have no clue how such behaviour might be taken in the US and, while it could be excused because of my being a foreigner (!), may have more connotations than I can even begin to imagine. Which makes me wonder what else I will be learning – I am getting so excited!