Jennifer Dinoia was born in New Jersey, moved to Nashville, then Memphis, then Washington DC, and then finally Virginia. She then migrated with her husband to Iceland for 3 years, before settling in San Ramon, California. She lives here with her husband and 3 children.
More information on expat life in the USA? Read the Expat Arrivals guide here.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in New Jersey, and lived in a suburb of Philadelphia (Morrisville, PA) until I was seven. My family then moved to Nashville, TN, where we lived for 3 years, and followed that with a move to Memphis, TN. We stayed in Memphis until I graduated from high school. Despite growing up in the south, I still consider myself from Pennsylvania, as we still have much family there.
After I finished college in Washington, DC, I moved to Virginia. Virginia is technically our home, though we haven’t lived there in 5 years and may not for many more due to my husband’s career.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: San Ramon, CA
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: 1.5 years
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Yes, with my husband, Peter, and three children: Caitlin, Kelsey & Nicholas
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We previously lived in Reykjavik, Iceland. My husband is a federal agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, a branch of the State Department. Overseas he is generally tasked with Embassy security. We moved as we were only posted to Iceland for an exact term of 3 years. I also worked while living there. I was able to volunteer at the International School of Iceland for a year, and then worked part-time for a semester. I took the second semester off as I had my third child in February 2008.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in California?
A: Very good to excellent. Depending on where one lives, the community can be extremely walkable. Our youngest can walk to and from school, and we have a nearby shopping centre that can meet many of our needs. However, for most cultural events we need to travel further, whether to the next town or into the city of San Francisco.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: If anything, people don’t walk enough. We are very close to a major highway, and there is always a lot of congestion. Kids rarely walk or bike to and from school, despite the fact that it is an extremely safe area.
I am not sure where my home is. While now consider Virginia to be our home state, we have only lived there intermittently since 1998 when my husband began his Foreign Service career.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Oh, absolutely.
About living in California
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Probably Berkeley or Oakland. We would have loved to live in one of those towns, but they were simply too expensive. They are very close to the city, appear to have a more international flavour, and might be considered “greener” than more suburban towns.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in California?
A: Very high to excellent. While some homes are older and need work, many are brand-new. However, very few are truly energy-efficient and not as many people invest in alternative energy, despite the availability. However, I should add that the homes are expensive, and while some are large, they are very expensive to maintain.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes and no. We knew we would only be here for 2 years, and some folks have no interest when they learn that you may depart soon. Others find the lifestyle fascinating and stick around. Occasionally you find someone with a similar lifestyle (military or they simply move a lot), and tend to bond with them more easily.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My spouse is working full-time, so he had a much easier adjustment. His office is a ready-made community of sorts, and he was quickly immersed in work.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Yes. They made friends very quickly, especially my younger daughter.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The schools in this part of California are strapped for money. They face constant shortages. Our district alone has to cut $30 million from their budget this year. However, they are very good and have extremely high standards. Please note, children tend to be very ‘pushed’ in this area of the country. Tutors, classes, much homework, and little time for play are not uncommon here.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Great, if you have insurance! We have not had any issues, but have insurance through my husband’s employer.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Be very open-minded, and try to learn as much about the area as you can before you move here. If you are a city person, then definitely try to live as close in as possible. I don’t mind the suburbs, but do wish we had more time to explore San Francisco!
Interviewed February 2010