Karen is British expat who is currently living in Bentonville, Arkansas, USA. Her family moved there over 18 months ago with her husband’s job. She writes a blog called Little Things Make Smiles which focuses on the small positives in their everyday lives which can make life happier for everyone. She also likes to write about the contrasts in life between the UK and the USA. She has two daughters and one puppy called Rascal who keep her super busy!
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I grew up in Leeds, West Yorkshire and we were living on our farm close to Harrogate in North Yorkshire before our move.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: We are now living in Bentonville, Arkansas, USA
Q: When did you move here?
A: We moved over to the USA in February 2016
Q: Did you move here alone or with family?
A: We moved over to America as a family.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We moved to the USA for my husband’s job. I worked as a dentist in an orthodontic practice in the UK. Now I’m in America I am a stay at home mum for the first time!
Living abroad in the USA
Q: What do you enjoy most about Bentonville? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the UK?
A: Bentonville is a gem of a city in which to live. The Americans call it a city but I would describe it as a small town. The quality of life here in Bentonville is very high and it certainly equals the UK but it is a very different lifestyle here. There has been great investment in the town and it is high up on lists of the best places to live in the USA. We have world class art at Crystal Bridges – The Museum of American Art. There are some of the best biking trails to be found anywhere in the US and we have an international film festival held each year in May which is fantastic. There are so many trails for walking and exploring the outdoors. I love the sunshine and we see sunshine most of the time. There will be an odd cloudy day but it is mostly sunny.There are some great places to eat in Bentonville and new restaurants and bars are opening all the time!
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: One negative for us is the fact it is two flights from here to get back to the UK. Our local airport of Northwest Arkansas is an expensive airport to fly out from so we do not get to go back to the UK as much as we had anticipated before we moved. We miss our families and friends from home.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here in Bentonville? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: It takes time to establish a life somewhere new. It is as if you are starting adult life all over again. We had to start from scratch to build up a credit history (your UK credit history means nothing) so expect to have to pay large security deposits for mobile phone contracts etc. Day to day tasks that seem so routine are completely different and need to be learnt, for example setting up utilities and paying tax on a new car.
We did not expect to be so tired when we first arrived. I think all the anticipation, excitement and nerves caught up with us. Coupled with the fact that you are adjusting to life in a new country, trying very hard to understand everyone and being super smiley all the time as you are constantly meeting new people led to us feeling tired out by the end of each day.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to the UK? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Petrol is a lot cheaper than in the UK so car journeys are a cost effective way to travel. I was surprised that the cost of food shopping is very high! I think I probably spend at least double on my weekly food bill here. Good quality food has a very high price attached to it.
Q: How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Owning a car is essential here as there is no public transport.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Bentonville? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare here is very good and there are many doctors and hospitals. The confusing bit is understanding the health insurance. My advice is always double check with the insurance company to confirm that what you are planning to have done is covered. I have been caught out on a few minor things and have learnt my lesson!
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Bentonville? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Luckily I have not seen anything that has led me to be concerned about my family’s safety. Bentonville seems a very safe place to be.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Bentonville? What different options are available for expats?
A: Housing quality is good. There’s a good choice available to rent of condos or houses. Spring and summer seems to be the time of year when there is most choice on the market.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: We love living close to downtown Bentonville so we can pop down there to the farmers’ market, shops, restaurants and bars. You can wander from downtown on the trails to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Meeting people and making friends in the USA
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women?
A: Northwest Arkansas is a cultural melting pot of so many nationalities and people from all over the USA. People are very welcoming to newcomers from anywhere.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Making true friends takes time. I was lucky that my daughters’ school put me in contact with another UK mum and then it went from there. I took up playing tennis which was great for meeting people in a relaxed environment. Also I am lucky that the mums at our bus drop off are really lovely and we have formed a supportive group.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: I probably have equal numbers of British and American friends and other friends from across the globe here. My advice would be not to worry if at first you find it tricky to make friends. I think I felt like I had true friends within around 3 months of being here.
About working in the USA
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: All our immigration was looked after for us so we just had to provide all our information and go to the US Embassy ourselves.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Bentonville?
A: The general trend seems to be that people rise early to go to work. The good bit is they tend to come home earlier too! The cultural taining that we received before we left the UK was invaluable to us. We would definitely recommend doing this for both the adults and the children in your family.
Family and children in the USA
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to Bentonville? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Being the trailing spouse meant it was my main role to be there as a support for my husband and two daughters. I settled very quickly into my new role and enjoy being a full-time mother. I worked part-time in the UK as a dentist and leaving my career behind felt like a loss of my professional identity. It took some time to work out who I was going to be if I was no longer ‘Karen the dentist’! However, this did not take long and I certainly do not miss the Sunday night feeling before going to work.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: We were very fortunate that our daughters settled in very quickly. The process of settling them in started before we even left the UK. They did not see their school before we arrived and had interviews over Skype but I know that the positivity we as parents had for the school after our visit rubbed off onto the girls. I feel that the biggest challenge for them was the uncertainty for them of moving to a place far away from home, friends and family that they had never visited before. Since being here the girls have thrived and absolutely love life in the USA.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: We chose The New School in Fayetteville for both our girls. It is a private school that most suited them and it had a very similar feel and ethos to their English school. We are so very happy with our choice of school and would definitely recommend it to people looking to move to the Northwest Arkansas area. We particularly liked that it is one school that has children from the very youngest up to high school so it meant that we would not have to move them again. The girls are both doing so well at school and they are both loving it so much. As a parent, happy and settled children means happy parents!
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Moving to the USA has been the best experience for all of us, both professionally for my husband and for us as a family. We have been lucky to have had so many new opportunities that we would not have been able to experience if we had stayed in the UK. We all learn something new every day and this is all adding to this great life experience we are having.
Yes, it is hard to leave family and friends behind but they will always be there for you no matter how large the oceans between you are. You still love them just as much as they still love you and when you get to meet up it’s as if you have never been away. The excitement of waiting to collect family at the airport is unbelievable as is the anticipation of arriving back into the UK when you go home for a visit!
If you are considering a move abroad I would urge you to take the opportunities that are available. Take a deep breath and make the leap because for us our move has been an entirely positive experience and I’m sure it will continue to be!
– Interviewed September 2017