Kadian Pow has been visiting England regularly for the last ten years. She hails originally from Kingston, Jamaica but spent the majority of her life in Washington, DC. Having met her English partner online nearly five years ago, she has finally settled down this year in Birmingham, UK. She has continued her work as an Educational Consultant for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
For more information about the United Kingdom read the Expat Arrivals country guide or read more about expat experiences in the United Kingdom.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in Jamaica but most of my life has been spent in the US.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Birmingham, UK.
Q: How long you have you lived in Birmingham?
A: On and off since September of 2009, but full-time since April 2010
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to settle with my partner who is British. We could not live as a couple in the US despite trying for over two years to get a visa for my spouse. I was lucky enough that my job in the US (National Museum of Natural History) wanted to hold on to me and has contracted with me on a few projects. So, I work out of my home (or coffee shops!)
Q: What do you enjoy most about Birmingham, how’s the quality of life?
A: Coming from Washington, DC, Birmingham seems more laid back and not as political. There's plenty of diversity and culture as well in a way that feels cosmopolitan and not just international. I also enjoy how brilliant it is here when the sun shines.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: It's a little harder to meet friends especially since I work as a consultant out of my home, and I'm not much into drinking. I miss the familiarity and comfort of my family and dear friends.
Q: Is Birmingham safe?
A: I have never felt unsafe in Birmingham. My neighbourhood – though located near the city centre – is relatively quiet, even on the weekends.
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Birmingham as an expat?
A: The best place to live in Birmingham is Edgbaston; Bath and St. Ives are also favourites. I just did a walk for breast cancer research in Bristol last weekend and I'm in love with that city! I think a move may be afoot.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Birmingham?
A: There are wonderful properties in the UK if you can get used to having slightly less space. I moved from an 1100 square foot property to one half that size!
Q: What’s the cost of living in Birmingham compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of living will vary slightly depending on what region you live in. London and Edinburgh are obviously more expensive. Birmingham is reasonable for property, but eating out and petrol are expensive everywhere you go (by US standards).
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I have found that strangers here are much more likely to strike up a conversation with you. The Brummie accent also amuses me. I have not found any expat groups in or near Birmingham. They tend to be concentrated around London, which is too bad.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Birmingham?
A: I'm still finding that out, but so far I can say it is much harder if your work environment isolates you. My partner's friends all live in other areas in England, but I consider them my friends too and they are wonderful.
About working in Birmingham
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for the UK?
A: No. My partner and I had our civil partnership in the UK before moving here, so it was a matter of completing the visa paperwork. I have a two-year visa to live and work, after which I will be able to apply for another visa or residency.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Birmingham, is there plenty of work?
A: The Midlands are particularly hard hit by the recession. I don't imagine that it will be very easy to get a job once my contract with the Smithsonian ends.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I have noticed that people don't have the 'first in, last out' mentality that pervaded Washington, DC. People leave work at a reasonable hour here and get on with their lives.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No. I wish I had done that, as it would have been easier.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in the UK?
A: I find it to be adequate to what I have experienced in the US so far.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Travel to as many areas as you can because it's such a diverse country. If you live in a city (especially London), make sure to get up to the north of England--particularly the Lake District. I would also advise going to local events to find out more about local groups to join in order to make friends. I've traveled so much since I've settled here in the last two months that I've hardly spend any time in Birmingham to make real friendships. Also, volunteering is a great way to get integrated into the community.
~ Interviewed July 2010