Julie Musk lived in Beavercreek, Ohio for two years and has since returned to Dorset, England. She has travelled extensively, including three years living in Germany and is the author of A Slice of Apple Pie: Your One-Stop Guide to Living in America and Lesser Known Swanage.
More information on expat life in the USA? Read the Expat Arrivals guide here.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Dorset has always been home, where I grew up and gravitated to after living all over the place for the last 23 years with the RAF. We had two overseas postings – one to Germany, the other the USA, where we lived for 2 years. We’ve now left the RAF and settled in Dorset.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Dorchester, Dorset. Before that it was Beavercreek, near Dayton, Ohio. (Answers below relate to our time in Ohio.)
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: We lived in Ohio for 2 years.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: Yes. Our two children were 3 and 5 when we moved to the US.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: The RAF posted us to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the largest USAF base in the States. I carried on working as a freelance editor and also spent the years writing about life in America. On our return, my book A Slice of Apple Pie: Your One-Stop Guide to Living in America was published. I wanted to pass on some first-hand experience of moving to and living in America, to help others contemplating such a move or settling in.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: We lived in Beavercreak near Dayton, a city in its own right which had grown fast and is still expanding, with new homes and infrastructure appearing all the time (rather unnerving). We had a large home, garden and swimming pool – the personal space was far superior to back home. The quality of life is better – things are more affordable and the choice is very good, perhaps too good (it’s a shopping culture!).
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss the English countryside, being able to roam over miles of historically linking footpaths, bridleways and wild countryside. America is a new country and the countryside feels ‘prescriptive’ – you walk in designated places, use purpose-built cycle paths. Being a traditional girl from rural Dorset I missed the small, cosy feel of our cottage home, countryside and old villages. America has so little history compared to us.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: Some parts of Dayton are dangerous and you read about shootings in the local paper, but outside those areas it feels safely suburban – homes well looked after, no graffiti or litter, people leave their houses unlocked, street decorations stay intact, etc.
About living in Ohio
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Beavercreek is on the edge of countryside, with good facilities and roads. Neighbouring Kettering has a great sports centre but is very suburban and hemmed in. I prefer the openness of Beavercreek - plenty of places to walk the dog and good local parks for the kids to do sports and play in.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: High. Most homes in our area are large and luxurious compared to UK standards. Perhaps a bit cookie-cutter (lacking in local character) with McMansions in carefully planned communities. Very landscaped, neat and orderly – great if you like that sort of thing.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Most things are more affordable than in the UK. Home goods are cheap and stores are always having sales and offering discounts with free coupons and loyalty cards. Clothes are cheap and cheerful. Food in supermarkets is similarly priced to the UK. Eating out is definitely good value, though restaurants lack ambience and authenticity and get a bit samey after a while. Petrol is cheap, but cars do less to the gallon and you drive everywhere so it costs about the same in the end. Lack of pavements and cycle paths and the distance between home/shops/school/restaurants/entertainment means you use the car all the time (sadly).
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Local people are open, easy-going and friendly. They smile, say hello and are not reserved. We hardly mixed with fellow Brits (it’s much more interesting to converse with Americans and learn about their culture in the process).
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes, it’s easy to get along with Americans. They seem genuinely interested in you and love the British accent. We made some really good American friends, better than ones here! They are refreshingly ungrumpy and uncomplaining.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: It took about 4 months before we felt settled and could start enjoying life again. The initial administration is heavy-going, and registering and becoming recognised in the US is painful. Passing a driving test, applying for a credit card, understanding all the new systems, even supermarket shopping has to be ‘learnt’. It feels very foreign and exhausting to start with.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Yes, they made friends quickly and loved their school and play group. America is very family oriented and children are welcome wherever you go (refreshingly so!).
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Facilities are better (generally newer and more spacious). However, schooling is not as advanced - American children don’t start school until age 6, and don’t learn cursive (joined up) handwriting for several years or letters by phonemes (which makes it harder to spell words). Consequently British children may have to take a retrograde step in their schooling; but on returning to the UK, our two slotted back into British schools without difficulty – kids can be pretty adaptable.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Expensive and the system open to corruption as health providers charge inflated prices knowing that insurance companies are (usually) picking up the bill. Some ordinary Americans can’t afford the premiums and go uninsured, living in fear of needing medical attention. Even having a baby can set you back thousands of dollars - you pay for everything in hospital including aspirins and nappies - nothing is free.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: It’s all in my book! We’ve been there and done it and there’s nothing like personal experience. It’s a bit of a struggle settling in, but eventually (hopefully!) you’ll start enjoying your new life. The USA is more different to the UK than you think and you will probably always feel (and sound!) foreign.
– Interviewed February 2010